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Bruce Katz to Cleveland: Focus on STEM skills and walkable urbanism

Marc Lefkowitz  |  09/26/13 @ 4:00pm

Bruce Katz has the greatest respect for the power of Cleveland’s civic-philanthropic sector. In fact, the Vice President of the Brookings Institution’s Metro Policy Program wrote a chapter on it for his new book, The Metropolitan Revolution.

Light rail revolution<br />Denver's first light rail line, a 5.3-mile (8.5 km) section of what is now the D Line, opened in 1994.

Katz told the Cleveland City Club that restoring prosperity will depend on embracing innovation.

Manufacturing has always been “infused with technology,” he says, but in a fiercely competitive global economy, local manufacturers will need an innovation strategy. And innovation relies on what he calls the “bump and mingle” of being in close proximity.

Will the CEOs of Cleveland’s manufacturers, who continue to build isolated corporate campuses, buy stock in this view of innovation leading even old-line industry to a new era of prosperity?

“This notion that manufacturing is old line is ridiculous,” Katz said. “Companies want open innovation. Where innovation happens is in walkable, urban places.”

Still, it is difficult to reconcile Katz’s equation of innovation, proximity and productivity with the growth of edge cities, like the I-271 and I-480 corridors. That said, how can the work of NorTech and the Fund for Our Economic Future on forming clusters within sectors like advanced energy overcome geographic isolation?

When asked by Gund Foundation president David Abbott for some examples of cities that “collaborate in order to compete,” Katz immediately targeted Denver.

“They don’t have Case and the Cleveland Clinic. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but they put aside old divisions. They built the largest light rail line in the U.S. It’s not just about connectivity, it’s about land use and increasing value.”

Northeast Ohio has resources the envy of the world in clean air, clean water and a significant manufacturing legacy, Katz said.

Leveraging it as a place-based strategy has ever remained a vexing issue.

When a questioner compared regionalism to social engineering, Katz deftly answered that “sprawl was not about choice. It was about engineering one type of environment to the detriment of walking and biking.

“We need more choices,” he continued. “There’s a paranoid stream in American history that tries to impede change. The reason we are such a powerful country is we embrace change. We are living through one of the most disruptive periods of change. I think regionalism is a way of helping people find their way through the disruption.”

How can an innovation culture in manufacturing produce an “economy powered by low carbon?” Katz talked about how Portland exports its green products and services to Beijing. And how New York is investing in STEM skills in colleges to support its IT sector.

Cleveland needs to recognize that a hard push toward vocational and technical skills, like welding, at its high schools is not an admission of failure, he says.

“We have to step back and imagine an economy where we make things again. Don’t lock our kids out of opportunities. Give them tangible, concrete skills. Re-invent vocational education here for the 21st century, and then you will really be on the path to prosperity.”

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