A new model of urban economic development?

U.S. local-regional economic development strategies have evolved over the years. Wikipedia lists five waves: from 1930s depression-era competitive recruitment — often called “smokestack chasing” — to more recent theories and practices that emphasize industry clusters or sustainability or economic gardening.

None of the existing practices adequately address current social and environmental challenges.

A few years ago the public-private Portland Metro Climate Prosperity Project sought to develop a new model. It framed a “greenprint” for re-imagining what economic development might look like in a carbon-constrained world.

Here’s the January 2011 final pdf, and here’s the intro:

In 2009, the Portland metropolitan region became a pilot of the national Climate Prosperity Project, an invitation-only initiative led by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to develop a new kind of regional strategy that simultaneously emphasizes economic prosperity and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. We asked a simple question: how does the Portland region successfully scale up the green economy while meeting established livability and environmental goals? …

This Greenprint is a call to action. It is a set of strategies to elevate and prioritize our activities, starting immediately. We can no longer afford to work without a strong regional platform on which to frame collaborative efforts. We can and must align our initiatives to grow our competitive advantages, scale up our efforts, reduce our environmental impacts, and capture the benefits of the clean economy for all of our residents.

The greenprint was organized around seven action strategies:

greenprint action strategies

This bundle of initiatives was never implemented, though other plans have moved forward. The city adopted a five-year, cluster-based economic development plan, supported by a regional partnership, as well as an equity-focused 25-year plan.

This week local and regional efforts and opportunities will be reexamined as the Science and Technology for Sustainability program of the National Academies comes to town for a workshop, Pathways to Urban Sustainability: A Focus on the Portland Region.

Here’s the description:

For more than 40 years, the City of Portland and the Portland Metropolitan Region have been national leaders in urban policies and investments intended to revitalize the central city and adjacent neighborhoods, preserve the environment, improve equity, and make the city more economically competitive and livable. The “Portland brand” has been both emulated as path breaking and discounted as overly idiosyncratic. Among the elements contributing to Portland’s success have been strong public-private partnerships, a culture of planning, and a willingness to implement diverse ideas generated by academics, consultants, companies, and government agencies. Regionally, Portland has benefited from its location in the middle of the progressive Cascadia Corridor, stretching from Vancouver BC to San Francisco.

Against this vibrant backdrop, this National Academies Workshop will use examples from Portland and the Northwest US / SW Canada region to explore critical questions about the future of urban sustainability. The meeting will be organized into four sessions over two days. Session 1 will provide background about Portland and Cascadia, emphasizing policy innovations and lessons that are potentially transferable elsewhere. Session 2 will focus on ways to leverage local success through partnerships with state and federal agencies, companies, and non-government organizations, including the possibility of creating one or more interagency and multi-sector National Laboratories that gather, test, and disseminate best urban practices. Session 3 will ask how cutting-edge academic and corporate scientific and engineering research can help cities to become more sustainable. Finally, Session 4 will address the challenging question of how financially strapped cities, with the assistance of private foundations, can become agents for achieving broader societal goals not directly linked to their operational mandates, such as climate change mitigation, energy independence, poverty alleviation, and the preservation of biodiversity.

See also: the 2010 National Academies publication, “Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Research and Development on Urban Systems.”

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