Mastering the New Disorder

by Bruce Katz · April 1, 2022


I traveled to Barcelona this week to participate in the Barcelona 2022 REACT Congress. The title of my talk was “Mastering the New Disorder: City Economies In the Next Decade.”

We often hear the phrase the “New Normal” to define periods that follow economic tumult. Yet that phrase inadequately captures the complexity and discontinuities of this moment. The “New Disorder” more aptly describes the large disruptive, if not destructive, dynamics which create the context within which cities function.

Some of these forces (e.g., remote work, broken supply chains, Amazon on steroids) have been accelerated or unleashed by the pandemic.

Some (e.g., maturation of next generation technologies) are long standing in nature.

Some (e.g., electrification of the auto sector, the upgrading of infrastructure) have been catalyzed by federal investments and policy decisions.

And then there is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is triggering volatility in energy and commodities markets, reinforcing de- globalizing dynamics already underway and intensifying the struggle between autocracies and democracies.

This uncertain period has the potential not only to reshuffle the order of successful cities but to redefine what we even mean by success.

My talk described how leaders in multiple US cities across multiple sectors are rising to the challenge and showing the purpose and intentionality that these times demand — sometimes with federal funds, sometimes not.

Solutions covered include the embrace of investment playbooks, the commitments of anchor institutions, the possibilities of advanced industrial strategies, the invention of new financial products and funds and the rise of new institutions and intermediaries.

The combination of market relevance and civic agency gives cities the ability to master this moment if and only if they focus on the fundamentals that drive prosperity and innovate without restraint or limit.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “Those cities not busy being born are busy dying”

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