The Promise of America's Cities

John ArmstrongAmerica and Americanism

Top_081109 Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a significant leader of great interest to many Americans. It was rumored, in the last election cycle, that he might run as an independent candidate for president. I still think he may run such a campaign in the future. I listen to Michael Bloomberg whenever he talks about our cities and their future. He plainly understands the infrastructure of big cities and how they can thrive in a modern context. Bloomberg recently shared some great insights, in Business Week (August 24), into what makes a recessionary economy a time of real opportunity for true growth.

The mayor started a new technology company in an earlier recession and then ended up incredibly wealthy in the process. People told him that he was crazy to invest big money in a start-up during a bad economy. He proved them wrong. Later he was told that he was crazy to run for the mayoral office. He says, "Human achievement is built on the optimistic notion that what is not possible today can be possible tomorrow. America has never had a short supply of optimists, which may be the best of all reasons to be hopeful." Bloomberg is an optimist if he is anything at all! I think we can stand to hear a few optimists right now.

Bloomberg is also bullish on big cities. He says safer streets in New York have attracted entrepreneurial and ambitious people, especially young people. These young adults have transformed once-blighted neighborhoods. While manufacturing has moved overseas Mayor Bloomberg notes that design continues to grow in America. This is a sector of our economy that relies on ideas and he believes there are some great ideas in our biggest cities. (Not all big cities for sure, but most of them.) While financial services have declined in the present global recession, innovative and high-tech industry is growing. Technology, says Mayor Bloomberg, is stretching the bounds of entrepreneurialism. He says, "If you can dream it, you can build it, and the U. S. has always been a nation of dreamers, even in the toughest times."

Bloomberg believes that the current recession will give rise to a new wave of entrepreneurs. He also believes, and I hope someone is listening, that the challenge for local, state and national governments is to find ways to encourage and attract this vast potential. In New York City the mayor is opening business incubators, holding boot camps for entrepreneurs, organizing business-plan competitions and expanding the amount of early-stage seed capital designated for start-ups. He is also cutting taxes for small businesses.

Bloomberg believes the expansion of capital in countries like India and China will profit the U.S. He is most definitely not a protectionist. In fact, no one who is forward thinking about America's future is a protectionist. America's deep pool of talent and technological know-how will continue to make it a desirable place for investment opportunity if government plays the right role. He also believes Congress needs to fix our broken immigration system so that our society can truly be more open. Conservatives react against this thinking but I fear this reaction is very often rooted in a general ignorance of the issue or a latent racism that is not understood. Our world-class universities can attract the best and the brightest if we are open to the world. Government's role, besides creating a climate for all this to happen, is to invest in quality of life issues by committing money to mass transit, parks, schools, etc.

Bloomberg is not a conservative or a liberal, at least not in the normal ways these labels are used in the modern context. His social views are clearly more to the left, as are some of his views about other non-spending issues. But he is more of a fiscal conservative in the area of taxes and spending. All of this makes him both an interesting proponent of the future of our big cities as well as an interesting candidate for higher office. When Michael Bloomberg speaks a lot of talented and able people listen. It seems they do so for very good reason. I have no idea if I would vote for him but I will always be interested in what he has to say. He is an impressive mayor of the world's greatest big city.