Wednesday, this week, there was a conference in Puerto Rico, on “The Role of Cities in a Global Economy”. The New York Fed Bank, in part, played a role in the conference and suggested that I be invited to speak because of my work on economic growth.
The conference materials had a predisposition toward cluster strategy; “agglomeration” was a frequently used term. Along with this predisposition, there was a feeling that metropolitan regions should learn from the past successes of cities like New York.
So I first raised what I thought was the big open question: how should a place like Puerto Rico (and its San Juan metropolitan area) advance the economic well being of its residents?
While New York succeeded in the industrial age because it had the largest agglomeration of resources, this does not mean that Puerto Rico should try to imitate such a large metro area now.
Rather than trying to “win the last war”, there is an opportunity for Puerto Rico to find a leading role in the future economy by not playing according to industrial era rules. At least some of Puerto Rico’s economic strategy should focus on this future.
Other speakers and interesting insights:
- Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT Senseable City, expanded the vision to include Public Participation 2.0 and reminded people again that when technology becomes ubiquitous it becomes invisible and most useful.
- Martin Fleming, Chief Economist of IBM, recommended that cities decide what brand their city should be and then go about implementing that brand. (Of course, I liked this statement since I’ve told mayors that they have to start thinking about themselves as brand managers, who need to understand market segmentation. Everyone does not agree on what is the ideal quality of urban life, so find what your city can offer best and that becomes part of your brand.)
- Anthony Townsend, Research Director of the Institute of the Future, talked about clusters forming the foundation for economic growth – but innovation clusters. This is not about the traditional one-industry physical clusters, but instead about networks of creative people.
The conference brought together many of the thought leaders about the future of cities and it was also inspiring to see an audience that intends to act upon what they learned to leapfrog their economy.
© 2012 Norman Jacknis