Donjek Project: Management of Brookings’ Twin Cities Metropolitan Business Plan Initiative

Early this year, Donjek was retained by an innovative coalition of partners to provide project management for the Twin Cities Metropolitan Business Plan Initiative. Working in conjunction with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., the project involves a dynamic core group from the Twin Cities region:

The focus of this process is to integrate several years of knowledge gathering and consensus building on regional development issues, and assemble an improved approach to spur and support innovation and entrepreneurialism in the Twin Cities region. There are numerous complementary efforts underway, and momentum in the public and private sectors has been building for several years. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with these national and regional partners, and to advocate for a prosperous future in this region.

The prosperity of metropolitan areas has been a core interest of mine since the early 1990s. In this space, I have written repeatedly about the need to think and act deliberately about investing in metropolitan areas at a level sufficient to make the most of their tremendous economic, social and cultural powers:

  • In this April 2008 post, I remarked on the important findings of the Retooling for Growth effort by the American Assembly, which dovetailed with an ongoing effort called the Blueprint for American Prosperity.
  • In a July 2009 post, I expressed a hope that the geographic location of stimulus projects would reflect the modern reality of the U.S. economy, and focus primarily on metropolitan areas and their core cities.
  • Most recently, I announced my involvement in Strong Towns, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established to make American places viable through improved land use. Since our launch in November, we have been successful in building relationships to spread a message about making investments in our infrastructure and people in part by reducing our subsidization of a costly, inefficient approach to land use.

The Initiative kicks off in Washington, D.C. today, where I and three members of the Twin Cities' steering committee are attending a workshop with representatives from the Brookings Institution and the two other metro areas selected to participate in the program: Seattle and Cleveland. I look forward to providing updates after our trip to Washington, and over the course of undertaking this exciting work this year.

Transportation Stimulus Projects Should Reflect Modern Economy

A New York Times analysis of over 5,000 transportation-related stimulus projects released todayFour-lane rural road near Fort Ripley, MN indicates that less than half of the funds are slated for investment in metropolitan areas. The analysis suggests that these transportation investments have been selected based on formula as opposed to what the American economy of today looks like.

As I’ve recounted at the Cents of Place in the past, the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas:

• Use 12% of the U.S. land area;

• House and employ 65% of our population;

• Generate 78% of patent filings; and

• Create 75% of total U.S. economic activity.

The report shows that the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, while producing 1.36% of the country’s economic activity, is the location of 0.72% of the transportation-related stimulus projects authorized. Readers will note that the seven-county metro area contains just 12% of the state’s total lane miles. So doesn’t it make sense that stimulus funds reflect lane miles?

In its most succinct form, the answer may well be no. Here’s why: The federal stimulus legislation will provide capital grants to build, renovate, and replace transportation infrastructure – but it does not fundamentally address how state and local governments will pay for maintenance and operations. Over 87% of Minnesota’s total lane miles are county, township and city streets, paid for from limited state and local sources. Overbuilding may create long-term costs that will stifle prosperity in greater Minnesota, not the reverse.

Just ask my colleague Chuck Marohn, President of the Community Growth Institute, who provides planning and zoning expertise to small towns across Minnesota. In recent weeks, Chuck has blogged extensively about how and why our current approach to locating infrastructure investments is financially unsustainable. Moreover, it undermines the quality of life in communities like Brainerd, Minnesota, where Chuck grew up.

In metropolitan areas, the higher concentration of economic activity will allow for the funding of ongoing maintenance of road, rail and other systems, which will in turn bolster the metro economy as well as the statewide economy. Future stimulus funding, and the coming debate about a new federal transportation bill, ought to be designed in this light.

Photo courtesy of Resedabear/Flickr: / CC BY 2.0