By Joseph Coomes, Best Best & Krieger.
Cities and their metro regions are getting increased attention as sources of innovation and local collaborative leadership to address national problems ranging from the infrastructure gap to physical and social mobility and quality of life. The four books recommended below are important contributions to the national debate on how to address our transportation mobility problems to create livable communities to foster economic development at the local level for sustainability. Doing so builds resiliency into our urban areas to cope with natural disasters. Each of these books discuss different aspects of these national issues and examine the important role of cities and their metro regions in implementing strategies and projects to deal with them at the local level, with federal and state governments in a supporting role.
“Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure in the Lead,” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter (2015, W.W. Norton and Company, New York). This is a fast moving (pun intended) book written by a Harvard Business School professor, who writes “Every major issue facing America has transportation infrastructure angle,” as she calls for a new national narrative on the topic of mobility, “about where we are and where we can go.” She describes the history of how America’s infrastructure made the U.S. a world leader, how it fell behind other nations through obsolesce and neglect, and how the nation is now faced with the massive task of fixing an obsolete, crumbling infrastructure and building new infrastructure to meet the demands of growth and climate change. City officials will be interested in her chapters rethinking the role of cities, as she points to studies showing the link between physical mobility provided by public transit and upward social mobility (of 10 cities illustrating this link, five are in California). The studies show that seven of the top 12 cities for upward social mobility are in the top 20 for transit score; seven of the top 10 for transit are in the top 20 for upward social mobility. She discusses how collaboration and entrepreneurship across industries can achieve efficiencies and economies to take the nation back into the lead, and the role of public and private leadership at the local level, including the use of public-private partnerships, to leverage financial resources and technical skills, in the wake of budgetary limitations and political gridlock at the national level.
“Urban Acupuncture – Celebrating Pinpricks of Change that Enrich City Life,” by Jaime Lerner (2014, Island Press, Washington, D.C.). This is a little treasure of a book with short chapters and many photos, by Lerner — a renowned architect and planner, a three-time mayor of Curitiba, Brazil and governor of the state of Parana. Lerner believes that a good plan by itself cannot bring about immediate transformation, but that it takes a spark, what he calls good acupuncture — true urban acupuncture — to create a unique urban space for people that begins to spread within a city. He illustrates this point with a concise world tour of unique and innovative urban spaces in such cities as San Francisco, Barcelona, Paris, Bilbao, New York, Buenos Aires, Belo Horizonete, Berlin and, his own innovative Brazilian city, Curitiba. Informative and fun, it sparks the imagination for small ideas — “pinpricks” — that can spread and have large impacts on a city.
“The Metropolitan Revolution-How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy,” by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley (2013, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C.), with a forward by Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin. This is a powerful book by two leaders of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program making the point that, as the federal government seems locked in paralysis with respect to both money and policy priorities, “The tectonic plates…. are shifting. Across the nation, cities and metros are taking control of their own destinies, becoming more deliberate about their economic growth.” The authors present detailed case studies of how local governments and their civic society, as well as business leaders and urban planners, have come together to chart their own course to spark job creation and catalyze long-term economic growth in New York City, Denver, northeast Ohio, Houston, Los Angeles and other places. These examples demonstrate collaboration, creativity and innovation among many stakeholder interests, and point the way to the important role to be played by cities and their metro regions in the nation’s future.
“The Resilience Dividend Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong,” by Judith Rodin (2014, Rockefeller Foundation). As president of the Rockefeller Foundation with its global Resilient Cities initiative, Rodin examines the need to build resiliency in our infrastructure and financial and social networks. It’s needed to help people, communities and businesses bounce back and become stronger in the threat of increasing devastating natural and man-made disasters. With stories and examples from around the world, she focuses on ways that resilience can be engineered into the urban fabric to proactively protect against major disruptions in the physical, economic and social environments. This is a major public policy imperative following in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the threats posed by global warming, which has been taken up by federal and state governments; scientific, engineering and planning groups; and major institutions, such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Urban Land Institute.
Joseph E. Coomes, Jr. is of counsel in the Municipal Law practice group of Best Best & Krieger LLP.
Mr. Coomes’ practice concentrates on redevelopment, land use and planning law, including military base closure and reuse. He represents a number of public agencies and major developers in complex land use matters and negotiation of development agreements. Mr. Coomes has successfully negotiated some of the largest and most difficult urban mixed-use redevelopment projects in California, including San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens and downtown San Jose’s Silicon Valley Financial Center.