The Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz (left), San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and London Mayor Boris Johnson at the Brookings Institution.

The mayors of San Diego and London, conservative politicians from cities half-a-world away, agreed Thursday that improvements in education, environment and mass transit are crucial to their communities.

San Diego’s Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, and London’s Boris Johnson, a British Conservative Party member, touted their respective cities’ efforts at a forum in Washington hosted by the Brookings Institution.

“If you go from a poor background to a university you will dramatically  improve your life chances,” said Johnson, who added that London’s inner-city schools are improving under his administration.

“It beings and ends with education,” echoed Faulconer. “Our city is great when every neighborhood is great.”

The two cities are very different in age and size, with 165-year-old San Diego at 1.3 million people and historic London, whose roots date to Roman times, at 8.3 million.

Faulconer touted San Diego’s innovation economy, its proximity to Mexico, an emphasis on collaboration and the growing international role of companies such as Qualcomm and Cubic, which coincidentally operates the fare system for London’s mass transit.

“Last year we had 400 new startups; 73 of those were in life sciences. That’s the future,” Faulconer said.

Johnson said that like San Diego, London also remains a magnet for talented immigrants. “We don’t have as many Mexicans, I’m sorry to say, but we do have a huge number of French workers,” he said during the live webcast.

On environment, both mayors said cities need to be healthy places addressing climate change or they will lose population. “Increasingly people understand the absolute connection,” Faulconer said, and are asking “is this a city I can live in?”

“I’m a firm believer that green equals jobs,” Johnson said, but lamented the political struggles in improving the urban environment. “In order to do something difficult — like put in great bike lanes — you have to infuriate some people.”

Johnson stressed that improving mass transit in congested London is fundamental to many of his goals because this will reduce pollution, lower housing prices and help people reach good jobs and schools.

San Diego is part of Brookings’ Global Cities Initiative, the think tank’s program on competitiveness.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.