The word “urbanism” first appeared in print in the mid-19th century. But it’s only in recent years that the term has become fashionable. Indeed, it has spawned a new type of professional: the “urbanist.” Defined by the OED as “an expert in urban life or urban areas,” such figures occupy a proliferation of roles in policymaking and academia—roles that have accompanied the boom in regeneration and property development that has characterised cities since the 1990s, especially in the US and the UK.
Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, the authors of The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, are prime examples of this breed. Katz is a specialist in “global urbanisation” at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, which boasts former Federal Reserve Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke among its fellows. Katz, who in the 1990s was chief of staff to the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has been instrumental in shaping American—and British—urban policy.
The cliché is that policies that start life in the US arrive in Britain some 10 to 15 years later. But the New Localism, as Katz and Nowak call it, is a rare example of a trend that has moved in the opposite direction, drawing on David Cameron’s ill-fated “Big Society.”
In reality the New Localism is a mixture of American and British ideas. Robert Putnam’s networks of “social capital”; Whitehall’s Business Improvement Districts; and Richard Florida’s contentious book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida argued that knowledge-workers (in design, technology, education, arts and entertainment) who cluster in hip downtown locations are the spur for economic growth.
The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism
by Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak (Brookings Institution, £21.95
“Network governance,” “place-making,” the “entrepreneurial city,” “extracting value”: these are the Katz and Nowak buzz phrases of choice. Singled out for praise is the vast private development at King’s Cross in London—an “innovation cluster” that has attracted a Google office, an art college and high-end bars and restaurants.
What seems strange is that a book aiming to address the rise of populism rehashes policies that have fuelled that very same populism. Predictably, the authors reject “inflammatory” ideological rhetoric in favour of something called “network governance,” which relies on the participation of business and…