America's Cities: Re-building America from the Ground Up

STUDY GROUP LED BY IOP FELLOW MANNY DIAZ

Day: Tuesdays
Time: 4:00-5:30PM
Location: L166

America is gripped by the Great Recession.  A collective mood of unrest has grown into dissatisfaction and disaffection with politics and the political process. There is a belief that our best days are behind us, no one can get us out of this mess.  People are losing their jobs, their homes, and their savings, everything they worked for.  And we can’t agree as to when it will end.

Politicians in Washington talk past one another, engaging in partisan, meaningless bickering, while not addressing the underlying conditions that got us here.  Politics is less about long term solutions and more about winning the evening’s news cycle.  For the first time in our history, we are in real danger of failing to pass on a better world than the one our parents left us.

How then do we rebuild America? What happens now?  The answer must come from all of you.

Today, a commitment to public service is no longer an option, but an imperative, more important today than perhaps at any other time in our history.  It is how you assure that the American Dream will still be available to you and your children.

Our study group will examine the area where you can have the greatest impact........the cities where you live.

We posit that the only way to reverse the systemic, long-term economic crisis we are in today is through an investment in American cities.  Consider that 85% of the American people live in metropolitan areas that are responsible for nearly 90% of all jobs, income and our gross domestic product.  Cities generate wealth, prosperity and opportunity…creating sustainable economies.

An investment in America’s cities, an investment in America’s people, is an investment in your future and America’s future.

Accepted: guest speakers (dates to be determined) include Mayors Michael R. Bloomberg, (New York City); Richard M. Daley (Chicago); Antonio R. Villaraigosa (Los Angeles); Joseph P. Riley Jr. (Charleston); Jerry E. Abramson (Louisville), Leopoldo Lopez (Chacao/Caracas) and former NY First Deputy Commissioner/Philadelphia Commissioner and Miami Chief of Police John F. Timoney.

 

SESSION 1- FEBRUARY 16- INTRODUCTION/ PERSONAL BACKGROUND
I came to this country as a 6 year old fleeing Communism on a freedom flight, sitting on my mother’s lap.  My parents worked two and three jobs at any one time; cleaning toilets, parking cars, washing dishes and working in factories.  Yet, they never despaired - they knew that if they worked hard, I would have the opportunities and the promise that America has always stood for.

Poverty youth employment programs provided me my first job; a school janitor at $1.10 an hour.  Student loans allowed me to attend college and law school.

Because America invested in me, I am able to give back through public service.

Recently, I spoke at a naturalization ceremony and as I looked out at America’s new citizens I wondered: do they see the same things in America I saw?  Is America still willing to invest in its people; provide the tools for opportunity?  Does a 6 year old child today see the same promise?


SESSION 2 – FEBRUARY 23- MAYORS AS ARCHITECTS OF THEIR CITIES

The fight to save the planet from irreversible climate change begins on Main Street- we must embrace smart growth- to design cities that make sense.

The challenges Mayors face daily can be seen through the context of the Mayor’s role to make cities sustainable, to make them work, to be the architects of their future.

While traditional American cities were developed as high density, compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, that is no longer the case.  We abandoned cities for the failed promise of the suburbs.  We paved our land, and destroyed natural areas. We wasted water resources, and spent billions to connect distant neighborhoods.  We strained municipal budgets, and glorified the automobile.

Today, ensuring a sustainable future requires that we design cities not around cars, but around people.


SESSION 3-   MARCH 2- INVESTING IN PEOPLE, INVESTING IN AMERICA

Our nation’s infrastructure (aviation, energy, rail, surface transportation and water systems) is the backbone of our economy.  Yet, America’s backbone is broken. Our spinal cord is severed. When we drive across a bridge, we wonder if it will collapse.  When a storm comes, we wonder if we will be safe.  When we turn on our faucet, we wonder where our water will come from.

Over 70 percent of the world's energy is consumed in or by cities of the world.  A recent survey of America’s Mayors showed that 35% of our cities do not know where their water will come from in 20 years.

1 in every 6 children lives in poverty.  If you are a young black child, you have a 1 in 3 chance of going to jail; 1 in 4 if you are Latino.  Youth violence accounts for 20% of all violence.  Over 60% of America’s children do not read or perform math at grade level, and in our largest cities, over 50% of children do not make it past high school.

The United States is now #15 in the world in broadband adoption trailing Korea, Japan, Canada, Spain, and Poland.  In ten years, 70% of all jobs will require technology knowledge and skills.

A recent Harvard study found medical costs are the reason more than half of Americans file for bankruptcy or lose their homes to foreclosure. Americans are spending more on health care than on housing and food.

Mayors understand all too well that our nation can not remain economically competitive with rest of the world if our transportation systems are inadequate, water systems are leaking, and our energy systems do not address changing realities.

How then do Mayors lead the way to ensure that an investment is made in the engines that propel our growth?


SESSION 4- MARCH 9- OUR PRESIDENT SHOULD BE THE MAYOR OF THE UNITED STATES

Partisanship bickering has paralyzed our country.

Solutions are not coming from Washington.  Solutions are coming from our cities......because cities are the solution.

Cities need to be vested with greater authority to decide how available federal resources are invested, and be held accountable for their performance in the use of these resources, including measuring progress in achieving national objectives, particularly improving safety, reducing oil dependency and advancing climate protection.

Infrastructure, transit, education, environmental and workforce investments in metropolitan areas should be decided by local elected officials who should be empowered to determine federal investments in their areas.  Such a paradigm shift will finally recognize that local agendas should be set at the local level, where ideas will flow from the government closest to the people.

Mayors do not need polls to figure out what the American people want.   We are the polls.  Our proximity to the people we serve allows us to understand best what Americans need….the perspective that our President should be the Mayor of the United States.


SESSION 5- MARCH 23- THE MECHANICS AND REALITY OF GOVERNING- BUILDING A TEAM

You get elected, now what?

Set a goal, a vision.  Lay out your plan.  Budget according to your vision/plan, not based on last year’s numbers plus or minus five percent. Change the culture.  To change the culture-Change the team; change your structure.  Recruit outside professionals, those willing to choose public service over a pension.

My favorite bureaucratic answers:  "No, it can’t be done." "This is the way we’ve always done it."   "Somebody’ told me to do it this way."  "I am going to be here long after you are gone."  "Institutional History."

At a point you reach a personal crossroads: do you accept that change is difficult, avoid controversy, take plenty of photo-ops, and get re-elected?

Or, do you choose to lead and do the job you were elected to do?

Mayors must take charge, control their own destiny and not depend on other layers of government to govern.


SESSION 6- MARCH 30- THE MECHANICS AND REALITY OF GOVERNING- BUILDING CONSENSUS FOR YOUR VISION

Governing for the next generation versus the next election requires a compelling purpose, a strong passion and negotiating, political and persuasion skills.

Building consensus requires that you articulate and communicate a clear vision to others….city council/commission, residents, the business community and the media.  It requires sacrifice, patience and the willingness to take risks and punches.

Local government, unlike state and federal governments, is mostly non-partisan.  There is no party apparatus, no speaker, no majority or minority whip.

It’s just you and your ideas.  How do you get others to go along?


SESSION 7- APRIL 6- BUILDING AND MAINTAINING A SAFE CITY

The most fundamental responsibility of government is to provide for the safety and security of its people.  Successful policing is more than just crime statistics; you must earn the respect and trust of all residents through a professionally trained force governed by a set of clearly articulated policies, including use of force, which respects the dignity and rights of residents.

Today, there are fewer police on the streets than there were prior to 9/11.  There are more gang members than there are state and local law enforcement officers.   Approximately 700,000 people are released from U.S. prisons each year.  In Miami, it is cheaper to buy an AK-47 assault rifle than it is to buy a Wii.  And when well over half of homicides in America involve people age 29 and younger, our next generation is killing one another.

In this context, how does a Mayor fulfill this most fundamental mandate to maintain public safety?


SESSION 8- APRIL 13- WRAP UP SESSION

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…"

What will the future America look like?

Are we destined to fall behind while another superpower or political hegemony replaces us?  Or…Can America be a place where poverty is not a lifelong sentence, but a temporary condition to be overcome?  A place where economic prosperity is aligned with environmental sustainability.  A place where children can receive the best education, afford a home, hold a good paying job, have access to the arts and live in safe, well-planned communities.

The stakes could not be higher as these choices will determine whether your generation, and future generations, will reap the benefits of the American Dream.

What is clear is that the status quo has not worked.  To secure America’s future, we need a clean and historic break with the past.

Cities must once again emerge as the centers of life and investment, the rebuilding blocks of America.  And upon your shoulders rests our future nation.

The torch is now passed – what will you do with it?