With Clive Betts MP and the LSE, we hosted a fantastic speech from Bruce Katz today, in the House of Commons. His presentation was awesome - as they say in America - and put our boring powerpoints to shame. Faisal Islam (Channel 4 News) chaired the debate, and the panel included Howard Davies (LSE) and Liz Peace (British Property Federation).
Bruce presented the early findings of Blueprint for American Prosperity - a major new research programme from the Brookings Institution, launched in the US last November. His basic message is that the US is now "a metro nation" - not 50 separate states, but a network of over 300 different metropolitan areas - and these metro areas are critical to America's future.
The US and the UK are clearly two very different countries. And our cities are very different, too. But as Bruce pointed out, we also share some common issues. For example, the US and the UK are both facing stiffer global competition, both need to improve transport infrastructure, and both are working out how to focus more on functional economies - "metro areas" in the US, "city-regions" here.
For us, the debate highlighted two major issues: (1) the need for our cities to have stronger financial powers, to incentivise local growth and part-finance better infrastructure; and (2) the need for large cities here to link up more effectively with their neighbouring smaller cities and towns. We're going to publish a report on that quite soon...
Bruce is great at the big picture stuff - and highlighted really well the importance of urban areas to the US economy. Too often we get bogged down in the "urban versus rural" stand-off, or very dull discussions about institutions and structures. Instead, we should shout a bit louder about the massive contribution that cities play in the national economy.
Bruce is also keen to learn from the UK, and from the rest of Europe. This is long overdue. For too long, there has been a one-way flow of policy ideas from the US to the UK. I'm now detecting a genuine appetite in the US for fresh ideas, on things like smart growth and congestion charging.
We'll be working more with Brookings this year, highlighting the lessons that the US can learn from the UK. Ministers take note - instead of flying to the US in search of policy inspiration, perhaps you should be doing more to sell our version of cities to the US...