Campaigning in Cleveland

The three leading Democratic presidential campaigns will slide through Cleveland, OH in the next week. The question is whether any of them will directly address what is one of the most important issues in that and other Great Lakes cities: urban revitalization.

The smart money says 'not a chance.' Senator Hillary Clinton. Senator Barak Obama. Former Senator John Edwards. Not one of them has yet offered a serious agenda to restore the health and vitality of urban areas. And that's a shame because a historic convergence of global mega trends suggests strong cities are the key to future prosperity for the Rust Belt, and America as a nation.
  • The urgent need to attract young, talented workers and prosper in the Digital Age.
  • Anxiety about increasing traffic congestion, rising gas prices, and the growing financial burden of car ownership.
  • The bright ambitions to promote green building and sustainable development.
  • Demographic changes and immigration trends fueling population growth in central cities.
  • Mounting concerns about climate change and environmental protection.
  • Lifestyle changes that favor walking, biking, and healthy living.

These trends overwhelmingly favor growth in metropolitan areas with vibrant downtowns, attractive waterfronts, convenient public transit, plenty of green space, and good schools. That's something that, outside of Chicago, is rare around the Great Lakes.

The Democratic candidates all express the urgent need to stregthen families, promote energy independence, and stomp out poverty. But those are empty words for a region stuggling through heavy job losses, busted budgets, and other dismal economic trends. They need to dive much deeper to distinguish themselves and their capacity to lead.

If the common goal is to nurture high tech companies, generate good paying jobs, and boost competitiveness in the knowledge economy, then strong cities are an essential component of economic success.

The issue of war in the Middle East continues to suck the oxygen out of any substantive debate about domestic issues. But when political hopefuls specifically recommend updating federal policies and redirecting government spending to help cities thrive, we'll know they understand the fundamental challenges facing the Great Lakes economy in the 21st century.