June 13, 2017

Foreword by Dan Doctoroff

There is much rumbling about federal cutbacks to cash-strapped cities. Overlay that with a clarion call to invest in crumbling infrastructure before the underpinnings of our great urban centres give way.  “The Public Wealth of Cities” offers a solution for city leaders to amass the capital they need to balance municipal budgets, fill every pothole and reinforce wobbly overpasses and tunnels. Our cities can continue to be great places to live, work and play.

Cities have the assets to fill their coffers, to capitalize social development and human capital and avoid unnecessary poverty, unemployment and crime. Twenty-first-century cities should not have to face shrinking populations or falling life expectancy.

This is a book I urge people to read carefully and absorb

Having been Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York in the aftermath of 9/11, I know how innovation and smart thinking can rescue a city.  We completely rethought the way New York used our assets, especially land, to dramatically strengthen the city’s physical and fiscal base.

This book calls for cities, not just a city like New York, to unlock the value of public assets as a core urban strategy. Doing so can uncover hidden social, human and economic wealth.

Dag Detter and Stefan Fölster make a powerful argument that cities can finance their future and emerge stronger by placing public assets under more professional guidance. Every city owns swathes of poorly utilized real estate or control underperforming utilities. Smarter choices could meaningfully enhance the value of investments.

The urban strategy called for here is not geared only for big cities, those with a robust technology sector, or the ones featured regularly on urban innovation blogs. All cities throughout the United States and globally are sitting on real wealth. Their assets just need to be realized through better management and, as with any portfolio, knowing what to sell and what to hold.

Public wealth is exactly that: something valuable to us all

Shifting attention and resources from short-term spending to investments that can improve the quality of life has already led to remarkable success in some cities.

At Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation company that I founded in partnership with Alphabet, we work at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds to help make cities more efficient. I see every day the remarkable things that cities can accomplish; likewise, how public-sector commercial assets are often not tapped to the city’s best advantage. Cities need clearer goals. They need to track results and accelerate what works.

This is a book I urge people to read carefully and absorb. Whether a city manager, a devoted urban dweller, or simply someone who cares about the future of cities, the arguments developed throughout these pages will resonate.  Public wealth is exactly that: something valuable to us all.