A Bit More About Cities

On August 9, 2013, the mariner wrote about cities becoming the center of new ideas, financial growth, and evolving culture with virtually no assistance from State or especially from Federal governments (The Cities are Taking Over). The mariner recommended a book that portrayed the cooperative nature of city organizations, “Metropolitan Revolution, How Cities and Metros are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy” by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley.

The book was featured on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show aired by CNN on August 25. There was a panel of four experts, each with their own book on cities. The discussion reinforced the idea that partisan politics breaks down enough in cities to allow collaborative management in behalf of the city and its citizens.

The new perspective on suburbs was that unless there was a center where city services like retail stores, restaurants, churches, libraries and job-producing businesses existed, the residents would move to the city. The group on CNN cited a number of cities, predominately Denver, Colorado, where several suburban areas were in competition or even in conflict with adjacent suburbs over public utilities, taxes, and competition for drawing new business. Realizing that the competition was destructive, the suburbs met, formed an integrated structure that suddenly made Denver a much larger city – not by moving boundaries or by changing governments but by being part of an integrated business, arts, public services, recreation and entertainment metropolis.

The idea that cities are the strength of a nation and its growth is demonstrated by the fact that China plans to move 2½ million rural people into its cities over the next ten years.

In Iowa, this phenomenon is quite visible. The family farm culture has disappeared leaving many towns and small cities to fade away because the populations, almost by necessity, must move to an urban center for jobs, entertainment and all the other advantages offered by a city. The cities of Iowa, however, are doing well in proportion to their ability to draw rural and suburban families.

The most fascinating element in this subject is the move away from legislative management to a new paradigm comprised almost entirely of unelected citizens. The most common model is the creation of commissions appointed by Governors, County managers or Mayors. In most cases, there are no elected officials on the commission; community activists, business people, politically connected entrepreneurs and philanthropists populate the commission. In the years prior to moving to Iowa, the mariner was a member of a number of commissions. These commissions had no elected officials but had the responsibility for tackling complex issues and proposing legislation and operational policy to the government. In those years, however, the subjects were not associated with the demographic and cultural aspects of cities, suburbs and rural populations.

It is important that local citizens are aware that they can change things without legislative action or court mandates. As long as the group represents a mix of business people, public operations like museums, libraries, churches and banks, virtually any objective can at least be pressed onto the legislative agenda or change the policies of an administrative branch. At best, the group can create a new concept for its jurisdiction – a new model for the future.

Ancient Mariner

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