Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mayoral elections of note

1.  A few weeks ago I wrote about elections in Phoenix, where anti-light rail candidates lost out to a pro-light rail candidate.

2.  In Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor Joseph Riley, perhaps the nation's best mayor when it comes to urban design issues, is stepping down after 40 years in office.  His basic speech on the value of urban design and paying attention to beauty and aesthetic qualities is linked in the right sidebar.

There are seven candidates running.  I doubt any compares to Mayor Riley in terms of placemaking.

The Charleston City Paper's "After Riley series" has 15+ articles covering the responses of the candidates to various questions including "Question #2: How would you work with others to lead a regional conversation?," "Question #6: What would you do to create more equitable housing and real estate?," and "Question #3: What U.S. city is 'doing it right?'."

Frankly, the full list of questions is a good start for any city organization or newspaper aiming to provide deeper coverage of the urban issues at question during an election.

Interestingly, apparently younger demographics are motivated to vote because of strictures on nightlife ("Younger voters, riled by nightlife curbs, look to mayoral election," Charleston Post & Courier).  It will be interesting to see if it has an impact on the final results.  From the article:
When city officials floated curbing late-night bars on the peninsula last year, young people erupted like a well-shaken Pabst Blue Ribbon. ...

“The businesses on upper King Street have really drawn the attention of the youth in Charleston,” said John Barry, a 23-year-old West Ashley resident who attended a mayoral forum last month for the first time. “This will be my first time voting because I’ve never felt like I would be directly connected to it. And I think that the decision made by Charleston in November will really lay the framework for how we evolve as a city in the years to come.”

Ignited by the moratorium and looking to have a say in deciding Charleston’s first new mayor in 40 years, young people have registered to vote, held concerts to draw attention to city issues and participated in public forums. And Charleston’s mayoral hopefuls say they are specifically targeting the 18- to 35-year-olds.
-- Charleston Post & Courier Local Politics coverage

3.  Yesterday, local elections were held across Colombia.  Enrique Peñalosa ran again for Mayor in Bogotá, and he was leading in the polls ("Ahead Of Bogotá Mayor Election, Corruption, Security, Transit Are Top Concerns As Candidates Vie For Colombia's Second-Highest Political Post," International Business Times.  He was mayor about 24 years ago, and had ran unsuccessfully for other offices, including President, and again for mayor, from time to time in the intervening years.

Yesterday, he was vindicated, winning the post.

Peñalosa has come to international acclaim because of his implementation of the TransMilenio bus rapid transit (although the idea was first laid out by his predecesor Antanas Mockus), the creation of Ciclavias, Sunday events that closed major thoroughfares to motor vehicle traffic, in favor of biking, walking, and community festivals, and other public space initiatives.

Despite what in the US would be seen as progressive projects, in Colombia, Peñalosa is considered to be politically conservative ("Bogota's New Mayor: Iron Fist with a Green Thumb?," TeleSUR), because of his strategies concerning crime and his associations with right wing positions and people on the internal peace process ("What is at stake in the Colombian peace process," BBC).

Like the efforts of Mayor Riley, mayors in Bogotá have been quite important in demonstrating the value of linking citizenship and quality of life and placemaking.  Former Mayor Antanas Mockus calls this "citizenship culture."

Public escalator in Commune 13, Medellín.  AP photo by Luis Benavides.

In Medellín, they use the term "social urbanism" to describe the same kind of process ("'Social urbanism' experiment breathes new life into Colombia's Medellin," Toronto Globe & Mail; "Medellín's 'social urbanism' a model for city transformation," Mail & Guardian, South Africa) and the city has been incredibly successful in reducing the murder and crime rates.

This has been facilitated through expansive social and civic investments in impoverished neighborhoods, ranging from aerial trams and escalators ("Medellín slum gets giant outdoor escalator," Telegraph) for topographically challenged areas, more schools, and "Library Parks," new neighborhood civic centers featuring libraries/community centers, plazas, and open spaces ("Medellín, Colombia offers an unlikely model for urban renaissance," Toronto Star).
As of July, six candidates were vying for the office of mayor ("Who wants to be mayor of Medellín?," Colombia Reports).

For people who complain about municipally-run utilities, in Medellín profits from the municipal utility pay for these and other civic investments.

4. Earlier in the month, in Memphis, incumbent A.C. Wharton was defeated by a white candidate ("Councilman edges incumbent for Memphis mayor; set to become city's 1st white mayor in decades," Associated Press).

While I was surprised, likening it the shock of Mike Duggan being elected Mayor of Detroit in 2013, where the city is almost 90% African-American, the reality is that AC Wharton has been a fixture in area politics for decades and given Memphis' continued decline, people were seeking change ("Analysis: As wildly competitive Memphis mayoral election nears, here’s how it unfolded," Memphis Commercial Appeal).

A few years ago, former Mayor Wharton, to deal with financial problems and segregation issues in the city schools, dissolved the city school system, forcing its merger with the more successful separate county school system.  In 2014, six cities in the county created school systems separate from the consolidated city-county system.

5.  Although similarly, in Philadelphia's May primary, a white candidate, Jim Kenney, won the Democratic primary, and given the overwhelming Democratic electorate, he is likely to win the General Election ("The Next Mayor - Coverage of the 2015 Philadelphia mayoral race," Philadelphia Inquirer) in the first week of November.

6.  Nashville had its primary election in August ("As Nashville voters head to polls Thursday, contrasts with Memphis' mayoral election emerge," ) and its runoff election in September, which pitted progressive Democrat Megan Barry against conservative David Fox, with Barry winning decisively ("Barry Beats Fox to Become First Woman Mayor," Nashville Scene); "Megan Barry elected Nashville mayor," Nashville Tennessean) to become the first woman mayor of the merged county-city government.

By contrast with Memphis, Nashville's top of mind issues concern rapid growth.  Nashville is also part of a combined city-county, giving the center city more economic heft, while Memphis is not.

7.  Other big city Mayoral elections held this November include Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco ("5 challengers to SF mayor push grassroots democracy," SF Chronicle).

Salt Lake's progressive mayor Ralph Becker faced a rough primary and according to polls, the election is too close to call ("Becker and Biskupski spar in Salt Lake City mayoral debate," Salt Lake Tribune).

8. Interestingly, the elections in Philadelphia and Salt Lake City pit a man against a woman (in Philadelphia, the female candidate is Republican, which was the case in Phoenix as well). The same was true with the runoff election in Nashville.  Apparently, female candidates were particularly successful in Nashville's Metro Council elections also.

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