Kirk T. Steudle: How Could Cities Better Connect All Their Residents to Economic Opportunity?
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
How do you connect to economic opportunity? From my perspective, there’s one ingredient needed that’s so obvious it is often easily overlooked: transportation.
In order to connect to economic opportunity in the city – or really anywhere – you need transportation to get where you want to go.
What is economic opportunity? Is it a brand new job, a promotion, or the prospect of starting your own business? Is it a stop to buy groceries, fill a prescription, or to travel someplace you’ve never been? Is it attending school, taking a job training program, or an on-line course? Maybe it’s any combination of these, and more.
Maybe it’s the infinite, endless, churning combination of economic choices and activities that make the city such a vibrant, exciting and attractive place. Economic opportunity is not a single moment, a snapshot, a point in time. It’s an evolution, a path to be walked, a road to be traveled.
And through every step on that road of economic opportunity, transportation is not just a nicety, but a necessity.
That doesn’t mean transportation can’t also be nice – attractive, appealing – it just means that if you want to progress economically – as an individual, a community, a state or a nation – good transportation is a “must-have.”
When you’re on the way to that job interview, you’ll need transportation to get there. When you go to the store to pick up those groceries, transportation will have helped stock the shelves. Even as you sign up for that on-line class, remember that the computer you use, and the professor on the other end, wouldn’t have gotten to those places without some mode of transportation to get them there.
Transportation can open enormous economic opportunities, as history shows. Inland waterways brought the first commerce from seaside ports to the hinterlands, spawning prosperous towns in unlikely locations. The cross country railroad opened up new economic opportunities across the Midwest, and linked the east and west coasts of the country. Paved roads, which came about in Michigan thanks to the interests of the bicycling community, made it possible for travelers to get up out of the mud for an easier, faster – and certainly cleaner – traveling experience. The Interstate Highway System made it simpler not only to get to expanded economic opportunities, but to make new choices about where and how to live, how often to visit friends and family, and where to market products or vacation. Convenient passenger air transportation built on that mobility and allowed us to move even farther and faster, to a degree that most big business relies on heavily today.
There’s no denying that some of the transportation choices of the past had unintended consequences, and that there have been missteps on the road of economic opportunity. But that’s no reason to abandon the mobility that has provided so much prosperity over the past hundred years.
Today, my agency and so many others are working to address those old problems, and balance new solutions with the continued need for mobility. Context sensitive highway designs, complete streets efforts, transportation alternatives and safe routes to schools programs, “right-sizing” of freeways and arterials, greener and smarter vehicles, are all efforts to preserve the mobility we prize in a more sustainable way, with consideration given to all transportation modes and users.
These changes to the way we approach transportation solutions have the potential to further expand economic opportunity, by reviving neighborhoods and main streets, by improving safety, and by creating new products, new markets for those products, and – most importantly – new jobs.
Beyond that, we’re on the verge of new waves of transportation innovation that can expand our economic opportunities even further. Vehicles digitally connected to each other and to the infrastructure have the potential to dramatically improve safety, and to reduce the pavement “footprint” needed for traditional automobile infrastructure. Autonomous, “driverless” vehicles offer the potential for an aging population to retain its mobility and extend its healthy economic activity for years. Efficient international freight containers traversing the globe offer the prospect of new markets in exotic places for our hometown goods and services. New and decades overdue transit opportunities in Southeast Michigan – the Regional Transit Authority, the Woodward Avenue Railroad, and accelerated rail from Detroit to Chicago – have the potential to unlock economic opportunities that Detroit and Southeast Michigan have not had access to for many years.
With all the exciting potential for economic growth that transportation provides, it’s a frustration for me that investment in infrastructure in this country lags far behind that of other nations, and that Michigan’s investment in transportation lags behind that of other states. Not only does investment in transportation open up access to economic opportunities, it also creates good-paying jobs.
How do you connect city residents to economic opportunity? To my mind, the answer is simple: Invest in transportation.
Photo via Wikipedia
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.
In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.
One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing. Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.
ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots” for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions. This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.
Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.
It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.