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Productive Cities and Metropolitan Economic Strategy: The Case of Johannesburg and Akron, Ohio

March 10, 2002 // 11:00pm

Summary of a meeting with Marc Weiss, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center and Chairman, Prague Institute for Global Urban Development

Weiss presented a paper that he is going to deliver at the World Urban Forum in Nairobi in April 2002. The talk focused on how metropolitan areas are becoming sources of innovation, enterprise and industrialism in the growing global competitive economy. These areas transcend the traditional limits of cities, embracing various governance zones organized around production and employment generation. He noted that while there is increasing recognition of the economic roles of metropolitan areas, there are few attempts to come up with strategies that relate these zones to the perennial problems of employment creation, environmental protection, and housing. Using the example of the Greater Washington Area, Weiss indicated that there are overlapping functional needs that tie it together even though it is divided along governance lines. Over the years, the governance barriers have been denuded as the leaders have found opportunities to work together, leading to the beginning of what he called the metropolitan strategy.

In other context, he argued, a metropolitan strategy arises from one of two models: the crisis model where economic aggregation results from a deep-seated crisis such as de-industrialization, or an opportunity-based route where a catalytic event such as hosting the Olympic games jumpstarts economic integration. Akron points to the first model where the decline of the steel industry fostered new avenues of regional economic collaboration anchored on polymers and synthetic engineering. The new economic engine has had wide impact on job creation and economic development in the Akron-Canton-Kent industrial corridor. Johannesburg, on the other hand, is an example of new opportunities that stemmed from the end of apartheid. These opportunities propelled Johannesburg and Guateng province to be leaders of economic revitalization in South Africa. Both strategies have led to the same ends: improved housing, coordination in training, and new governance structures that defy the traditional boundaries of cities.

Gilbert Khadiagala, Consulting Director, Africa Project, 202-663-5681

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