From The Editors
Erie was given some advice to become a thriving city in the face of a post-industrial identity crisis. The question is: Will we heed this advice?
Create a network, set your vision, and find your game-changer.
Those were three things Bruce Katz told a packed house at the Jefferson Educational Society Thursday, Nov. 6 during his Global Summit VI presentation: "The Metropolitan Revolution — The Future of Erie?"
He also stressed the importance of collaboration, told the audience that health, prosperity, and competitiveness will be determined at the city and metropolitan level, and that success in the 21st century lies in the hands of cities, not governments.
The Vice President of The Brookings Institution and Founding Director of the non-partisan think tank's Metropolitan Policy Program all but held a mirror up to the audience and asked those in attendance to take a long, hard look to understand the community's identity as we wallow in the midst of a post-industrial identity crisis. Manufacturing, he said, can aid both blight and flight. But it doesn't have to be the manufacturing of yesteryear; rather, it can be new and fresh and dynamic. Manufacturing, after all, is what we know (as a possibility, think: 3D printing).
Skeptical? Examine Northeast Ohio. Katz — very much a boots-on-the-ground kind of guy who visits cities to study them relentlessly — did, and he points to the region's ability to still make as its ability to thrive. They, simply put, have created a network, set their vision, found their game-changer, and they know what they're good at. Which is what is leading to Katz's "metropolitan revolutions," where cities become focal points by taking control of their own destinies, since as he warned, "no one is coming to save you." If you need proof, you needn't look further than Detroit. The city was left for dead, and if it wasn't for a group of millionaires and philanthropists, it most likely would be.
Yes, our industrial landscape may be a shell of its former self — businesses leaving, shrinking, and shutting doors isn't new — but the infrastructure is here. And yes, it's rusty, but perhaps it's time to get out the white vinegar and get to work in cleaning it up.
An easy — but important — first step is to emphasize, promote, and foster development with a reason — aside from jobs — for people to choose to live where they do: Arts and culture. That, Katz outlined, is what Denver did to create a strong, vibrant urban core. Couple that with the FasTrack commuter train running throughout the region and you get a marriage between easy transportation and a convincing reason to visit and stay in the area. In short, Denver can market itself as two important Cs: Convenient and cool — which, according to Katz, is what keeps Denver from being more than a fly-over city with people en route to better, brighter, bolder places.
A third C to add to the mix in the mile-high city is collaboration. Rather than continually competing against each other, creating rifts within their communities, municipalities agree to work together for a common good and clear vision of growth, which cultivates development and prosperity instead of stagnation and atrophy.
But one doesn't have to look as far as Denver to have hope for Erie. Katz lauded Buffalo's thoughtful work with its health-care system that resulted in thousands of new jobs within the city. And young people, talented people, people thoughtful about their locales are more inclined to call Buffalo home because of the developing arts and culture scene.
If we go back to the beginning, there's still the task of creating a network, setting a vision, and finding a game-changer. Which is risky business, really. But the greatest risk, Katz warned in the Q&A following the presentation when asked to address Erie's risk-adverse nature, is taking no risk at all.
Taking risks isn't the same as gambling. Rather than leaving destiny to chance, to wish and dream that someone will do something, taking calculated risks can propel Erie forward. Soon, presentations will be made to make public "key recommendations" for Erie that may be some of those calculated risks. That is, Destination Erie: A Regional Vision is hosting six community presentations throughout the county beginning Monday, Nov. 17 and concluding Thursday, Nov. 20.
If you've been keeping track of the Destination Erie timeline, the plan is nearing the finish line. Soon, what comes out of this plan may be the future of Erie and the region.
It was refreshing to see some of the leadership from Destination Erie in the crowd at Katz's presentation, hopefully taking copious notes and setting up interviews afterwards. What would be even more refreshing would be to see at-capacity turnouts at each of the community presentations, to see citizens prepared with research and informed questions, to see collaboration, to witness networking, and to see the unfurling of a set, clear vision.
If we don't, Erie may become nothing more than a fly-over city.