America's Cities: Where Government Gets Things Done led by Mayor Scott Smith


A study group led by IOP FELLOW, Mayor Scott Smith

Tuesdays, 4:00-5:30pm

L166, 1st Floor Littauer Building

America is a country divided. As a result, we have political gridlock and a Federal Government that seems incapable of dealing with even the most important issues, and State Governments that are driven by ideology rather than problem solving. The situation is at best discouraging, and at worst, hopeless.


But in the midst of general dysfunction, there is a level of government where partisanship takes a back seat, where people work together to solve problems, and where innovation thrives. That place is America’s cities.


Cities are where the action is, where things actually happen! Cities have taken the lead on the critical issues facing our nation such as economic development, civil rights, education reform, climate change, shrinking financial resources, and innovation in a technologically driven world. And, the Mayors of America are the driving force behind those efforts.


Our study group will examine how cities have stepped into a leadership role in American government. We will discuss how cities are changing America by confronting problems head on, and how the unique governmental, political and financial realities found in cities help to foster collective action. We will also explore how the cultural amenities and quality of life which cities offer help to foster innovation and growth, and how the changing demographics that will impact national politics are deeply rooted in America’s cities.  We'll talk about how the rapid changes in media and information flow have impacted local governments and perhaps changed citizen involvement forever.


And finally, we'll discuss what kind of leaders will be needed in the future to build our cities, and engage students in a discussion of how cities just might be the best place motivated people can find meaningful opportunities to change the world.


Our proposed subjects for discussion in each session are as follows:


  1. Why Cities Matter and Who Leads Them. Introduction and Personal Background. I was a novice to government service when I decided to run for Mayor of Mesa, Arizona, a large suburb of Phoenix and the 38th largest city in the U.S. Mayor Michael Bloomberg once said that the greatest asset any mayor can have is ignorance, meaning he/she doesn't know what they can't do. I was overflowing with ignorance, which was wonderful! I had spent my professional career as a professional and business executive. Was that business background an asset or an obstacle to making a difference in government? Should we run government like a business?  These questions are part of nearly every political campaign. We will explore both the truth and the fallacy of that question, drawing from my experiences in both arenas.


  1. If Mayors Ruled the World, They’d Get Things Done! Partisan gridlock has crippled government at the national level. The states aren’t much better, with ideologues and partisans often in charge. But there is hope! How cities are defining the manner in which government can be effective, efficient, and responsive to the needs of the people.


  1. Keeping Cities Safe in an Ever Changing and Challenging World. Cities are on the front lines of public safety. Local police forces deal with more than just neighborhood crime and criminals. Issues and events such as the terrorist threat post 9-­‐11, police killings in Ferguson and New York City, the Boston bombings, the debate over the militarization of local police and shrinking budgets have all made policing more difficult. We will discuss the challenges of public safety in an increasingly threatening world, and the efforts to balance our desire to keep communities safe with the need to respect basic rights.


  1. All Politics is Local. Or, is it? Local news coverage of city governments has been diminished or eliminated. Internet blogs, national cable news, and syndicated talk radio all focus their political discussion on Washington. The end of Earmarks and Sequestration Budgeting have combined to break the "bring home the bacon" connection Members of Congress have historically enjoyed with their communities. Do these changes mean that we are now dominated by National Issues at the expense of local engagement? Are the very foundations of local government at risk? How will this development impact each of us in our communities? With special guest Bruce Katz (Via Skype)


  1. Cities Are the Engines of Our Economy. Over 85% of our GDP is generated in cities. Nearly 95% of new jobs over the next decade will be created in cities. It's been said that we no longer have a National Economy, but a collection of Metropolitan Economies. Cities around the world are now forging relationships directly, outside of State and National governments. We'll discuss why cities are where the action is, and why they are so important in the long-­‐term economic growth of the country. With special guest Bob Worsley.


  1. Arts, Culture and Sports May Seem Silly to Some, But They Define Cities and Make Them Special. We will explore how a city's arts, culture and sports environment impacts quality of life and a community's perception of itself. There is no doubt that civic pride affects a city's success, but is it worth the investment that we are asked to make to build or maintain that pride through arts, cultural and sports facilities and operations? We'll discuss with mayors and major sports executives. With special guest Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque. With special guest Mayor Richard Berry.

  1. Education is our Future, and Mayors Are Leading Education Reform Efforts. Mayors experience first hand the impact that education has on our communities. They understand that their city's success is dependent on the quality and success of their schools. We'll discuss how mayors are working with other leaders in their communities to drive the efforts for improving educational opportunities and outputs.


  1. What is the Future of Our Cities and Why Should I Care?  Will they define what the world will be? If so, should I get involved? Can I really make a difference by serving in public office? Where is the best place to start? When should I begin?  These are questions that every student should ask as they are mapping out their futures.  We will discuss how cities will offer significant opportunities for public service that could have a profound impact on our future.


I will include special guests in as many of the sessions as possible. Guests from outside the Boston Area will be limited as dictated by the program guidelines. Potential guests include current and former mayors and nationally recognized leaders from Washington institutions, sports, and the media.