In a world where people can increasingly choose to live anywhere, cities have to compete in ways that they never anticipated. International finance, global supply chains, connectivity, automation, rapid transit and transportation have all combined to heighten mobility in unprecedented ways. Specifically when it comes to economic development, there are many traditional metrics that city executives know that business leaders evaluate:
- Tax and regulatory environment
- Workforce development and readiness
- Transportation and transit solutions
But there are also some not-so-obvious “Moneyball” metrics that will help to promote city attractiveness, sustainability, and resilience that also contribute to success. These include:
1. Access for All
When cities advance policies, solutions, and investment like those listed above, do they create mechanisms to enable individuals from all income backgrounds to benefit from them?
This is an important component of accessibility. How well and how easily can employees and their families get from point A to point B – not just in terms of employment, but in terms of access to culture, cuisine, sports, and outdoor recreation? This has great implications, not just for transit, but also for being open to an array of transportation options.
Accessibility is vital for all residents to be able to take advantage of existing urban amenities, but the converse of this is also important – how well does a city diffuse amenities throughout, as opposed to maintaining clusters and status quo patterns?
Vulnerabilities, whether to extreme weather, climate, geology, or even human factors are unavoidable, but how well does a community anticipate, prepare for and mitigate them?
5. Red Space v Green Space
Many older cities in particular, have white elephants, whether they are strip malls, housing blocks, or other monstrosities that made sense at one time, but which take up space that could be otherwise used now. At the same time, cities are increasingly discovering that repurposing old infrastructure with an eye for green space can be an important magnet and competitive advantage. Look at what happened with the New York High Line.
For the last few years in site selection surveys, education and quality of life have ranked consistently in the top 3-5 preferences. Employees with school age children often cite the caliber of school as affecting their housing decisions.
7. Health and Well-Being
This concept has expanded a lot in recent years. It isn’t just about the number of hospitals or clinics that a city has, but also its sports, hiking, lakes, clean air, bicycles, sidewalks, food culture, and other factors.
8. Civic Environment
Robust civil society organizations form important intermediary and social networking functions that help tie communities together. One of the first things that many senior executives do when they transition their corporate headquarters is to join one or more municipal civic boards like the arts or community chest organizations.
9. Entrepreneurial Class and Gig Economy
Many companies are increasingly looking at the innovation economic system that might surround their operations. On the one hand, this may put them at risk of losing some of their more entrepreneurial employees, but on the other hand, they may also access larger pools of innovative talent.
10. Quality of Life
Places like Seattle, San Francisco, Boulder, Charlottesville, and Research Triangle Park do not follow traditional economic conservative public policies, and yet they are enormously attractive due to their great natural beauty, cuisine, and ambiance.
These are positive trends for all concerned. While individuals and businesses may have greater choice and mobility than ever before, cities also have more levers and tools at their disposal than ever before. This competitive landscape should trigger a virtuous cycle that we are only beginning to see, but which bodes well for the future in terms of sustainable development. The more holistic and systems-oriented business and city leaders are, the more comprehensive accessibility and diffusion of services will become. This won’t just generate direct economic benefits for these decision makers, this approach will benefit city dwellers, and correct some of the rampant income inequality that has been plaguing some of our most active and dynamic cities.
Edit: This article was updated at 2:28pm on January 24, 2017.
About the Authors:
Stephen Jordan is a co-founder of IO Sustainability, and has extensive experience working with public, private, and non-profit organizations on sustainable economic development, resilience, and disaster recovery planning and management.
Steve Rochlin is a co-founder of IO Sustainability. He is a leading advisory and author on strategic approaches that generate economic, social, and environmental value.