02:29 AM

“New Urban Crisis” author looks to cities to help solve national problems

City hall – not Capitol Hill – might hold the key to boosting the middle class and healing a deep political divide. That’s one of the central ideas author Richard Florida proposed as part of a discussion at The Ohio State University on Wednesday.

Florida, a former faculty member at Ohio State, is the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and author of “The New Urban Crisis.” His discussion, held at Mershon Auditorium, was part of the Provost’s Discovery Themes Lecturer Program.

“We have a country where we can empower local,” Florida said. “There is no one-size-fits-all urban policy.”

Florida’s book focuses on the challenges facing urban areas, including gentrification, poverty and a shrinking middle class. When he was writing the book, he thought the solutions might come from a council of mayors offering input into federal policy.

“We would create a council of cities who would be like the National Security Council or the National Economic Council,” Florida said. “They would give the president the advice needed to invest in cities and overcome the new urban crisis.”

 Ohio mayors discus urban inequality photo by Kevin Fitzsimons

Based on the current political environment, he now believes the problem must be solved from the ground up. Florida said it’s not enough for cities to see economic success; that success must reach all residents.

“Poverty is not the problem. Poverty simply means the absence of economic development,” Florida said.

He turned to some Ohio leaders for help. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik and former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams joined Florida to talk about their experience leading cities.

Florida praised Ginther for the city’s success in the Smart Cities Challenge. Columbus and Ohio State helped win a $40 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to research high-tech transportation systems in the city. Ginther says the Smart Columbus program will help in the city’s struggling neighborhoods.

“What I can do through Smart Columbus, is open up ladders of opportunity to the job centers, to health care, to affordable child care and to continuing education,” Ginther said.

Mihalik agreed. She said city leaders are often finding ways to share resources to reduce poverty or better train their workforce.

“There are amazing ideas happening and evolving in Ohio cities,” Mihalik said. “We can help solve some of these issues.”

Florida’s visit to Ohio State comes as the university is working to address health, education and economic development in the Columbus metro area. A faculty review group is investigating how the university can better use its resources to help. Recommendations will be made to the administration in the summer.