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What Should Cities Make?

President Trump is gung-ho about the U.S. producing more goods. But what, exactly, should cities be making in the 21st century?

CityLab, Feb. 20, 2017

When President Donald Trump announced his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative last month, he was moving forward on a promise he made over and over during his campaign: to make America great at making stuff again.

“America became the world’s dominant economy by becoming the world’s dominant producer,” the then-candidate said during a campaign stop in Monessen, Pennsylvania, in June 2016. Lambasting globalization and trade pacts as “economic surrender,” he pledged to restore the country to the glory days of thrumming assembly lines: “We will make America the best place in the world to start a business, hire workers, and open a factory.”

Whether lost manufacturing jobs can return in an era of increasing automation is a subject of skepticism among many analysts. After all, America is building more than ever; the manufacturing sector just doesn’t employ as many people. But it’s clear that this administration will continue to at least create the impression that it is bringing back goods-producing factory jobs.

So, where do cities fit in with this? With their limited space, dense population, and high costs, modern urban areas are no longer the industrial powerhouses they were a century ago. But they do still have some key advantages over small towns, rural areas, and spread-out exurbs.

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Photograph courtesy of First Batch