Monday, December 31, 2012

Mayors are where it's at

"The deal would be you take no federal, state or city monies. You can do anything you want to make a living but you gotta live in Detroit for seven years with your family, and if you survive seven years we'll give you your citizenship. What would happen is they would buy those derelict houses and fix them up by hand, they would send their kids to public schools and force the schools to improve because people would value education as opposed to the people left in Detroit who are poor and don't understand the value of education. The carrot of offering the potential of being an American citizen is so great that you would get people to go to Detroit who would never otherwise go. The mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, once said, 'Bloomberg doesn't understand. We don't have enough jobs here.' Yes, he's right. They don't have enough jobs and they never will unless they do something like this."
- Michael Bloomberg
You can say what you want about Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, his proposal, and his typically insensitive language. But you can't argue with the fact that what he's saying is audacious, thought-provoking and might actually do something.
If you're watching the national fiscal cliff debacle, are sick of national politics and are seeking a glimmer of hope in elected public officials I recommend you take a look at some mayors. They didn't seem to get the message that government sucks and are doing some of the most innovative work in government.

I think part of what Bloomberg and his fellow try-something mayors get is that failure is an option. So many ideas are spoiled out of existence by people seeking perfection. Government seems particularly plagued by that phenomenon. In business it's not that way. We fail all the time, we kind of pride ourselves on it. In my experience it's the only way to learn and get better.

If you find the intersection of politics, cities, environmentalism and urban design interesting I recommend the documentary Urbanized (streaming on Netflix or rent/dowload at iTunes or Distrify) Among the heroes of the story are mayors who are at the forefront of urban design and its revolutions. In the movie there's an especially interesting point made by architect Rem Koolhaus: cities compete for people. What he means is that if you make a place where bright, ambitious people want to be, your city will become a bright, ambitious beacon and all kinds of good things—including business—will follow. Think of Austin and Portland. They're relatively small cities, dwarfed by million-plus metropolises like Houston or Phoenix, but their reputations, magnetism, and their economic and cultural influence are far larger than their size. They compete for people better than almost any other American city.

As I write this I recently learned that Cory Booker, mayor of Newark just helped some people in a car accident. This is on top of saving a neighbor from a house fire last spring and signing a huge education deal for his city with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Like I said, watch out for mayors.

1 comment:

JP said...

If only!