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.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The "conservative" platform for cities: the recent London mayoral campaign

For years I've been meaning to write a piece about what a Republican agenda for cities would look like, and how much intersection there might be with a "progressive" agenda.  After all, it was Fiorello LaGuardia who said that there is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up trash...

Bloomberg's New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City by Julian Brash.  Review from Open the City blog.

One example would be New York City under Michael Bloomberg, who had a pro-city agenda especially on transportation, and favored the traditional "reform" effort in K-12 education and Mayoral control of schools, and pro-development.

Rick Baker, Republican former Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote a book, The Seamless City: A Conservative Mayor's Approach to Urban Revitalization that Can Work Anywhere (book review), about his experience and approach as a two-term mayor of that city. Governing Magazine named him Mayor of the Year in 2008. From the article:
Baker created a position for a deputy mayor in charge of Midtown, a low-income, African-American neighborhood, and filled it with Goliath Davis, the city's first black police chief. They brought a new library, theater, post office, health center and college campus to the area, spurring shopping centers and private retail chains to move in as well. While poverty and drug abuse remain high there, violent crime has dropped and dozens of businesses have opened up.

Baker has paid close attention to other, better-off neighborhoods as well. But his most widely noticed achievement may lie in expanding the city's overall infrastructure of parks, bike trails, public swimming pools and playgrounds — St. Petersburg is on course to have a playground within a half-mile walk of every home in the city. "The reason people are here is because of the quality of life of the city," Baker says. "Everything we do, we should be advancing that quality of life to make people like it even more."

One part of the civic infrastructure on which Baker has lavished special attention isn't even the city's: The public schools are run by the Pinellas County School Board. Unwilling to spend scarce time and political capital on trying to gain control of the city's schools, Baker instead has used the mayoralty to muster civic attention to improving them. He has raised more than $11 million in donations; overseen the awarding of more than 750 college scholarships to low-income students; recruited corporate partners for every public school in the city; created a fund to reward principals whose schools perform well on the state's grading system for schools; created a loan program for teachers who want to buy homes in St. Petersburg; and recruited 1,000 mentors for students — including himself. "We've gotten spoiled with what he's been able to do," says Terry Boehm, president of the Pinellas Education Foundation. "He's going to be a tough act to follow."
I have written that DC's Democratic Party has a weak platform and gets away with it ("Special election redux: Part 2" and "Repositioning cities (at least on the coasts) for greater political prominence, and a city-first agenda"), because the majority of residents are Democratic in affiliation and aren't likely to vote for non-Democratic candidates, regardless in large part, of their positions--if any--on most issues.

That's why the mayoral election in London was so interesting--the election was Thursday and the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, won decisively ("What Labour can learn from my victory: we can’t ignore what voters want," Guardian), succeeding Boris Johnston, one of Britain's most popular Conservative elected officials and a leading journalist.

While the Conservative candidate for mayor, Zac Goldsmith, was rightly excoriated for impugning his Labour opponent's Muslim heritage as the primary reason to vote Conservative, his "Action Plan for London" appears to have been a lot more detailed and pro-urban than the average platform of candidates running as Democrats for political office in major US cities, with obvious exceptions, such as policies toward labor unions.

As an example, the Transportation element is far more direct and specific and focused on expanding transit service than any comparable elected official's candidacy platform, not just in DC, but in the metropolitan area.

Better TransportThis matters as an example especially in the DC area in terms of how the local governments have the Metrorail system has been allowed to decline precipitously over the past 15 years ("Metro sank into crisis despite decades of warnings," Washington Post)--it's hard to believe that the system can be worse today than it was the day that 9 people died in the Fort Totten crash in 2009, but it is ("Metro To Announce Major Months-Long Rehab Effort Affecting Most Riders: Plan to include rush hour single-tracking and station closures," WAMU-FM/NPR).

Zac Goldsmith even signed on as favoring the London Cyclist Campaign's Mayoral election advocacy agenda for bicycling, Sign for Cycling 2016  I can't see a Republican candidate doing that.

(Remember how Mayor DeBlasio suggested eliminating the public spaces on Broadway?--a signature accomplishment of Janette Sadik-Khan and the Bloomberg Administration--as a way to crack down on crime issues associated with people dressed up as cartoon characters and aggressively seeking donations.)

Note that Mayor Khan's campaign Manifesto is even more detailed and expansive than Goldsmith's, including the section on transportation.  The Green Party's manifesto is also impressive.  Same with the Liberal Democrats.

Although maybe it's necessary for these platforms to be more detailed from the outset because unlike in the US system, where there is a multi-month lag between the general election and the assumption of office, in the UK, it's virtually immediate.

The election was Thursday and Sadiq Khan and the members of the London Council were sworn in today and take office immediately ("Sadiq Khan sworn in as new London mayor," BBC).

In any case, to move cities forward in the context of state and national politics, much more detailed agendas are required, as well as a key focus on the agenda, rather than personalities, religious affiliations, etc.

There needs to be a rigorous debate on what that agenda should be.  Both Mayor Baker and Mayor Bloomberg invested in civic infrastructure, more than the typical Democratic mayor, although it can be argued, as Brash does in his book, that the benefits of that agenda in New York City disproportionately benefited the well off.  The challenge is to equalize the benefits and to focus more efforts on the successful alleviation of poverty so that less of a city's budget is spent on keeping the impoverished poor rather than improving their circumstances.

Also see the past blog entries "Outline for a proposed Ward-focused (DC) Councilmember camp" (2014) and "Ideal Mayoral/City Council candidate campaign agenda," (2012).

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At 9:38 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The London election is interesting.

Goldsmith was obviously a weak candidate. Very fringe on a number of levels. But it is a competitive elections.

Clearly the housing thing is directly related to the London Green Belt. Imagine in DC was the size of inside the beltway, one government, and a green belt around it.

I had to listen to a presentation by Nicky Gavron before local power were developed and it amazing how much power they had.

And the history of the urban organization alone in london is amazing. I've got a book on Tokyo politics on the reading list.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

there is a lot of writing/hand wringing/opposition to change wrt the Greenbelt.

Would have been an interesting presentation.

The other thing about London (like with Montreal) is that it is organized as boroughs. So you have the Greater London government and the boroughs governments.

Speaking of that power, interestingly, they are in charge of the transit unlike virtually every other metropolitan area in the UK, and unlike here, it's run better not worse.

Partly because they have no choice. It is better because if it fails they are out of luck.

They understand that transit success is essential to London's success.

I don't believe DC's elected officials truly understand that in the same way, DC's specialness/USP has to do with transit connectivity.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

something out of what you say a lot... of the four insights central to the success of the Khan campaign #1 was "personality matters more than policy."

At 7:37 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

very interesting. were that WMATA in the same position.

I haven't written a piece on the WMATA latest in the situation. Who'd have thought they could sink far lower than they were immediately after the 2009 crash.


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