Brookings Institute to help ‘New American Heartland’ navigate D.C.

Move over, Iowa. Colorado and its southern Intermountain West neighbors now comprise the “New American Heartland.” That’s according to the Brookings Institute, which argues the most interesting changes in the country are taking place in the Intermountain West right now.

This week, the Brookings Institute set up the Mountain West Initiative, its largest domestic satellite at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. There, visiting scholars will rotate through, developing policy for the region.

The problem with the Intermountain West, says the Institute, is that local and state leaders—far from D.C.’s hallowed halls—don’t fully understand how to work together to assert the Intermountain States’ causes in the nation’s Capitol. And Washington isn’t paying attention on its own.

According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the most radical demographic, land-use and economic transformations in the nation are currently occurring in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah

“The region is growing up, flexing its muscles and distancing itself from California, which has historically had an outsized impact on the West’s development,” wrote the Institute last fall.

The Mountain West Initiative is particularly interested in a new kind of urban place in the Southwest that it calls “megapolitan areas”—“vast, newly recognized ‘super regions’ that often combine two or more metropolitan areas into a single huge economic, social and urban system.”

Basically, if you live in the Front Range—where Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs are all linked along the I-25 corridor—you live in one of these pioneering new urban spaces.

The work of the Mountain West Initiative will be guided by a report issued by the Institute last summer: Mountain Megas: America’s Newest Metropolitan Places and a Federal Partnership to Help Them Prosper. The report suggests that while mountain states have become increasingly popular places to live and work, they need to do a better job of working together and with the federal government to harness and guide that growth in ways that are sustainable, productive and inclusive.

Namely, it suggests the states:

-Develop a better surface and air transportation network–including international connections.

-Drive innovation in the region by improving research at state universities and developing strategic industry clusters.

-Provide better education to all citizens, particularly immigrants.

-Craft well-designed urban spaces—in many cases, by undoing the legacy of auto-influenced development.

For more Colorado-specific suggestions from the Brookings Institute, read this section of the report.

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Katie Redding

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