Emerging Issues

As part of NLC's work in tracking and analyzing the issues and challenges facing cities, Bill Barnes, a former NLC staff person, writes a now occasional "Emerging Issues" column. The columns focus on issues and topics --- beyond or beneath the day-to-day news --- that affect municipal governments and regions and the people who live in them.

Transitions, the Cliff, and Two Modest Proposals (November 15, 2012)
A grand bargain in the lame duck transition is possible. But most observers are not betting on it. Some scenarios see a leap of faith that lets all the Bad Things happen, after which there's a miraculous bounce-back to cut the taxes that will have just been raised and fix the other stuff.

New Frontiers for Regional Economies and Governance (September 3, 2012)
At the local level, explorations proceed apace in search of ways to solve problems that cross boundaries. Although examples of unsuccessful efforts are not hard to find, lots of collaborations are interesting, important, and successful. These efforts involve messy, often gritty, work on the ground. That work pushes in some new directions, and thus is re-shaping the regional envelope.

Can Local Democracy Save National Democracy? (July 16, 2012)
Politics is the way we live together. We cannot do it perfectly, but we are not fated to do it as badly as we do now.

Can Sustainability be Sustained? (June 4, 2012)
The Oberlin Project is a large, integrated agenda for “holistic urban management” that puts the project at the proverbial cutting edge of sustainability work. Undertaking and accumulating arrays of effective initiatives -- from marginal to transformative, from local to global, and under whatever label you prefer -- seems more appealing and likely more effective than the dubious titillation of actually peering over the precipice of catastrophe.

Mr. Murray and the Decay of American Virtue: Inequality III (April 9, 2012)
Charles Murray's new book, "Coming Apart," is a lament --- wrapped around some data analysis --- for an American community and individual qualities that never existed but for which he mourns and wishes nonetheless. Both Murray and Edsall (see the April 2 column) --- for radically different reasons --- challenge readers to accept that reconciling the effects of half a century of fundamental economic shifts, social upheavals, and growing inequality is the rendezvous that is our destiny.

Jeremiads on Class and the Nation's Future: Inequality II (April 2, 2012)
Charles Murray and Thomas Edsall have each written a new book. They both say that the nation is sharply, deeply and dangerously divided by class. The adjective "apocalyptic" comes to mind. Their views reveal a radical and thought-provoking disagreement about the very nature of the problems the nation faces. This column considers Edsall's book. Next week: Murray's.

Some People are More Equal Than Others: Inequality I (February 27, 2012)
A good national conversation about inequality would be useful. The prospects may seem poor because the current Federal election campaigns are shaping up as more wild and desperate than informed and thoughtful. That's a shame and a lost opportunity, especially because government policy often helps create and perpetuate inequality and because too much inequality is not good either for economic performance or for politics.

FAQs re: Cities. 4 U & for all of us (January 30, 2012)
The system of local government in the United States is among the most complex in the world. In this era of challenges to the very idea of government itself, people concerned about cities need to have access to and make good use of current, understandable and relevant information about municipal government and city life.