How to Build Global Cities That Are Engines of Inclusion, Not Displacement

Op-Ed: "Cities cannot be truly inclusive without public, private and nonprofit institutions all pulling together."

Singapore's central business district (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

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Cities are increasingly punching above their weight as engines of global economic growth. But, as any boxer knows, to be a contender you need a good one-two punch.

One punch is doing the common sense things it takes to grow the economy and create jobs. The other punch is understanding the reasons why: to boost incomes, improve education and expand opportunity, to name a few. With just the first punch, a city might have a gleaming downtown but lack sustainable policies for the long term. With just the second punch, a city might have great ideas but no meaningful execution.

As more and more cities are flourishing, we face a central global challenge: How do cities realize their full potential without leaving anyone down for the count?

Urban development has historically focused on the structure of the local economy, business development, job creation and, increasingly, education and workforce preparedness. But cities have rarely thought about these issues for the specific purpose of addressing inequality and helping marginalized people. Until now.

Recently, we have seen a shift, with some forward thinking cities, like Louisville, Munich, Santiago, Singapore and Stockholm, that are working hard to figure out how to be engines of inclusion rather than ones of displacement. Searching out how to create more opportunity, rather than more disparity. These cities acutely understand that if the positive benefits of their growth are not shared evenly across their neighborhoods and among their residents, this growth simply won’t be sustainable.

This shift is happening at the same time the federal government’s capacity — or willingness — to be involved in urban development is receding. So we find ourselves at an inflection point: With national governments taking a step back, cities around the globe now have the golden opportunity to become masters of their own destinies. Cities that are embracing this fundamental change understand that inclusive growth requires a different kind of development strategy.

It needs to start with strong leadership, which, as we’ve seen firsthand, can change a city’s destiny. Mayors must have a clear vision and a strong will, but also need to be able to build consensus and create meaningful partnerships.

Cities cannot be truly inclusive without public, private and nonprofit institutions all pulling together.

Community development financial institutions, which bring vital capital to the neighborhood level, are a particularly critical part of the partnership equation. As some of the larger forces — such as the offshoring of jobs and decline in certain industries — move us in the direction of inequality, we need these kinds of institutions pulling us back in the direction of equality and opportunity.

Around the world, cities are making a comeback. But if they are to become platforms for social progress, they must take a thoughtful and multifaceted approach that makes inclusion an intentional part of the local strategy.

This approach needs to focus on business growth and wage growth. It needs to support public schools, community colleges and workforce development programs that bring even the most marginalized people into the fold. It needs to create affordable housing and target those that are at risk of getting squeezed out of the urban core. And, of course, it requires great leadership, strong partnerships and adequate capital.

When all these pieces come together, it is the one-two punch that can help cities be the champions of inclusion, equality and opportunity we believe they have the potential to be.

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Henry Cisneros is a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and served as the 10th secretary of housing and urban development under President Bill Clinton. He serves as the chairman of CityView and chairman of the executive committee of Siebert, Branford, and Shank & Co.


Mel Martinez is a former United States senator from Florida and served as the 12th secretary of housing and urban development under President George W. Bush. He serves as chairman of the Southeast U.S. and Latin America regions for JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Tags: jobsincome inequalitymayorssustainable cities

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