'The Metropolitan Moment,' one year later

Last year, our "Rethinking Philadelphia" section found a renewed focus on metropolitan regions, especially older, denser core cities, which forecast a potential turn in fortunes for Philadelphia and the region.

So, how have we done in the ensuing year? Has the Obama administration kept its focus on pushing agencies and departments to think more collaboratively to attack the big problems?

As economic, environmental and political forces have aligned to make it a new moment for cities, how has our own region positioned itself for opportunities?

For the big picture, we talked to Amy Liu, deputy director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, which has kept a close eye on many of the trends we wrote about. She thinks that the "Metro Moment" has solidified in the past year, in a couple of ways.

"There's been a flurry of integrated thinking at the federal level," she says, "which has resulted in programatic opportunities."

One such example was at a recent "Smart Growth" conference in Seattle, where Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson joined forces to talk about building sustainable neighborhoods. That kind of cross-agency collaboration is becoming more common.

But Liu is most excited about a new idea announced by the Obama administration in February: seven federal agencies working together to create a $130 million grant to design an energy innovation cluster. It's the first joint grant of its kind that includes the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the National Science Foundation and others.

In fact, if you're keeping track of metro-policy news, you'll find that "clusters" is an important new key word. (Read more about the larger issues in metropolitan policy at www.tnr.com/blogs/

the-avenue - "Rethinking Metropolitan Policy.")

While Liu is optimistic about the headway made in the year since "The Metropolitan Moment," she cautions that money is tight, and that could slow progress considerably.

Locally, though, money hasn't run out yet; in fact, just last week Mayor Nutter annouced that the city and its partners in the multi-county Metropolitan Caucus got a $25 million grant from the Department of Energy.

The grant will be used to ramp-up residential and commercial building energy-efficiency retrofit activities. It's expected to create hundreds of jobs and save the region millions in energy costs over the next several years.

As Katherine Gajewski, director of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, points out, this grant is also notable because it acknowledges that energy-efficient markets must be considered in regional terms. She's working to make the region a "power valley" in the emerging energy economy.

- Sandra Shea