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.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A good chance that the Bloomberg-Harvard initiative to train mayors to achieve great things won't be that successful

See "Harvard, Bloomberg unite for $32 million initiative for mayors" and the op-ed "Helping mayors do their job," Boston Globe.

From the first article:
“With more and more of the world living in cities, mayors are increasingly responsible for solving major challenges we face, from climate change to poverty to public health,” said Bloomberg in a statement on his website. “By giving mayors tools and resources — and by connecting them with peers facing many of the same challenges — this program will go a long way toward helping them run cities more effectively.”

The initiative will be a collaboration between Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program, with input from Bloomberg’s consortium of philanthropic efforts.

According to a joint press release and interviews with officials, the new City Leadership Initiative seeks to serve up to 300 mayors and 400 mayoral aides in the next four years. The “curriculum” will consist of training and research programs, mentorship, and best-practice sharing among participants, though specifics are yet to be determined. ...

In that first cohort in 2017, officials hope to accept 40 to 60 American mayors and mayoral aides to descend on Cambridge, according to Harvard Kennedy School spokesman Daniel Harsha. The program will expand its applications to a global audience the following term.
My reaction

Without the support of legislators and citizens, too often Mayoral-led change efforts fail.  My first criticism of this is the same criticism I have of the "Mayor's Institute for City Design," which is an otherwise supra-laudable program developed by the National Endowment of the Arts to train mayors in the principles of urban design, public space, and quality architecture--lessons that they can take back to their own cities and apply in unique but visionary ways for community improvement.

While you absolutely need these kinds of initiatives to build the capacity for change and vision, if the elected officials in the legislative branch aren't part of the effort in terms of capacity building and visioning what a city could be, instead of their being more focused on the here and now and maintaining things the way they are and being incredibly resistant to any and all kinds of change, most change efforts by mayors are stymied.

The change process is way more complex than one mayor and one aide can typically accomplish.  See articles on social change and movements from Autumn 2009 issue of the Stanford Business School Alumni Magazine especially Hayagreeva Rao on MARKET REBELS and Sarah Soule on SOCIAL MOVEMENTS.

Most mayors, at least in my experience, aren't particularly visionary, and have the capacity for only one or two initiatives.

But that doesn't even take into account how current and unanticipated events force attention on other matters, e.g., such as a white police officer shooting and killing African-Americans in custody, which spawned the Black Lives Matter movements, natural disasters--think of what elected officials have to deal with in Louisiana and West Virginia because of recent floods, budgetary disasters and lack of funds, and rises in crime, etc.

Most legislators, at least in my experience, aren't particularly visionary either and definitely aren't oriented to thinking about the city of the future.

Not even a handful of US mayors rise to the level of a Joe Riley, the recently retired mayor of Charleston, South Carolina ("Is Joe Riley of Charleston the Most Loved Politician in America?," New York Times).

-- Mayor Joseph Riley, Charleston, SC, speech on the value of placemaking, civic initiatives and assets, and aesthetics
-- City Mayors Foundation
-- "World Mayor Prize," City Mayors Foundation

Instead of focusing on individuals, build capacity for change and vision within the local government system.  My second criticism is that while you can argue that mayors are the change agents, the platform for change in a city, the point ought to be focusing on building a process, system, and structure for innovation that is not dependent on the vicissitudes of elections, but something that is built into the local government system.

In this vein, Governing Magazine has been touting an approach called "Peak Performance," and they have published a book on the topic too, Peak Performance: How Denver's Peak Academy Is Saving Millions of Dollars, Boosting Morale and Just Maybe Changing the World, although the article on the subject, "Sweat the Small Stuff," didn't wow me, although even the Bloomberg Foundation is impressed ("How Denver has saved over $15 million by investing in staff").

Note that building systemic change and innovation structures within local government seems to be very difficult because like other efforts, they tend to be associated with particular initiatives by particular elected officials, and when those officials are replaced, new elected officials prefer to create their own new initiatives, rather than to support, develop, improve, and expand previous efforts.  Or they reorganize agencies, etc., as is happening in Philadelphia ("Philly's IT Reorganization Receives Barbs and Praise," Government Technology).

Long term successful change efforts.  This is the list of necessary components I came up with after researching revitalization efforts in BilbaoLiverpool, and six other European cities.  From "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh":

The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program.  In writing about the various efforts, I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:

  • A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);

  • the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program.  Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);

  • strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);

  • funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);

  • integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);

  • flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).
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