Brookings Institution links nation's prosperity to urban areas
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Driving across Pennsylvania, you might get the impression that this is a rural state.
As far as land area, that's true. But when it comes to jobs, population and the gross domestic product, Pennsylvania relies on its metropolitan areas.
A study by the Brookings Institution has found that Pennsylvania is much like the rest of the country, with population, jobs and innovation clustered around metropolitan areas. The state's 16 metropolitan areas constitute 84 percent of the state's population and 87 percent of the state's jobs.
As the report points out, though metropolitan areas take up only 12 percent of the land area of the United States, they are home to 65 percent of the country's population, provide 68 percent of the nation's jobs and develop 78 percent of the country's patents.
The report, being released today, is called "Blueprint for American prosperity: Unleasing the potential of a metropolitan nation." It was prepared, in part, to inform the debate during the presidential election, said Bruce Katz, the director of the metropolitan study group at the nonprofit policy studies think tank based in Washington, D.C.
"We don't believe the country, or many of these states, is keeping pace with the realities of the new economy," Mr. Katz said.
In a telephone conference call, Mr. Katz said the federal government was undermining metropolitan areas by funding highways in rural regions when it should be paying for rural broadband Internet access the way the government paid to get electricity to those areas more than half a century ago. In the metropolitan areas, he said, the federal government should direct money to upgrading the ancient infastructure such as the water and sewer systems and pay for mass transit and high speed rail to connect regions.
"The knowledge economy really requires proximity," he said.
Metropolitan areas are defined by their commuting links to the central core and do include some rural areas and some exurbs. In the Pittsburgh region, that includes Allegheny County south to Fayette County, west to the Ohio line, east to Westmoreland County and north to Butler County. The Pittsburgh region constitutes 19 percent of the state's population and 20 percent of the state's jobs.
Mr. Katz said that in 1960 57 percent of the country lived in metropolitan areas but that figure is now up to two-thirds.
"These big places are getting bigger and getting more productive as a result," said Alan Berube, one of the authors of the report.
The report states that "Washington has failed in key areas to fulfill its approriate role in our federalist system of national, state and local government. Most glaringly in areas where the scale or nature of the problem requires national leadership -- such as boosting wages of lower-income workers, building a state-of-the-art transportation network, or responding to climate change -- recent federal actions have been tepid, non-existent or even counter-productive."
This is not a battle of urban vs. rural areas regarding funding of federal programs, Mr. Katz said. Instead, he said, when metropolitan areas are strengthened, they help rural areas. The report sites local initiatives that have spurred prosperity, such as Denver's new regional rail and bus system or employer-assisted housing that allows workers to buy homes closer to their jobs.
According to the report, Pittsburgh, which is the 22nd largest metropolitan area in the country by employment, has the 24th highest gross domestic product per capita of all of the metropolitan areas in the world. Internationally, Pittsburgh is behind only London, Paris and Dublin in the global economy.
The report is the first part of an initiative that will issue a series of specific recommendations for federal policy changes geared toward helping metropolitan areas.
First Published November 6, 2007 12:00 am