Transcript: The Future of American Cities virtual conversation

The pandemic has spurred a mass migration of people over the past two years, with some cities experiencing vast population increases and others steep declines.

A virtual Engage at the Bush Center, Presented by NexPoint conversation

In this virtual conversation, Cullum Clark, Director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative, and Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, discuss how America can create more cities of opportunity. Moderated by Holly Kuzmich, Executive Director of the Bush Institute, the conversation addresses policy changes city and state leaders should prioritize to ensure future success. 

Holly Kuzmich: Thank you all for joining us today, our work at the Bush Institute is about three main topics. Number one, ensuring opportunity. Number two, strengthening our democracy, and last but not least advancing free societies. 

And today we’re going to focus our conversation on this issue of opportunity, and the role of cities, and ensuring opportunity for people all across this country. We, of course, are watching very carefully as so many others are, what’s happening halfway around the world, in Ukraine right now as well. 

We have lots of commentary, and resources on our website on that topic. And of course, we stand with the Ukrainian people in this fight. But today I’m joined by my colleague Cullum Clark. He is a Director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative, here at the Bush Institute. 

I’m also pleased to be joined by Henry Cisneros, the former Mayor of San Antonio, and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration. Cullum and Henry, if you could join me in this conversation, thank you both for being here today. 

The reason we’re talking about this topic today, Cullum, just released two reports on the future of U.S. cities here at the Bush Institute. We’re going to talk about that. 

We’re also going to talk about a book that Henry, and in Cullum, co-wrote called the The Texas Triangle: An Emerging Power in the Global Economy. They wrote that with their co-authors David Hendricks and Bill Fulton. The book really focuses on the rise of this mega region in Texas formed by the four big metropolitan areas here, Dallas–Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. 

Cullum, I’m going to turn to you first. You obviously, as I mentioned wrote these two recent reports on the Future of U.S. Cities, we’ve seen through the COVID pandemic, some big trends that have been underway for decades across America cities in metro areas. But they’ve also really been accelerated by some of the things we’ve seen in the pandemic. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Cullum Clark: Sure. Holly, thank you very much. Well, I think one big trend that we described in the report is that over the decades, the economy’s grown more knowledge centric. And with that, there’s been what we call a change in the balance of power, if you will, between talented employees on the one hand, and employers on the other. 

Increasingly talented people decide where they want to live, and employers follow. So we’re actually have people gone. What we’ve seen over several decades, is two big trends in terms of net migration around the United States. 

One big trend, is people, net, net moving towards certain areas, notably the big metropolitan areas of the Sun Belt, basically from North Carolina and Florida through Texas, over to Arizona. And also to a lesser degree to some smaller cities in the mountain, and great plain states. And they’ve been moving out of small town and rural America, the Midwest, and increasingly from the big cities of the Northeast and the West Coast.

The other big trend is a big movement away from core cities, and towards high growth suburban areas. Which is something we’ve written a lot about. The pandemic we argue in the reports, basically just accelerated these long term trends. It didn’t reverse them in any sense. Because we conducted a giant experiment in untethering people from workplaces, if they could, in a sense for a time work from anywhere, we integrate big question, where would they go? And what they, in fact, they’ve done is an accelerated version of the long term trends I’ve just been describing. 

So those are the big trends that we’re kind of working against as we talk about creating high opportunity places in America.

Holly Kuzmich: So Cullum just highlighted some of those trends that we’re going to dig into a little bit. But obviously you’ve been a policy practitioner. You’ve sat in the seat as a mayor. You’ve sat in a seat as a cabinet secretary. Talk a little bit about from a policy maker’s perspective, what are some of the important trends for U.S. cities, and things that have particularly sort of been exacerbated by COVID?

Henry Cisneros: Well, first of all, Holly, thank you for including me in this. Thank you for the work you’re doing. Thank you to the Bush Center. And thank you to Cullum Clark, whom I had the privilege of working with on the Texas Triangle Book, and whom I respect, and admire a great deal. 

For 20 years now, the underlying forces in society, not just U.S. society, but in the world have been very, very positive for urban areas. We know now, that about 10 years ago, for the first time in the history of humanity, the majority of people live in urban areas. So there’s clearly a movement to urban. 

In the United States, my former Chief of Staff, and Head of the Brookings Center, Bruce Katz, wrote a book in which he described how, despite the fact that about 65% of Americans live in the 100 largest metros, they produce 75% of the nation’s GDP. 

That’s just the 100 largest of the thousands of cities that exist. And there’s reasons for that. The world economy is an urban economy. We don’t really trade as countries. We trade as pinnacle cities in those countries. Los Angeles with Tokyo, or with Singapore, or New York with Frankfurt, or Dallas with London. And so that’s an underlying dynamic. 

Another is the fact that people enjoy these urban places, and the amenities that they provide. And then that the infrastructure of nations is supporting cities. So there’s a lot of very positive factors that have been at work for a while. The pandemic proved very disruptive. It disrupted workplaces, and where people actually came to sit in physical places. It then disrupted small retailers from restaurants, and every other kind of service. If you walk through New York last year, there would’ve been any number of the businesses closed. 

We hoped temporarily, but now we can see some of them were not temporary. A lot of very positive thriving places are closed today. The doors are closed. The schools were disrupted. As we know, therefore, home life was, as people could not take their children to school, someone had to stay at home with the children, and that disrupted the workplace even further.

Public transit was disrupted. As people were afraid in cities, where they relied on public transit to use those crowded places where they might be touching the same surfaces with other people. And they have not come back yet. 

And then there were fears of out migration from the cities, as some people basically said, “I’ve had it, there’s got to be a better life and I’m going somewhere else.” So this has been a very disruptive period. And let me just close by saying as a policy maker, meaning when I was at HUD, we rode the wave of this kind of urbanization trend within the country, and began to really focus on the recognition that if we supported our cities, we were supporting the national economy, and national prosperity. 

That has been disrupted. And it’s yet to be seen the kinds of things we have to do to get back on track. I think we have the outlines of what we need to be doing. But it’s very serious for some places that have been seriously damaged.

Holly Kuzmich: Let’s talk a little bit more about that Cullum. You outline in your reports, this sort of formula for what cities need to do to build prosperous high opportunity places. What’s in that formula, what do cities need to be doing to get it right?

Cullum Clark: Well, one thing Holly, that I’ve learned from working with Henry, is the basic idea that cities everywhere are competing for talent. They’re competing for business and so forth. And if a city isn’t investing in the future, and creating kind of the prosperous place of the future, then it’s losing the competition, then it’s in decline. 

So one thing we really try to do in this report, is to kind of nail down what are the big things that count? Recognizing that there are many, many small to midsize things too. Just to try to organize our thinking about what it means to create prosperous high opportunity places. 

So we argue that you can kind of boil the formula down to a handful of things. Number one, great cities, relentlessly emphasize educating their people, and being centers of innovation. Number two, they build strong communities. They can work together to solve collective challenges. Number three, they welcome newcomers, including immigrants. Because newcomers, can so often bring new ideas, and enterprise to a city. 

Number four, they emphasize affordable quality of life so that a wide variety of people actually would choose to, and afford to live there. And finally their growth, and commerce friendly places, including among other things, building the infrastructure that allows commerce to thrive at large scale. 

So these may seem kind of obvious, but what we do in these reports, is we dig into a lot of individual cities, and we show that this kind of formula has been very much at work in recent times in the U.S.. And a great many cities don’t score so high on some of these measures. And it’s gotten them into trouble. And we also try to identify relative out performers on this, or that metric with the idea that we can all learn from success.

Holly Kuzmich: I’d love to hear you say a little bit more about those high performers. And you sort of took a regional look across the country at different places, different cities, different regions. What are some of those regional patterns you found as you dug into individual cities and how they’re doing?

Cullum Clark: Yes. Well, we do a variety of quantitative things to basically identify cities, really metropolitan areas that have been in recent years, outperformers on various measures of inclusive growth, and opportunity for people who live there. And based on that, we do identify a number of outperformers. 

And what’s interesting, is that they tend to group together in certain geographic patterns. So in certain parts of the country, you see repeated patterns that are working in various places. But what’s interesting, is no place has the whole formula. They have kind of part of it. 

So Henry, and I, have written about big Texas metropolitan areas in our report, we consider the four big metropolitan areas of Texas as part of the Sun Belt, and within the Sun Belt, including also places like Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte and Nashville. And over to Phoenix, there are a number of big, very fast growing metropolitan areas that have gotten some things very right. 

They have remained relatively growth friendly, and affordable compared to cities elsewhere. They have built the infrastructure so far to allow for a lot of growth. Although, that remains a challenge going forward. Henry’s worked on this a lot. I think also, actually, scored pretty high for welcoming a wide variety of newcomers. On the other hand, they don’t always necessarily score so high for educational results, for example. 

Another group that we identify is kind of a little bit of an unconventional way to organize geography, but it turns out in kind of the Northwestern quadrant of the country running from essentially Minnesota through the Dakotas over through Colorado, Utah, and the Pacific Northwest wide, very different geographies. But you wind up with some really similar patterns. 

You wind up with a number of metropolitan areas that score really quite high for getting quality of life things in pretty good shape. People surveys keep showing. They also score very high for what we, and economists in general, call social capital for civic engagement, trust among citizens, building a collective capacity to get things done in their communities. 

A wide variety of cities from Minneapolis, St. Paul to Denver, to Salt Lake, very different places score quite high in that. On the other hand, there are other measures that they don’t score so high in. So that’s a pattern. And then the third pattern I’d love to come back to because I think it’s exciting, is the emergence of some really turnaround stories in the industrial Midwest. 

We would single out Columbus and Indianapolis, but I think also some slightly smaller places, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for example, Fort Wayne, Indiana, there are a number of places that actually are growing. And they’re actually doing better, I think oftentimes than the media understands.

So there are a lot of things happening out there. Some of them quite positive. So we’re tracking these trends closely.

Holly Kuzmich: Henry, can you talk a little bit about San Antonio. Obviously, that’s your hometown. You love that city. And it has been experiencing rapid growth. Talk a little bit about what San Antonio has gotten right. 

I’m happy to do that, Holly, but let me just, first of all, say, I appreciate Cullum’s analysis. I think the analysis about high performing cities is correct. And I appreciate the focus of the Bush Center on problem solving, and looking to the future, and concrete ways to make things better. 

I would say, however, that we’re off our game a little bit, right this minute as cities. And I take my cues from the people who are becoming mayors now, or in transitions, and the job that is before them. For example, Mayor Eric Adams in New York, who is confronting a crime wave, for example. Or Mayor Garcetti, in Los Angeles, who’s about to step down and become ambassador to India. But his successors are wrestling with how they’re going to deal with homelessness. 

And even cities that are prosperous. Number one, growth city in the country like Austin is ringing its hands with an unmanageable homelessness situation. So I would say that right now, Cullum is completely correct about the longer term future. 

Almost every mayor I can think of in the country, and every city in the country is dealing with the critical questions of the moment, “How do people return to work? And is remote work going to change the makeup of their downtowns and their business districts? Is the old formula of lot of workers creating downtown vitality and so forth, broken. Because the workers are not going to be, and then they’re working remotely, families and school-aged children.” Is that issue settled out with the schools operating in a reliable way. I just saw some data that showed even in cities that are generally healthy in January, they missed six days, just in the most recent January. Which is a lot of time. That’s better than a week worth that caused crises in the cities. So the issue of how schools are going to function. 

Then there is the issue of crime. There’s a lot of crime that some people attribute to the dysfunctions created by the pandemic, the stresses, and the mental health issues that came as a result of a pandemic. So Cullum, is totally right about where we want to be going. 

But if you were talking to most mayors today, they want to get there, but they have to get over the hump right now, with these immediate situations. And San Antonio, is an example of that. San Antonio you’re right, has been one of the nation’s fastest growing cities from roughly 2010 to 2020. The fastest growing cities by jobs were Austin, Nashville, and San Antonio in the country. 

But San Antonio got hit hard, a body blow by the pandemic. Because a good part of our economy has been tourism. And specifically could inventions. We have over 1000 conventions a year, bring 30 million people a year, to the most visited spots in Texas, like the River Walk, and The Alamo, and the other amenities that we have, like SeaWorld in Fiesta, Texas.

They’re just climbing back now [from the pandemic]. But lots of jobs were lost that spread over to restaurants. It spread over to transportation providers, it spread over to the all of the surrounding industries. And what we see across the country is that cities that depended heavily on tourism, which is more and more cities, therefore, depended on the sales taxes and revenues created by that. And their budgets were dramatically hit.

Now, it’s helpful that the administration both end of Trump and beginning of Biden, put out at Emergency Federal Grants in large amounts and stabilized those budget. So they didn’t end up with massive deficits that would require cuts, and so forth. 

But we’re still in a period where the challenges are extraordinary. I use the word extraordinary quite literally. I mean, they are outside the ordinary of what cities have dealt with. When we get back on track, Cullum’s, formula is exactly right. And it’s where we need to go. But we got to get back on the bicycle and ride.

Holly Kuzmich: Yeah, well, so there are some very significant issues. You both highlighted these trends over time of populations in cities, the growth of cities. Henry, you’re right. There’s some very big current issues that are sort of making that tough right now. One is crime, number two, housing costs. Number three, issues of homelessness. 

Let’s take those and slice those down a little bit. Any thoughts from either of you on some of the current sort of crime issues, and how that sort of changes the conversation on cities, and or what policymaker should be doing right now?

Henry Cisneros: Well, I’ll be happy to start. I think a mayor like Eric Adams, who’s a former policeman, and the new mayor of New York, has the essential formula, correct. That is to say really, really competent policing, and insistence on high standards of practice by the police, forget the notion of defunding the police. They need additional funding maybe slightly differently than in the past. But they need funding to do things like including mental health workers in their task forces and things of that nature. 

But clearly, there cannot be tolerance of criminal behavior on the streets. And I think most cities in the country, including Minneapolis, where the whole George Floyd episode unfurled, and that would’ve probably been the lead city in the country to change its policing practices in a referendum, voted to fund the police, and enhance the policing. So that clearly is an important piece of that equation, the crime equation.

Holly Kuzmich: Henry, what do you want to add on that front?

Cullum Clark: Yeah, certainly our reports don’t go in depth into how to do policing better. And I doubt we will tackle that one. But I do think there’s a larger principle that I guess I would say very much I would echo what Henry said. 

I think that it’s a false dichotomy to think that cities must either choose public safety, or justice. They just finally have to deal with the very challenging issue of how you create a reasonably high expectation that it’s safe to drive or walk around your city. And also, build trust in communities that historically have not been treated well by police in a number of cases, notably black and Hispanic communities. 

There just isn’t any way to get around that. They just have to do both of those things. And I think the ones that do, they will reap the benefits. It will be very clear that they are, as painful as it is, to see each incident of crime or whatever. We’ll know which ones are kind of spiraling out of control, and which ones are doing at least a reasonably good job.

Henry Cisneros: Holly, the other issue you mentioned is homelessness, as a vexing problem in the short run. What we’re seeing, I think very clearly is the lack of affordable housing, and more, and more people are coming to the streets. 

The number of women with children who are homeless is up, and the number of elderly people who are homeless is up. And that’s as a result of their inability to stay in rental housing. And we see when evictions are allowed again, broadly, we’re probably going to see a further increase in homelessness. 

But the answer really revolves around having enough housing at the price points, that people really, really needed. San Antonio, led the country. And I use those words advisedly, in creating something called Haven for Hope, which is an entire campus that includes dental care, and medical care, and overnight facilities for some homeless and longer term boarding facilities for women with children, and all kinds of diagnosis, and treating, and educational assistance. 

And yet, our homeless problem is very visible on the streets. Because though we created a place for people to go when they’re homeless, we did not a place for them to go long term. Transition housing or longer term housing. And that is the new challenge in cities. 

Places like Austin are experimenting with things like really small housing, tiny housing, and entire communities development subdivisions, if you will, of tiny housing for people who are homeless. We’re starting a new one in San Antonio as well. But we have not broken the code on the homeless problem. And it is really unacceptable to walk through the streets of a modern American city, and step over people who are spending the night on a piece of cardboard in a storefront.

Holly Kuzmich: Yeah. Let’s dig into this issue of housing, and housing prices. I mean, every day that I open the news, I feel like there’s a story that just a year over year increase in housing prices is bigger, and bigger, and bigger. 

And of course, places that had been considered affordable, are now unaffordable to a lot of people out there. So, number one, how should we be thinking about this? What can they do and what should they be doing that they’re not already to put themselves on a better path?

Henry Cisneros: The main thing they’re not doing is producing enough housing at affordable levels. It is a supply problem. There isn’t enough supply of pricing at the lower levels. And cities have a big voice in that, through the way they zone. Through the way they permit. Through the fees that they charge developers. The obstacles that they place making housing more difficult, including nimbyism in particular neighborhoods, and the city’s unwillingness to take that on. 

Including really lack of creativity in providing incentives, support, subsidies for housing at lower prices. But I must say, the problem is reared its head so intensely that more cities are now becoming engaged. San Antonio, will have a bond issue this May couple of months for the first time in its history, there’ll be $150 million choice for voters to put in place incentives, and subsidization of housing with $150 million of municipal funds that had never been allowed in our city charter. 

We changed the charter in order to make that possible. It’s just one example of kind of the extraordinary lengths that cities are going to, including places like Austin, very notably with the massive homeless problem it has.

Cullum Clark: I guess, what I would add, Holly, is for first of all, I think it’s important that people recognize that what we’re seeing in terms of the explicit increase in housing prices in so many American cities, reflects a historic policy failure in America. Really a colossal failure that extends back over really the last couple decades. 

Economists have shown that in the 20th century, in general, in American cities, what we saw was that housing supply responded relatively quickly to rising populations in cities across America. And, therefore, price levels, they might fluctuate to a certain degree. But we didn’t see typically this kind of parabolic move upwards. 

But it has certainly been documented that in countless ways, across America, generally speaking, local governments have devised essentially, ever more ways to block new housing supply. I agree with Henry, that oftentimes that is a response to the demand by people in the immediate vicinity of where new housing might be built, to not see their neighborhood change. 

Some people have pointed out that what used to be not in my backyard sentiment, has turned into not within five miles of my backyard. You and I, think elected officials can be very responsive to that. On top of that, we seem to have created layers upon layer of bureaucracy, and things like permitting offices that have developers pulling their hair out in frustration. 

It’s going to take a lot of different directions at once. But just to give you a couple of quick thoughts on where we might go with this, one is I think there really isn’t a role for local leaders to kind of help their citizens to recalibrate how they think about new housing, and newcomers coming into their city. And help them to understand that more rooftops, and more income can also mean more amenities, better stores and restaurants, a bigger tax base that in turn can support better schools. 

So I think to help people to recapture this idea that a certain amount of growth, and welcoming attitude to new people coming into the neighborhood, actually, will be good news for the people who are already there. I think that’s not just a sort of idle speculation on my part, but I think we’re seeing that. And we’ve written about this in a number of things at the Bush Institute, we see it in a number of basically really high growth suburban places that have the great luxury of painting on kind of a blank canvas. 

And when they can sort of, from this start explain to their citizens, what a kind of a growth friendly approach is going to create in their city, the citizens will in some cases buy in. So I think in our great core cities, it’s a function of leadership in part. It’s also a function of bringing a lot of different policy tools to bear. 

So I think every city mayor understands what the set of policy tools are. And different cities have moved forward at different paces with different of them. But there’s a lot to be done on the affordable housing front. 

And one other thing, I think there’s also a potentially something that… This is something I’d like to explore more in coming times. Room for a certain amount of recalibration of the relationship between federal funding sources, and cities. Because one thing that I think is kind of dismaying, is when HUD money coming into cities comes with so many strings, and rules, and so forth you. That there are city bureaucracies and specialized developers who only work with that funding source, and the private sector is kind of miles away, and not engaged in those same activities. 

We somehow have to figure out how to use that federal funding source alongside private sector expertise, and private capital to create mixed income communities that are partly financed one way, and partly financed another way. But all kind of in the same place. We haven’t been very good at that. And I think that’s a great challenge of our time.

Holly Kuzmich: Yeah. We’ve had a couple questions come in from our audience talking about sort of issue of… And then Cullum, I’d love you both to dive into this. I mean, we use the word city, but often we don’t actually mean one, let’s look at the Dallas area. There’s Dallas proper, and then there’s the entire DFW region. Which is a whole host of quickly growing cities. 

Many of them in the Northern suburbs growing much faster than the city of Dallas ever is. So there is this tension in regions between sort of city and suburb. There’s in some ways, some efforts to move to what I would call sort of mixed use multifamily sort of walkable housing. But there’s also a lot of tension around that as you all have talked about. 

Dig into that a little bit. I mean, when you sort of talk about some of these ideas, and recommendations. What tensions do you see in regions between city and so suburb? Or how do we make sure both city and suburb are able to grow?

Cullum Clark: You want to do that, Henry? I’d love to speak to it as well.

Henry Cisneros: Well, why don’t you and I’ll follow you. I’m happy to.

Cullum Clark: Okay. So I think first of all, the whole story of course, city versus suburb has been changing dramatically over not just the last few years, but the last two or three decades. I think there’s a kind of outmoded idea that the core city is kind of where the amenities are, where there’s walkable density, and so on in the suburbs, or where there’s essentially endless single family residential, and not much else. 

And also that the suburbs are much more ethnically homogeneous, and also homogeneous on income lines kind of places. That is increasingly outmoded. And we show this in one of our reports through I think quite a few examples of, we have a data set that we’ve put up on a number of suburban places that show how outmoded that view is. 

What we’re actually seeing is that some really successful suburban places are basically creating fully formed, many cities. Kind of painting on a blank canvas as it were, and deciding the kind of city they want to be. 

And that ends up including a number of, let’s say, culturally interesting walkable destination neighborhoods. When young people come around and say, “Yeah, but what do people actually do here?” There are actually, is stuff to do where businesses are increasingly putting headquarters, or offices, and so forth that aren’t sort of your traditional one story, low slang kind of suburban office park that goes on and on. 

But actually, bearing things that look like the companies are locating, and things that look like cities with mixed use, and housing right nearby, and restaurants and everything else. So that is increasingly happening. Where that’s happening, it’s working. And I think there’s a lesson for the core cities as well. 

Also, one other thing, is that the successful suburbs are turning drastically more ethnically diverse. That’s happening very, very fast with enormous numbers of both immigrants, and black, and Hispanic and Asian people who have long been in America, or their parents, maybe over many generations resettling to suburban places so that they’re becoming much more diverse. So that’s a big change as well. 

I do think there’s just overwhelming evidence that a substantial part of the population does value certain things. And cities need to be good at providing it. Yes, they do value having some interesting walkable places. Where there’s fun stuff to do. Some people may want to actually live within maybe when they’re young or whatever within walkable range, or in the heart of that. Other people may want to drive over to it, and then get out of the car, and enjoy a day doing a bunch of different things all on foot. But people want that, and cities need deliberate. A number of places are. 

I think another thing this has been in some of the questions that I’ve seen just now, is people are really valuing outdoor amenities, green space, trails, interesting waterfront type places they can go. And the typical city, I think probably under provides that. Particularly, it under provides it in historically underinvested, lower income neighborhoods, that makes it very hard to turn those neighborhoods around by the way. 

And I think also, even in really high growth places, where a lot of new development is happening, as developers have a crucial role to play, but leave them to their own devices. And it may well will be that high growth suburban cities will under invest in the natural world, natural amenities and so forth. Or pave over things that really shouldn’t be paved over. Because of just the economics of it. 

So cities have to take the long view in what they’re trying to create, and what is going to ultimately make people want to live there over the long term. So that’s the kind of thing we are trying to identify in these reports, Henry.

Henry Cisneros: I would say that the tension between city and suburbs within the metro is definitely counterproductive. Because the true entity, the living organism is the metro. When I talked earlier about these pinnacles around the world, Singapore, and Tokyo, and Frankfurt, and London, and all across the world, all over the world, Northern hemisphere, Southern hemisphere, they’re the metros. 

Now, we live with the structure that we have, which is the central city, and then multiple suburbs. And I don’t expect that to change. And it shouldn’t. And, therefore, people focus on what the mayor of the central city takes a view that he has to focus on the central city, or she. 

But there need to be increasingly effective umbrella governance structures, like the councils of government. In the Dallas area there’s the councils of government, and then there’s the North Texas Commission, which is very, very good at speaking for the region as a whole. 

And their anchor institutions that are really regional in character like the airport in most cities is regional in character. The transit system that can link some of the city, and the suburbs for workers is regional. The road system for example. And many other things, planning for water, and power, and other basic infrastructure can be done on a regional basis. 

So the most effective places, or places that have some sort of overarching regional entity that can do planning, I think North Texas, has done better most in that respect. But I mean, Los Angeles, for example, has 88 cities in Los Angeles County. And they rarely ever speak to each other in a constructive way, and have no real, real effective mechanism for doing that. 

So that I think is very important as we think about. What I like to tell people is, the way to think about a city is flying into a region, into an urban place at night, in an airplane, and looking at where the lights begin, and where the lights end. And it’s a lot bigger than the central city. And it’s a lot more than just the suburbs. It is an integrated throbbing, interwoven, living organism. And we need to be thinking about how that works.

Cullum Clark: Holly, can I say one more thing about core cities? I talked about suburbs, and Henry inspired me to say something additional. And that is, I’ve talked about how suburbs are turning into something very different than at least the successful ones, than historically maybe they were. 

I think there’s a real opportunity ahead for core cities to turn into something that’s very different than what they have been as well. Typically, core cities have great assets to build on. They generally have the best arts and culture amenities, for example. They very likely they might have sports stadiums. They have a number of things of that nature.

But they also have something that is kind of a disadvantage until you turn it into an advantage. They have these traditional central business districts where I would argue city after city made a historic mistake by trying to create a monocultural, a central business district, that was nothing but tall buildings, holding white collar office workers in the middle of the day, where everyone leaves at five o’clock and then it’s dead. 

And there’s a great opportunity to turn traditional downtowns into interesting urban, mixed use environments. To turn where it’s physically possible office towers into apartments, and get new kinds of uses. And I think that mayors everywhere are actually trying to do that right here in Dallas, there’s been some really good progress on that front. 

And I think that’s an opportunity for core cities to have even the traditional business center, be a place where people live and work and play.

Henry Cisneros: Holly, before you go to the questions, I’d like to take just a second, if I could, and make the transition from the problems we’re facing today, and the pandemic in particular, and the things that mayors will have to be doing to get to where Cullum’s vision of highly successful prosper places can be real. 

And we’re at a point of inflection in, I think our urban thinking, in that technology makes new things possible. And the pandemic has really woken us up to where things are. And I think it’s critically important to think about what problems do we really have? And what are the demographics that we work with? What are the economics that we work with? And set out on the path that Cullum wants for us in that respect? 

So let me just tick off a handful of things here. Schools, we’re seeing a lot of imagination, an experimentation in magnet schools, and charter schools matched with public schools, and the traditional private schools. But a lot of school options are important in our cities. 

New healthcare decentralization. I think we learned in the pandemic, you can’t treat people in just monolithic county hospital. We’ve got to have a decentralized clinics across the metropolitan area to get to where we want. Cullum, has talked about walkable scale. I call it villages within the city. Neighborhoods that really function as if they were villages within the city. And a lot of communities are moving in that direction. 

Mass transit is important. And it’s particularly going to be important in inner city mass transit, linking major growth nodes together. For example, high speed rail will do connecting Dallas and Houston. And of course the airports. 

Higher education, what we call anchor institutions. You can’t name one of the prosperous cities in America that doesn’t have a massively successful major university. Whether it’s a place like Marquette in Milwaukee, or Columbia and NYU in New York city, or SMU in Dallas. But higher education and all that it implies not just in opportunities, but in contracting an economic impact.

Housing affordability. Massive focus on production of adequate affordable housing, or we’re going to have a permanent underclass and worse. People are literally on the streets with health problem and so forth. 

And then there’s the whole issue of interracial, intercultural relations, including immigrants, which is an essential piece of the policy dynamic in our cities. If we want to get to the place of high performance that Clark was describing, and bridge from the present pandemic related, and other issues, these are the kinds of things that we ought to be highlighting, it seems to me.

Holly Kuzmich: Thank you. So one of the questions that came in, and Cullum, you knew I was going to return to of this. You mentioned it earlier. I grew up in the industrial Midwest as President Biden mentioned last night, the Rust Belt, which apparently we’re trying to move away from that name there. 

But one of the questions came in, talked about the fact that recent migration has really seen sort of out migration from the industrial Midwest to other places. Number one, talk a little bit out that. But number two, you also identified some sort of industrial Midwest turnaround stories. You mentioned a few of them earlier. Sort of what are you seeing in that region? And what can cities be doing to create opportunity and growth?

Cullum Clark: Thanks, Holly. I think on that first question about where people are going, yes, it’s true that the most recent evidence from moving companies, and [U-Haul 00:42:40], and so forth still suggests that the net movement on the whole is out of the region, and out of those states not into it. 

However, there are a number of cities, and metropolitan areas in the Midwest that are bucking that trend. It’s pretty clear which ones. I think I mentioned before that notably of the bigger ones, Indianapolis and Columbus are clear outperformers, Grand Rapids, which was written off as a city of the past, turned out to be actually an outperformer as well over the last decade. 

So, there are a number. There are others that are losing population pretty fast. Particularly the core cities. One thing that we kind of highlighted in the report, is that over the sort of the longer scheme of history, when cities get enough things wrong, they can see really calamitous declines in population. Obviously, that’s happened in Detroit most famously. But it’s happened in some other Midwestern places as well. But others are starting to grow. 

So I’m actually optimistic about the scope for that Columbus, Indianapolis model to spread. Now, let me say another thing. What is that model? Sometime ago you’ll remember we had Harvard economist, Ed Glazer, one of the leading urban economists in America on our stage of the Bush Institute. And he’s written, and I strongly agree that turning around a place like a Pittsburgh, if you will, a South Bend Indiana. Turning around a place in the industrial Midwest, it just isn’t going to happen by somehow reviving the industry of the past. Whether through trade protection against foreign imports, or anything else. 

What he says is success basically is going to come from like a snake sloping off its old skin, and turning into something totally new. And I think that’s what we’ve seen with the cities that are succeeding. Particularly in the Midwest, we’re seeing that cities, that once were known for their manufacturing prowess, they’re still manufacturing things. But it typically that employs a lot people than it used to. Because we’ve had so much automation. 

What you’re seeing is the rise of knowledge centric industries. You’re seeing new kinds of technology, and life science businesses that maybe spin out from some of the really great universities around those cities. So what you actually see is manufacturing turns out to be really a surprisingly small fraction of employment, and of the economy in those Midwest current cities that are succeeding. 

So I think it is about embracing the future as it were. It’s about basically saying there isn’t any substitute, for example, for creating a highly educated workforce. One thing that was notable about the manufacturing industries of the past, has been oftentimes written about in maybe the 1940s, ’50s, or something, that a kind of a blue collar factory job could actually produce a middle income for a single earner family, without the person having an advanced degree, or particularly detailed technical skills. 

I think we want to argue that era is over. There’s no going back. The future necessarily involves being a center of knowledge generation, education, and innovation. And I think a number of the Midwestern cities have a whole lot of ability to a lot of potential for further progress along those lines.

Henry Cisneros: Holly, let me say just a couple quick words about that. First, Cullum, is completely correct. That cities need to be thinking in terms of how they fit into the new economy. A new economy that is business services, new media, international trade, higher education, medical centers, tourism. Those are the elements of the American economy today. And the cities that capture that, or the cities that will be able to succeed. 

And some cities in the Midwest, aside from Columbus and Indianapolis, which have been on a very good track for a long time. But places that were in the dumps are coming back. Like Pittsburgh, which has done it on the basis of the university there. The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, along with small business technology, replacing steel. And Pittsburgh is a model for the Midwest. Cleveland is building on the Cleveland Clinic, and a Case Western Reserve University, which are relatively close and linked together by transit. 

Well, Cleveland in its prime, had more Fortune 500 company headquarters than New York, in the industrial era. It clearly doesn’t anymore. But they’re finding new businesses like medical devices spun off of that university and Cleveland Clinic connection. So I think that is the path. 

For those that are inevitably going to decline. And let me, you just say, “Despite what we’re describing here as options for growth, they’re not going to come back to the same size that they were.” Detroit was the fourth largest city in America once upon a time, and had nearly two million people. It now can’t break past 650,000. 

So, for cities like that, not only must they think in terms of how they relate to the new economy to hold their own, and maybe gain a little bit, but they have to do a new kind of planning in our country, which is rightsizing, downsizing. Because 650,000 people in Detroit, spread across a geography that once housed two million, means there’s a lot of open space there. And a lot of empty neighborhoods. And a lot of place entire blocks that are completely vacant. And plant sites that are vacant. 

And mayors in places like Detroit, that perhaps the best example of of a city actually working positively to downsize, rightsized as they call it is Youngstown, Ohio, who’s gone through that on a smaller scale.

Holly Kuzmich: Yeah. Okay. I want to head on two of the questions that came in from our audience that are related. So I’m going to put them together. And you all have talked about this a little bit. But let’s get more specific. Obviously, the pandemic has really given cities sort of a chance to rethink how they’re designed. Henry, you talked about remote work, and just sort the changing. How that’s really changing things. 

So what urban innovations have you witnessed that you’d like to see adopted more broadly? And also for cities with all this downtown office space, sort of, what do they do with it? And what are some potential innovations for how cities think about sort of this post COVID time?

Henry Cisneros: Well, it’s a very difficult question. Because there’s nobody really out in front right now. But there cities doing interesting things. New York, is working very hard to make it easier for young people to come back to the city. Because they know that a lot of those who left were older, afraid of the pandemic, or families with children, who had to adjust to the pandemic. 

But young people, their whole neighborhoods in New York that are now hipster neighborhoods. And with the appropriate business setups, as well for young people. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh put out a call for immigrants. Imagine that. In other places, people seem to be afraid of immigrants, or blocking their way. 

And these are cities that said, “One way we’re going to grow is to be immigrant friendly.” And Lord Almighty, some immigrant groups are immensely entrepreneurial. If you bring Dominicans, or certain Asian groups, there are many others from across the country, I suspect we’re going to see people coming from Ukraine. You end up with some very motivated, entrepreneurial capable people. 

The Bronx, which was once the poster child for urban decline, now, has a million Dominicans building neighborhoods, and housing, and bodegas and retail establishments. So those are a couple of things that I think we see in cities.

Cullum Clark: It’s a couple, I would add Holly, one giant question that we’ve just kind of glancingly touched on, is the future of work. Where are we all going to be working? And I just keep reading these surveys of employers, and ordinary people, and so forth, that all seem to me to suggest the same things, that neither extreme is going to happen. 

We’re going to have more flexible workplaces, more flexible timing as to when people are in the main office, and when they’re someplace else. And I think that creates an opportunity in cities. Because it seems to me that, well, I think we’ve learned that humans are a very social species, and when they were kind of locked down, and then released, they really wanted to get out.

I think if we quiz people carefully, you’d find out that people in many cases, if they were in a small apartment by themselves all the time, that they were going nuts. And at the same time, maybe they don’t want to make that long commute five days a week to some central city workplace. 

So I think that creates an opportunity for creating more third spaces within cities. More places that are kind of close to where there’s a lot of people living where there’s WeWorks, or Common Desk type places, but coffee shops, and some outdoor places to hang out with your laptop, and so forth. Maybe get together with a handful of people that you work with on your team. I think getting a lot more creative about just how people come together, someplace other than the traditional workplace, and both socialize and actually work as well. 

We’ve clearly seen some things happen in that front, in the last couple years. As for the traditional office buildings, and so forth, I mean, I think Henry, makes a powerful point about New York. I have whatever really hard time being all that pessimistic about New York city as such. Because it’s a really good thing to be the world’s leading financial center, and to have amazing arts, and restaurant amenities, and all of this. 

So I tend to think New York will become younger. It will be if anything, more fun, and maybe a little less crazy expensive as maybe people resort in terms of where they live. But I think that for most cities that are kind of big, but not at New York scale, traditional downtowns, like I mentioned before, are truly on the one hand, if they don’t change, they’re an albatross, but they’re also an opportunity. 

And I think that if cities can really think through, “How do you turn these traditional downtown and surrounding areas into vibrant places where people want to live, work and play among other things?” You’re going to want to put green space, small pocket parks right in between two big buildings and so forth. 

You’re probably going to want to totally reimagine how traffic flows, have dedicated bike lanes for people who actually live pretty close to work, create conditions in which the traffic flows through the downtown quite slowly. So it’s actually, feel safe and comfortable to actually walk around the place. 

It will be difficult to turn some of the office buildings with the biggest floor plates into apartments. Because people like to have a window in their apartment and so forth. So that will be a challenge. I think in some cases, older, big office towers at the end of the day, need to come down, and turn into places where people can live. That will be a planning challenge for mayors and city governments, and developers. But it’s also a huge opportunity. 

So I think we are seeing some of that happening. I mean, in our own city of Dallas, we’re seeing absolute transformation of downtown. It’s kind of in the early days in some ways. But the number of parks is growing. And the number of bike lanes is growing. And actually the number of people living there, while still kind of small, is a heck of a lot bigger than it was even five years ago.

Holly Kuzmich: Okay. We are coming to the end of our time. But I’m going to give you one last question that came in from our audience. I know many of the people listening in today are part of the private sector. And one of the topics that came in is, what are the highest priorities that the private sector can focus on that really helps the public sector? Henry and Cullum, I’ll let you close with that question.

Henry Cisneros: I’ll let Cullum, close and intervene here by just saying, “I think we need to see a lot of private sector innovations in education. Involvement in education, but also private sector supported models.” We need to see a lot of innovation in healthcare. I really believe that the pandemic scared us, and somehow at some deep level, we know that wasn’t the last one we’re going to confront. 

So I see a lot of cities where urgent care that people didn’t really recognize before, now they know exactly where it is in their city. And they’re going to utilize it more and more. And so private models of offering healthcare are on a decentralized basis are going to become more available. There will be many other private sector contributions along the lines of retail activity, and small spaces, and restaurants, and many other things.

Cullum Clark: Henry, what a pleasure to do this with you. Thank you for joining us today. Always great to work together.

Henry Cisneros: Holly, thank you.

Cullum Clark: My thoughts on that, Holly, there’s an enormous role for the private sector. And we talk at the Bush Institute to a lot of CEOs, a lot of management types, and they’re eager, they’re hungry. They’re saying help us understand how can we actually make a difference in our city. 

So I would agree with Henry. A couple quick themes there, one, is very simply innovation. Henry’s, just spoken to some of it. That there are three areas where we have not seen enough innovation in taking down the cost of delivering basic things over the last several decades. We haven’t seen enough innovation to take down the cost, for example, higher education, or the cost of delivering basic healthcare. 

We also have not seen enough innovation in taking down the cost of building new housing, maybe with new materials and so forth. Innovation that takes down the costs of those things can result in our ability to do a lot more of all of those things. And we need a lot of those of those things. So that’s a great area that the private sector is likely to lead in. 

Collaboration. I think I already spoke to this before. There’s too much segmentation of the private sector versus the public sector. Never the twain shall meet. This is not a good way for us to build the cities of the future, I would suggest. 

And lastly, I would say community building. I think we’re big believers at the Bush Institute. I hope you would agree Holly, that it’s not just about the federal government. It’s not just about local government. It’s about civil society. It’s about people coming together, working together sometimes in new and innovative ways. 

And I think the private sector in any city has a significant role to play in reaching out, and building this surprising coalition that it can figure out how to tackle some challenge together that doesn’t just wait for city hall to get it right, or wait for Congress to pass some bill. 

So there’s a huge role for the private sector to play. And there’s a lot of good progress on that front. So we look forward to engaging with the private sector as well as with government in our work in this program.

Holly Kuzmich: Great. Well, Henry, Cullum, thank you both for participating today. Great conversation for all of you tuning in. Thank you for joining us today. As always, you can find Cullum’s reports on, and all of the work that we do on these topics. So thanks everyone for being here.