Downtown Upturn Part 3

In addition to pro-urban shifts in demographics and lifestyle preferences, the rise of global economy driven by knowledge and innovation also holds far-reaching implications for central cities, according to the recent economic analysis prepared for the City of Denver.

The report identifies three trends that urban leaders should be mindful of as they position their cities for prosperity in the new economy:

The Rise of China, India, and a planetary middle class. Still don't think China is for real? Consider this: In 2006 alone, the city of Shanghai will add as much residential and office space as currently exists in New York City. The US can stay competitive - and tap the new markets fueled by the emerging middle class in these rapidly urbanizing nations - by promoting inter-active urban areas that spur innovation, incubate dynamic businesses, and invent new industries.

Technological advancement. The 21st century economy uses information as its essential raw material and is defined by technology and mobility. Industries and their workers are no longer bolted to a specific place by the need for iron ore or timber. They can be almost anywhere. The challenge for urban leaders, particularly those in the Great Lakes region, is to understand this modern economic reality and cultivate a quality of life and place that's capable of attracting the top talent.

The pursuit of sustainability. By 2007, the report states, the majority of the world's population will live in cities for the first time in history. So, for urban leaders, pursuing policies, practices, and investment strategies that promote sustainable development is critical. Not surprisingly, the cities on the leading edge of this movement - San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago - also are regularly cited as some of the most attractive places to live.

Despite their downtrodden appearance, the cities of the Great Lakes have all the assets - worldclass educational institutions, entreprenurial spirit, and a rich cultural people - to compete and prosper in the global economy. The region just needs to chart a common and new way forward as the Industrial Era continues to wind down.

Tomorrow: recommendations from the Denver study group.