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A Lot of Civic Leaders Need to Listen to This Painfully Obvious Advice

Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley are on a mission to get cities and metros talking to each other.
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In their new book, The Metropolitan Revolution, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program make the case that real power in the U.S. is shifting from the federal government to cities and metropolitan areas. They do this by first noting, astutely, that federal gridlock amid economic stagnation has basically forced city, metro, and regional leaders to get really, really creative about how to solve their own, local problems. The bulk of the rest of the book is then spent laying out case study after case study, from New York to Houston to Portland to Northeast Ohio, based largely on their own first-hand experiences traveling around the country as de facto consultants through their think tank work. So by the time you reach the concluding chapters, which consist of a sort of how-to guide aimed at local civic leaders looking to apply some of these lessons, it's easy to believe that the advice therein is probably worth a great deal.

But after reading it, what struck me about Katz and Bradley's more practical advice is just how basic it seems, or really, stunningly obvious. They spend page after page promoting concepts like "building your network," "setting your vision," and even, in their worst moment of succumbing to consulting jargon, "finding your game changer." Combined, Bradley and Katz have arguably spent more time meeting with city and local governments, regional business leaders, and influential community groups than any other two humans on the planet. So I sat down with them recently to get to the bottom of whether their best advice is really as simple as it seems, or if the current state of affairs at the local leadership level is really just surprisingly bad.