In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Henry Cisneros, the former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Development, was invited by the School of Planning, Design and Construction to give a lecture Oct. 11 at MSU.
November 21, 2017 - Author: Heidi Macwan
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Henry Cisneros, the former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Development, was invited by the School of Planning, Design and Construction (SPDC) to give a lecture Oct. 11 at Michigan State University.
As a four-time mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Cisneros is one of the first Hispanic Americans to have run a major city. The American Mayor named him one of the nation’s 15 best mayors of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Cisneros currently co-chairs the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Immigration Task Force, where he considers all aspects of immigration reform and encourages dialogue among interest groups and decision makers.
He spoke on three topics: Cities and the economy, smart growth and sustainability, and American Latinos and the nation’s future.
Cisneros began his presentation by talking about the importance of land grant institutions like Michigan State University and Texas A&M University, where he attended school and sat on the board, for which he has great respect for these institutions.
He has a degree in urban planning from Texas A&M’s Department of Urban Planning, which is housed in the School of Architecture. He congratulated SPDC and its associated colleges for bringing together the building art disciplines under one roof, and for offering “multidisciplinary, cross-cutting courses that resemble what students will face in real life.”
“It is fitting that the School of Planning Design and Construction brought Dr. Cisneros to campus in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Although the impacts of the growth of the Latino population in America have begun to permeate all of American life, they are most evident in our urban spaces,” said SPDC Associate Professor Rene Rosenbaum.
Cisneros also discussed a demographic trend on the continuing urbanization of the country and what that means for America. “Today, in the world, more people live in cities than in rural areas for the first time in recorded history,” he said.
He shared that 65% of American people live in just the 100 largest cities, and they generate 75% of the country’s GDP, and they generate 78% of the country’s patents and research activities. He also touched on the importance of ports, airports and cargo facilities as important connectors of the world, which are driven by metro areas.
Factors that contribute to the primacy of urban areas, in the U.S. and around the world, where the economy has moved away from a manufacturing economy to a multitude of urban-friendly industries, such as professional and business services, international trade, anchor institutions like higher education and big medical centers, etc., which attract young entrepreneurs.
Cisneros commented that cities are becoming more entrepreneurial and partnering with public-private partnerships. That core cities are starting to collaborate with their suburbs in the metro at large, instead of operating as separate entities.
Then, he said there are the demographics that are working in favor of urban American, such as millennials, the young professionals, who want to live in urban places like a “24-hour city.” Then, there are empty nesters who are leaving the suburbs and going downtown, the minorities who are becoming the new middle class, and immigrants who seek out cities as places to get their start.
Cisneros emphasized the importance of higher density and mixed-income housing that are helping to transform places that were once off limits to investment into neighborhoods that are seamlessly integrated into the streetscape of the larger city. The role of technology and building materials, smart buildings, are important too, he said.
He believes that cities are becoming places of equity, “engines of the American economy, where lots of investment, development, square footage being built, business coming back in, and small businesses and entrepreneurs coming into the city.”
He said, “For cities to transform that role into a conscious role, into an intentional role is important, and I think that’s what we’re about to begin to see across the country.”
Cisneros continued, “Cities have a moment here, because they’re the crucible where many of these forces are going to play out, because it is where inequality will be the most start, because cities have the essential pre-condition for creating economic opportunity and that is a growing economy, a rising tide of opportunity.”
Words like investment in human capital, neighborhoods, in community economic development, in career-oriented jobs are themes that are now playing out, he said.
Then, he discussed an aspect of demographic trends, the growth of the Hispanic population, in recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Cisneros stated that Latinos today are about 55 million in a country of about 320 million people; 17% of the population. But, that 55 million is growing to 100 million by 2040, while the country will grow to about 400 million.
He said this means that Latinos will be more than half of the growth that occurs in the U.S. That growth will not just be in the traditional places, but also in places that are smaller and growing fast, where people have gone in the migrant stream, where people go to work, in the New South, the heartland.
Several world populations that aren’t very immigrant-friendly are declining in population as they become more prosperous and are having fewer children. This results in an aging population that begins to decline and have a lack of manpower for various industries.
The U.S. conversely is a growing population, because of the Latino community. “Latino families tend to be larger than the average, and those children will go on to have families of their own. They will become the backbone of our new middle class, and they will become the backbone of our consumer capabilities and our workforce in the years to come,” he elaborated.
Cisneros pointed out that that Latinos have a major influence and role in the economy. “If the 55 million Latinos were counted as a nation, in terms of GDP, it would be the second most prosperous GDP of any Spanish-speaking group in the world after Spain,” he said.
What does this expanse and influence of Latinos mean for the United States? Cisneros argues that it’s a lot. “It may be one of the fundamental dynamics that shapes, one could even say without exaggeration, saves the country’s economic future, because it depends on growth,” he said.
People ask him if he’s optimistic. In sober moments he said he phrases it this way: “We know that the Latino population is going to be large. But, is it going to be large, undereducated, underproductive, undercompensated, and therefore alienated in the American future. That’s one scenario.”
Cisneros continued, “Or, is it going to be large, but educated, included, productive, creative, a major source of energy for the nation’s future. That’s the swing. That’s what’s involved in making decisions about legislation, about policy, about budgets, about strategy going forward.”
He outlined key areas of strategy:
“I take from Dr. Cisneros’ talk that if America is to leverage the current demographic trends for its benefit, our social institutions need to be strategic in their intent. Reacting to market forces will not suffice. Indeed, those places and institutions that fail to leverage this unprecedented social development are sure to risk their current standing,” said SPDC Associate Professor Rene Rosenbaum.
Cisneros wrapped up with session by answering some questions from the audience: