We've been watching the mission-creep trend in municipal governance for a while now, trying to get in front of it—"Il faut bien que je les suive, puisque je suis leur chef"*—to make a bucko or two but, to date, have only come up with the tautology that these people would rather jet off to Buenos Aires during the Northern Hemisphere winter for the Parliament of Mayors than stay home and fix potholes.
It was ever thus, or at least has been since 1967 when Lennon noted "4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire"
*Ledru-Rollin, 1848—schoolboy French translation: "I must follow them for I am their leader."
U.S. mayors are on the front lines of major global and societal change. It’s time for them to lead beyond the limits of their formal powers.
Last week, residents of more than 30 U.S. cities voted to elect their top leader. Whether four-term veterans like Cleveland’s Frank Jackson or first-time politicians like Helena’s Wilmot Collins, U.S. mayors are now more than ever on the front lines of major global and societal change. The world’s challenges are on their doorsteps—refugee integration, climate change adaptation, economic transition—yet the federal government has withdrawn and many state governments are actively opposing cities’ agendas. What do these new leaders need to do to succeed in a climate that is at worst hostile and at best indifferent to pressing urban priorities?Mayors must first recognize that we are in the midst of a paradigmatic shift in urban governance and problem solving that is catching up to an established fact on the ground: Cities are networks of public, private, and civic institutions that power the economy and shape critical aspects of urban life. This “new localism” is pragmatic and solution-oriented, and by design includes exemplary leadership across sectors and segments of society. Yet mayors, as the top political and executive office in cities, have a special responsibility to set the vision and activate their networks to design, finance, and deliver everything from basic services to transformative infrastructure projects.For such an important office, we know frustratingly little about the specific mechanics that make mayors effective. A new Brookings Institution report, “Leading Beyond Limits: Mayoral Powers in the Age of New Localism” examined the sources and uses of mayoral powers and the capacities they need to lead and govern. Though cities and governance contexts vary tremendously around the world, there are plenty of common challenges—fragmented governance environments, the need for increasingly technical skill sets to address complex problems—and some broader recommendations that could strengthen mayoral leadership in cities everywhere....MUCH MORE