Reinventing Cities: Lessons From Booker's Newark

Guests

Peter Trick, senior vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton
Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J.

The challenges America's cities face are daunting — crumbling infrastructure, unemployment, troubled schools and budget crises. But in those problems lie opportunities. As cities try creative ways to reinvent themselves, they're developing solutions that the rest of the country can learn from.

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Creaky bridges, old schools, crumbling sewers, unemployment, under-employment, just a few of the problems in many American cities. But look at those challenges as opportunities, and it's possible to see America's cities as the engines of innovation that can lead the way to 21st-century solutions to problems like climate change and jobs.

Cities are growing again, competing with each other and finding ways to spur new ideas. What's working in your city? What solution has really worked? Tell us your story. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, we want to hear your space shuttle story. Did you help build one, go down to Florida to watch a launch? You can email us now. The address again is talk@npr.org.

But first the problems and solutions for America's cities. In a bit, we'll talk with Newark Mayor Cory Booker. But first, Peter Trick, senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, where he serves on the firm's civil infrastructure team, and he joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice of you to come in.

PETER TRICK: Oh, it's great to be here, thank you.

CONAN: And the - you're on the infrastructure team. Infrastructure is the biggest challenge, do you think?

TRICK: Absolutely. We integrate at Booz Allen - our energy, transportation and environmental practices. And this is why I've joined the firm. I think America's competitiveness is completely dependent on trying to solve this problem. And as you characterized, it's a wonderful opportunity, but at the same time with things like the debt crisis, we really have to kind of sort through our priorities and develop the political will to move forward.

CONAN: Let's imagine halcyon future, the sunny uplands of maybe a week or two down the road, when somebody's figured out a deal to the debt crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: And imagine that things are, well, pretty much the way they are now, which is challenging enough. The economy is not helping.

TRICK: Right, right, absolutely right. But the interesting thing about this, Neal, is the estimates are that if we make investment in infrastructure, we're going to see at least $2 for every dollar we spend. It is a real additive to the GDP, so...

CONAN: How does that work?

TRICK: Well, simply, there's a prediction that if we were to fix the nation's bridges, we would earn $1.59 in terms of the congestion savings and the ability to move freight that we're now constrained by. So it's a real economic opportunity for us.

CONAN: And cities seen not so long ago as, well, I think the phrase Rust Belt everybody will be familiar with.

TRICK: Right, right, and cities are the front line of this, just as you characterized. They - with kind of inadequate funding now and formula grants and the programs that operate, cities are becoming essentially the demonstration sites of new funding mechanisms and new opportunities.

Let me give you an example. The federal government put $8 billion forward for high-speed rail, and it looks like the state of California alone, in conjunction with cities there, is going to come up with over $40 billion. So cities are coming up with the funding mechanisms to deal - because as we talked about out in Aspen, cities are now essentially nation-states competing globally with each other. And that's, you know, a new kind of construct for us to think about as we fund this challenge.

CONAN: How does that work? The cities are clearly parts of their regions, their states, their countries.

TRICK: Right, and it's interesting. As we model forward what we need to do in infrastructure, it's pretty important to think in a regional standpoint. So some of the modeling that's now being done in the transportation field and air traffic field thinks about those inter-nodal connections within region, as opposed to a country.

But as I've learned in talking with Cory, who's going to be on in a moment, Newark is competing with Shanghai. It's not competing as the U.S. versus China. And so they're trying to attract the same kinds of industries and same intellectual capital, and so that's really what's to the fore here.

CONAN: Infrastructure, sometimes described as the most boring word in the English language, but it means a lot of things, not just bridges and schools and sewers.

TRICK: Right, right. So, no, it's such a wonderful opportunity. I told the story - here's a simple infrastructure story. I gave a lecture in Holland. I flew into Schiphol, the airport, took a subway to a train to the university and gave a speech. And my suitcase never crossed a curb.

So infrastructure is really kind of a core quality-of-life issue. It's the connective tissue that enables us to drive, to fly, to drink, to consume, and it's vital and yet it's something we take completely for granted. It's kind of out of sight, out of mind.

CONAN: And yet some of the barriers are just overwhelming, for New York City to construct a new water tunnel, for example, to bring water down from the Catskills, this is a project that's been underway for decades.

TRICK: Right, absolutely, and, you know, the sheer cost that we're talking about, $2.2 trillion over the next five years, it just seems insurmountable. But the fact is it's not actually the financial challenge. It's the political will to bring something we've fond of talking about at Booz Allen, mega-communities together, to knit together spheres of interest so that we can collaborate together to overcome the barriers.

CONAN: Sometimes the political will seems to be going the other way. The high-speed rail projects you mentioned, there were a couple of places that said no thanks, New Jersey, for example.

TRICK: Right, right, and it's as it should be. You know, we need to prioritize, and we need to make sure that we've investing in what are the most - the greatest return for the resources that we have.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. We want to know what innovation is underway in your city, solutions that have actually worked. Let's start with Chris(ph), and Chris is calling us from Denver.

CHRIS: Hi, everybody.

CONAN: Hi.

CHRIS: Just directly north of downtown is the River North Arts District. It was a bunch of industrial buildings built from the '20s to the '50s. And when the art galleries were pushed out of re-developed downtown Denver, they went north. And then what followed them was, you know, bands and hip kids. And then we had the bicycle share program in Denver, and now in 2016 we're going to have the next extension of the light rail to the airport, which will have its first stop in the RiNo District.

CONAN: So you see a lot of good things happening there?

CHRIS: No because there's no money. So the developers aren't there, but, you know, we take industrial spaces, and we carve out 150-square-foot artist studios and, you know, recording studios and offices so that people in their 20s can, you know, rent something affordable and make it their own.

TRICK: Well, one of the interesting things we're going to face in our infrastructure challenge, as property values have gone down and redevelopment is occurring, for example in the Brownfield Program throughout the United States, you're seeing extraordinary opportunities to take rehabilitated property at low cost and have them be economic engines of communities: Baltimore Harbor in Baltimore is a good example of that.

CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call.

CHRIS: Sure.

CONAN: He mentioned kids moving in. We see - there's reports of kids moving into Detroit, where it's extremely affordable. How do you encourage projects like that, which do give a city new life and revivify areas without talking about gentrification?

TRICK: Well, I think this is going to be a wonderful set of questions for Cory Booker. I think that we're seeing leaders, dynamic leaders in cities, putting those opportunities in front of younger generations, and they're leaping to the fore for that.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Irfan(ph) - I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly - in Boston.

IRFAN: Yeah, you said that all right. How are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

IRFAN: Basically my comment is I lived in Chicago for six years. Now I'm in Boston, and I just traveled to California for six weeks. So I have - so my comment was here the CTA/MBTA, which is basically local transportation, they are fighting for every single dollar every single day. And I think that we do not have enough political will to move forward to improve our infrastructure.

For example, I'm a health care worker, and every single one of my patients, they have a harder time getting from home to the clinic. And at the same time, infrastructure would mean that moving masses of people from point A to point B.

So I do not see personally, as masses of people, that we have will to move forward and improve our infrastructure. So we had to move from our cars to public transportation, and we are not willing to do that.

CONAN: And there's not enough - is there money to maintain the public transportation, so far as you can?

IRFAN: Yeah, absolutely. Like for example in Boston, they have decreased the frequency on weekends. And when I was in Chicago last year, they have decreased the frequency during peak hours.

CONAN: All right, Irfan, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. And that's not setting priorities, that's scaling down.

TRICK: Yeah, I think - and we just witnessed it locally here in terms of the decision to put an overhead station out at Dulles as opposed to something that would be more practical.

This is a balancing...

CONAN: That was a cost issue, above-ground station considerably less expensive.

TRICK: Right, right, right but also far less practical and probably less visionary in terms of how we're actually going to operate 20, 40, 50 years from now. So we have this balancing.

The truth in the discussions we're having is there are all sorts of financing methods and collaborative methods and again returning to this notion of mega-community, where we congeal self-interest and can afford to do this.

Money is not actually the issue. It's a culture change, and it's a political will issue as far as we see.

CONAN: I'll ask Mayor Booker if money's not the issue, but everybody's circumstance is different.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: How - what are these methods? This is things we haven't tried before?

TRICK: Well, one of the interesting things that Cory is experimenting with, and we're seeing it in Detroit and San Francisco, as well, is actually philanthropic participation. So he got a significant philanthropic grant, which he's leveraging for other donations that's going to help restore their park system in Newark, as an example.

There's going to be a need for us, as citizens of this fine country, to pay - user fee systems are going to have to be part and part of the process. The idea, though, is if you're improving quality of life, then people should be willing to user-pay. Also, there are grants and loans programs, lots of things that are being done in Europe, for example, that we can model ourselves after.

CONAN: Let's talk with Mark(ph), and Mark's on the line from Portland.

MARK: Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARK: Say, it's interesting to hear that first caller discuss Denver, Colorado. I hear people around the nation for years talking about new plans for infrastructure. It sounds like they're all copying what Portland has already been doing for 20 or 30 years.

Of course everybody knows that the light rail here is a better role model for the nation for many years. In fact right now as I speak, they're breaking ground to build the largest suspension bridge across the city's river that will carry only light-rail, pedestrian traffic and bicycles. It's going to be over the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.

But at the same time we see all this beautiful redevelopment, places like the gentleman from Denver said, the arts district there, of course big Pearl Art District in Portland, Oregon, has been popular for years.

At the same time as the guest was saying, too, that the debt problem is hurting places in the nation, but Portland seems to thrive, even with our high unemployment here. Of course, we're known now - voted the most European-like city in America with the bicycle's increase here. It's really...

CONAN: I think they're voting for that because of the rain.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARK: It is a very rainy summer, and I think we're very fortunate here, too.

CONAN: Believe me, you are. Mark, thanks very much for the phone call. We're talking about the challenges and the opportunities faced by many American cities. In a moment, Newark Mayor Cory Booker joins us to talk about what his city is doing to deal with unemployment, crime and widespread budget cuts. What's working in your city? What are the solutions that worked? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: More and more Americans live in urban areas. At the same time, many cities face budget cuts and cuts in services, too, growing challenges from unemployment to crumbling bridges and sewer systems. These are all difficult problems, but mayors and city councils aren't just waiting for the next crisis. In many cases, they are trying to turn obstacles into opportunities.

What's working in your city? What are solutions that worked? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org And you can join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Peter Trick, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. He serves on the firm's civil infrastructure team. Full disclosure: Booz Allen is among the companies that have provided underwriting support for NPR.

And joining us now is Cory Booker, who has got some experience with these challenges. He's currently the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and he joins us by phone from there. Nice to have you back on the program, Mayor.

Mayor CORY BOOKER: It's great to be back on the program. I'm a big fan.

CONAN: Oh, thank you. As you look ahead, a lot of people would think just a few years ago that Newark was - the one thing Newark had plenty of was problems.

BOOKER: Absolutely, but I think that that's the challenge in America is we've got to begin to understand that our vision for not what is but what can be has always what's propelled our country forward. And there are a lot of people in Newark and from around the country - I remember talking to Michael Porter, who's in charge of something called the Institute for Initiative for Competitive Inner Cities, who used to tell me that Newark has probably more competitive advantage than most cities in America, and tremendous things could happen there if you think strategically about how to leverage its assets: the port region that it has, airport, deep-water seaport, the five major colleges and universities, the hospitals and its proximity to the capital of our global economy, New York City.

CONAN: So you see those opportunities. You've still got those hurdles to jump over, though.

BOOKER: Well, you know, look. I see them obviously as local hurdles. But we have a national story that has to be sort of told and changed in many ways. You know, 80 percent of Americans now live in cities or directly in their suburbs. And cities will either be the epitaph of our nation, telling a story of American decline, or they will become the engines of strength and economic opportunity, the bastions of the most glorious cultural expressions on the globe, they'll be the high points of educational attainment.

And that's really what we're striving for in Newark is to turn our city again to what it used to be in most of its history as the engine for innovation, for invention, for opportunity industry, as well as the arts and education. And we're really working very hard to that end.

CONAN: Is Newark a growing city or, like Detroit and Cleveland, is it losing population?

BOOKER: Well, you know, we were the story of American cities for a long time. We declined dramatically in the '60s, '70s and even '80s and part of the '90s. But now we're surging back in population.

And not just that, but we are attracting businesses back to Newark. We have seen everybody from Panasonic choose its North American headquarters, Newark, New Jersey, building one of our first new buildings in our downtown in decades.

We not have - Manischewitz has chosen Newark as its global headquarters, now passing out lots of free matzo to my friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BOOKER: It's amazing to see distribution centers, you know, mimeo.com, Pitney-Bowes bringing in and locating distribution centers and creating really a good supply of jobs.

This year alone, we're breaking ground on 25 projects, over $700 million of new investment. We're seeing everything from the first new downtown hotel in about 40 years in the city of Newark and a lot of other promise.

Now, that's not to say that we don't have stark and difficult challenges: still struggling with K-through-12 education, still battling back the crime problems that plague America with 30 to 40 people in America being murdered - being hit by gunfire and killed by gunfire every single day.

These are American problems, and Newark is trying to find innovative ways - as you guys were talking about earlier - to partner with venture philanthropists, local social entrepreneurs who are coming up with new solutions that are breakthroughs, not just progress but really trying to find the real breakthroughs to high achievement for our city.

CONAN: And all that sounds good, but your budget crisis led you to lay off I think over 10 percent of your police force recently. And you talked about we're going to find ways to get crime down, innovative ways that - if that's going to work, it hasn't yet.

BOOKER: No, I mean, our month of June and July, as much as we've had some horrible shootings in those two months, they're the first two months that you see the pendulum starting - too slow for me and my residents - but starting to move back after six or more months of straight crime increases.

This summer right now, at least especially in murder, we've seen the rate starting to come down finally. But it's not enough. We have a lot more work to do, and we're very fortunate in the sense that the crisis is forcing innovations to come.

And we had some emergency meetings even in the last two weeks with federal authorities, state authorities, county authorities, that have come up with some great ideas that have already led to some big initiatives in the last two weeks, that have led to arrests and some recoveries of guns.

But again, we have to understand that, you know, these problems don't exist in isolation. We are, as a nation, truly interdependent. We need each other. And whether it's the availability of guns for criminals, whether it's the challenges we're facing with the decline of the American K-through-12 education system, whether it's challenges we face as being the land of the free that yet imprisons more people per capita than any other nation in the globe, these are issues we have to start finding solutions.

And we know, as you just pointed out to the layoffs of the police, you know, we've got nationwide problems with finding out what is the right balance between the power and influence of unions and the mandates and necessities of managers, like myself, that work to the greatest public good.

We have challenges when it comes to dealing with high levels of recidivism, people coming out of prison. How do we break that? And so Newark, what we're trying to do is find the right balance.

We've started really innovative programs around re-entry because that's one of the best ways to stop crime is not with police but helping people when they come home from prison not go back at alarming rates.

We've been trying to work in ways to integrate technology into our police department, to try to use that as a force multiplier. And here in the state of New Jersey, in a celebrated way, there's been a lot of changing of, in tectonic ways, changing of the relationships between unions and managers like myself.

And I'll give you a concrete example of that. You know, when we sat down with our unions to try and negotiate our contract - with the police union - we said we can't afford to give you guys raises. This is a horrible year. Most of our employees are taking furloughs and the like. And they refused to take it.

And I walked out with my lawyers, and they said: Mayor, you've got to take what you can get because if we go to arbitration, the binding arbitration rules in this state are such that we're going to lose worse by some small town in New Jersey making a determination to give four or five percent increases. That could be used as a standard for you, as well.

So here in New Jersey, Democrats and Republicans are coming together and beginning to change a lot of these rules to bring back balance and pragmatism to how we're going to operate within the realm of government and management.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some more callers in on the conversation. Let's go to Michelle(ph), and Michelle's on the line from Kalamazoo.

MICHELLE: Hi, thanks so much for taking my call. I'm in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we have suffered for years from many of the problems you described in your opening segment. But our community leaders have opted not just to invest in infrastructure but to make an investment in what I would call human capital.

About five and a half years ago, they started a program called The Kalamazoo Promise, which guarantees full college scholarship to every graduate of our public school district, which serves about 70 percent low-income kids, 50-percent minority. It's an urban school district.

And that's a program that's set up to go on in perpetuity and is really changing the way our community thinks of itself, the way people talk about education and about the kind of support we're getting for making students successful.

And the interesting thing is - another interesting thing is that this program has hit a chord with a lot of other communities. And we've seen about 25 promise programs be developed around the country, in communities like Denver and Pittsburgh and really every region of the country.

So I thought your listeners might want to hear a little bit about that program.

CONAN: Nice to hear good news in Kalamazoo.

BOOKER: Well, she's got her finger right on the issue that could help us with our crime issue, help us charge our economy, which is education. And for a nation like ours, where every city has these stories, from Kalamazoo to Oakland to Newark, where you see kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds who are given the right kind of support, given the right educational environment, there's no limit to what they can achieve.

They are representative, in a fact, of what I believe is our greatest natural resource as a nation: the minds. In a global, knowledge-based economy, it's the genius of our children.

So if we have all these islands of excellence, the real indictment here is why haven't we made this the norm? Why is stories like hers the exception? And to me it's not a matter of can we, it's the mere fact, I believe, that we lack the collective will to make sure that this nation is what we profess to be, what our kids say when they pledge allegiance to the flag, those last five words: liberty and justice for all.

Where we would be a nation where every kid, no matter where you're born, where your zip code is, you have an educational opportunity to nurture your genius and manifest your greatest dreams.

And so in Newark, we're really trying to attack that problem because we know the long-term destiny of our city is determined by what's happening in kindergarten right now and first grade right now and in second grade right now.

CONAN: Peter Trick, is education the first priority, or is infrastructure the first priority?

TRICK: Oh, I think they're hand and hand. I don't think that we make the capital investments in infrastructure without the human capital, and in fact it will have a wonderful stimulus on labor. I want to point out a couple of things that I've learned from working with Cory and observing what our cities are doing in the infrastructure space and politics, period. Number one, there is a bipartisanship that exists in a municipal level that's proving to be very constructive in tackling things like crime and the environment and climate change, that we don't see at a national level.

So they're really kind of models for a more civil debate that we should have. The second one that I think we're seeing around the country, is cities willing to bite the bullet to raise some taxes, recognizing that they have legitimate needs for revenue to support their people. And I think this is something that's, again, important as a model for our country.

CONAN: Mayor Booker, time to raise taxes in Newark?

BOOKER: Well, look, unfortunately we've had to, but it's not, you know, you start your question with is it education or is it infrastructure. To me, I always say we're a slave to the tyranny of or(ph)) where we think it's one thing, one quick fix. Unfortunately, whether it's at the federal level and what we're all watching right now or the local level, you just can't get out of the problems we have dug ourselves into by one solution or the other. So what do we do in Newark? We cut the size of our government by nearly 20 percent of our employees.

We have made very dramatic cuts into overall government, because that just has to be done. But in addition to that, we have also raised taxes because the problems that we are in could not be gotten out of by one solution. And then on the positive side, there's no one trick to this. It's not infrastructure investment. It's not education. It's not job development. You have to have a comprehensive strategy to attack these issues. And so this is, I think, Peter put his finger on it, right now what frustrates me looking at - up at the federal level is that our politics is not serving the kind of nuanced complicated problems that we have at a time where people are sort of indulging in deeper and deeper partisanship that does not serve, to me, progress.

And on the local level, we have urgency every day. So what we've done is we said, look, left, right, I don't care, really, the city is about moving forward, everybody join in. And so we have the Manhattan Institute, for example, which is a right-leaning think tank, much maligned often by people on the left who stepped up and said, you know what, the problem with people coming home from prison and going back to prison soon after is a national crisis. It's costing government. It's creating big government.

We want to help you turn things around for the guys that are coming home. So we have a left-right partnership with the Manhattan Institute. We're really about solving problems. I don't have time to engage in partisanship. And ultimately, the destiny of this country is not a Republican destiny or a Democratic destiny. It's an American destiny. And I'm very frustrated to see the kind of bipartisan support we had for bold vision in America, like the Eisenhower Highway Act, bold visions in America, building projects like the Hoover Dam that we are - we don't have that kind of bold unity where a president could look up at the sky and say we need to be the first to the moon and have everybody rally to that cause.

We're seeing a decline in this - in our economy and potentially a decline in our nation, and it's not because of one side of the aisle or the other. It's because of our ability to bring both sides of the aisle together to focus on these increasingly complex difficult problems.

CONAN: Michelle, thanks very much for the call.

MICHELLE CALLER: Thank you.

CONAN: And we're talking with Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, and Peter Trick, who's senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I want to get to a couple of emails. This one from Malcolm. I live in Richmond, California, a city with a difficult history of blight and crime, but we're going through a vital and innovative renaissance based on a version of infrastructure, improvements different than how it's usually described. Richmond by ratio has more green space than any other city in California.

We're working to expand it. We're restoring the bayside wetlands and continuing to develop the bay trail. We're also building a very popular urban garden industry. As usual, we're getting a lot of resistance from developers who are struggling to turn the wetlands into industrial sites, but, so far, we environmentalists are winning the battle. And this from Randy. Saint Louis has long been a leader in historic preservation due in large part to its rich urban fabric and the state of Missouri's progressive historic tax credit program.

This has helped stabilize a lot of once marginal neighborhoods by enabling people to rehab old buildings affordably. We could have - we have some of the best housing stock in the nation. It's really starting to attract a younger demographic who crave an accessible urban environment. Saint Louis enjoyed the highest per capita increase in educated young adults living in the central city between 2000 and 2009 even despite overall population decline. He says Saint Louis is the best kept secret in the country. So...

TRICK: Let me respond if I could to the first comment. There is somewhat of a misconception that all infrastructure is hardened infrastructure. In fact, we're kind of aware in terms of dealing with sea-level rise that the natural assimilative capacity of the environment may be healthier than trying to build levees and dams. And so in fact the Defense Department is critically reliant on something called natural infrastructure to do something called range sustainability that maintains the green space around their military bases so that they can do their training exercises. So it's an excellent point that he makes.

CONAN: All right. Mayor Booker, Newark is part of one of the most heavily urbanized strips of land in the country between New York City and Philadelphia.

BOOKER: Yeah. We came in with an anguish reality in Newark where we had what was at the time I was told by The Trust for Public Land, one of the most under-park cities in America where we just did not have the green spaces available. And so my administration, we said basically let's try to create the biggest parks expansion in our city in over a century. And, you know, then the economy crashed, and people said we couldn't do it. But we were able to create these powerful public-private partnerships going out and raising millions of dollars from small contributions as small as, you know, five, $10 to big contributions of upwards of a million dollars.

And we've gotten about 46 acres of parks redone in our city of Newark, transforming dumping grounds, literally, to now the biggest city park, a nine-acre park. We're taking back our waterfront as we speak and building a park there. And this is the challenge that I don't think we as America are embracing in many ways as much as we did in previous generations, which is that this country, this democracy has never been easy. You know, as a great leader Frederick Douglass once said: In life, you don't get everything you pay for, but you must pay for everything that you get.

And so we can't as a nation think that our transformation during the difficult times is just a matter of inevitability that our country will come back. We can't get caught up in a state of what I call sedentary agitation. We're sitting down on our couches, getting very upset about what's going on, but not getting up and doing anything about it.

CONAN: Mayor...

BOOKER: So what we did in Newark for green space is we said we need people to make a sacrifice, and many people came forward, not just with the resources but with their sweat equity, too...

CONAN: Mayor...

BOOKER: ...to be able to move our city forward. Yes?

CONAN: Mayor Booker, thank you very much for your time today. We know you've got another appointment, but we're going to continue this conversation after a short break, take a couple more calls. We also want to hear your space shuttle stories. Email us, talk@npr.org. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

In a few minutes, we'll be talking about your space shuttle stories. Of course, the last orbiter landed today on the final mission. But let's continue our conversation about solutions for American cities, innovations that could be engines of development and growth in the 21st century. Our guest is Peter Trick, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton who serves on that firm's civil infrastructure team. And let's go to Jorge. Jorge on the line with us from Provo in Utah.

JORGE CALLER: Hi. I was actually calling because I think we need to start putting more emphasis on changing how we focus so much on personal transportation. We're looking more at having people purchase cars rather than setting up an infrastructure for public transportation.

CONAN: Why do you think that's the priority?

CALLER: Well, I don't know it's necessarily a priority, but I think that if we are trying to create an infrastructure for, you know, for our cities, mass transportation is actually probably the best way to go, I mean, especially if we are having an economy problem. I don't think most people can afford to buy a car, but most people do rely on public transportation, especially in larger cities.

CONAN: Yeah. So mass transit, the way to go?

TRICK: Well, mass - I don't think it's the one solution, but I think it's definitely a step in the right direction, you know, encouraging more people to start, you know, becoming self-sufficient as well.

CONAN: All right. Jorge, thanks very much.

CALLER: Thank you.

CONAN: Mass transit projects are hugely expensive, don't pay for themselves, needs subsidies, and, well, it seems as soon as they're - even before they're completely - as soon as they're up and running, then it seems to cost more to operate them.

TRICK: Well, it's interesting. I heard yesterday locally here that national airport is - Reagan National is - has the highest incidence of metro use of any airport in the country, and I think it's in some regard if you create the service people will ultimately come. But this is - Jorge, he's interesting. He's flirting with a fundamental American right of self-determination...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TRICK: ...and independence. We want our cars. The interesting thing is if you model America's future over the next 50 years, there are going to be some sacrifices that we have to make. One of the interesting things I've learned about recently is that it's pretty clear that we're going to have to have freight-only freeways to support the economy, and with our population growth, that's going to be an adjustment that we make for an example.

CONAN: Freight-only freeways?

TRICK: Right. There is talk right now about a freight-only beltway around Los Angeles to be able to move all the freight to the ports.

CONAN: That's going to be quite a change.

TRICK: Yes. And let's ride - it's going to be a wild ride, and we shall enjoy it,

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Let's go one last call. Brian. Brian on the line with us from Cleveland.

BRIAN: Hi there. I just want to call and talk about - in Cleveland, there's philanthropy and local government take our work very closely together. So we're approaching sort of consolidation of city services and sort of working together as cities, instead of cities, sort of, being siloed(ph)) , as well as having innovation labs and things like that. And the other thing I wanted to say was that, a big problem we have in Ohio is that there is no incentive to develop - there's no incentive to develop green land than to develop plow(ph) land, which is leads to more sprawls. It's just not really a good thing. So that's all I want to say.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call, Brian. Appreciate it. Cleveland, of course, has its own set of challenges, but Cory Booker was talking about making city government, municipal government smaller, leaner, more efficient.

TRICK: Right. And I think out of some of the rustbelt cities. Recall that Pittsburgh not long ago was considered a rustbelt city, and it is now got a real engine of innovation going. So Cleveland surely has some beautiful landscapes and old infrastructure that will support new economic developments, so.

CONAN: Yet - but we're seeing problems in places like Detroit, which are considering shrinking the size of the city...

TRICK: Right.

CONAN: ...and forcing people to move away from blocks, areas that can't be serviced by the city.

TRICK: You're exactly right, and some of the interesting things that will go on as we deal with this infrastructure issue is going to see decommissioning of infrastructure, but, in turn, that should provide some economic opportunities, so.

CONAN: Peter Trick, it's been an interesting conversation. Thanks very much for your time.

TRICK: Great to be here. Thank you.

CONAN: Peter Trick, senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, where he serves on the civil infrastructure team. He joined us here in Studio 3A. Memories of the space shuttle coming up. Stay with us.

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