Recently, a jury in Minnesota acquitted the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer, sparking renewed anger over a criminal justice system that perpetuates historic racial bias in cities. On the same day, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his company had bought Whole Foods for $13.4 billion, potentially upending the future of retail.
These were not unrelated events. They represent the twin urgencies that local and regional leaders must confront if they want to create broad-based prosperity: Make right the wrongs of the past, while radically preparing for the future.
Cities are under pressure to deliver on a whole host of national priorities, including addressing the nation’s weak productivity growth, stagnant wages, and stark racial disparities. That’s because Washington, D.C., has made clear that building an inclusive economy is not a top priority. Health care and other supports for low-income, working families are on the chopping block. A robust federal economic growth agenda is missing. And the Trump administration’s budget blueprint and policies indicate that state and local governments, along with the private sector, are expected to step up their investments in key domestic policy areas including infrastructure, basic and applied research, job training, and housing assistance.
At one level, this means that cities and metro areas must reverse the housing, land use, and infrastructure policies that have privileged white homeowners over black and brown Americans. In a pair of recent speeches, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu articulated their response to these challenges. Before an audience of Michigan’s top business, government, and nonprofit leaders, Mayor Duggan detailed how his latest affordable housing and neighborhood policies aim to return economic power and wealth-creating potential to longtime city residents. In an address that went viral, Mayor Landrieu explained why removing Confederate monuments was an essential step towards racial healing and opening a new chapter of greater opportunities for all.
At the same time, cities and metro areas must help their communities adapt to the rapidly shifting dynamics of the new era, which threaten to exacerbate inequality and exclusion. Technology is transforming every occupation and industry in cities large and small: According to forthcoming Brookings research, the share of U.S. jobs that require only low levels of digital literacy shrank from 56 percent in 2002 to less than 30 percent today. In just over a decade, the day-to-day duties of administrative assistants, toolmakers, truck mechanics, HR specialists, and numerous other occupations have dramatically digitalized.
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