Radical proposals to change the way cities such as Birmingham are governed will be unveiled this summer.
David Miliband, the Local Government Minister driving the reforms, said he was inspired by the success of Birmingham under Joseph Chamberlain, in the Victorian era.
He urged civic leaders to write to him with their thoughts on how "city regions" including Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and the rest of the Black Country could work together.
The Minister insisted he had no fixed ideas and wanted to listen to what local people said.
But he warned that decisions about key issues such as transport, housing and economic development needed to be taken on a regional level.
Mr Miliband, who is seen as a rising star in the Labour Government, said the mission to improve Britain's cities had been inspired by the historian Asa Briggs, whose book Victorian Cities focused on Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Middlesbrough.
He said: "It looks at the great Victorian cities of the 19th Century, when Britain was being run from the cities.
"People talk about Joseph Chamberlain and Birmingham City Council. But that was only part of the story.
"It is also about local businesses, local unions, local schools. It is about civic pride to drive the city forward."
But cities such as Birmingham could not be governed in isolation from its neighbours, he said.
"Birmingham is the second city, a city of one million people, hugely important. But it is inter-dependent with the Black Country, including Wolverhampton, and with Coventry.
"The economics of a city are about more than a tightlydefined area. Issues such as skills, transport or economic development work on a larger scale. For example, people will travel in to work in a city from beyond the metropolitan area. They might commute for 45 minutes or an hour, so we have to work on a sub-regional basis."
He added: "We have got to do that in a way which doesn't compromise the independence and identity of the towns."
A White Paper is due in the summer, he said.