City Leaders Address Challenges with Creative Local Leadership

Cities across the nation are innovating and problem-solving on a whole new level to address the most important challenges in America.  As a result, cities are experiencing renewed optimism and a sense that today’s challenges can be met through creative local leadership. This was the key message from Bruce Katz, keynote speaker at the closing general session of NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition in Seattle, Wash. Power, change, innovation and progress lies in City Halls and city council chambers, Katz stated. This was met with a vigorous nod of heads in agreement from the audience of mayors, councilmembers and city staff from around the country.  

Katz, Vice President of the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Metropolitan Revolution, highlighted cities such as Detroit, which is making a comeback despite its financial hardships, and Portland, a city that has become a manufacturing and export powerhouse for computers and electronic products.  As he so aptly noted, cities must follow the maxim of American philosopher Dolly Parton: “find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

After Katz’s remarks, a panel of distinguished mayors and city leaders discussed the themes in The Metropolitan Revolution and agreed that the challenges city leaders face today largely revolve around having to solve myriad problems in the face of reduced federal and state assistance. To solve these challenges, cities have to be nimble and adaptable.

The panel, moderated by NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony, included:

  • Seattle, Wash. Mayor-elect Ed Murray
  • Denver, Colo. Mayor Michael B. Hancock
  • Moscow, Idaho Mayor Nancy Chaney
  • St. Paul, Minn. Deputy Mayor Paul Williams

Mayor-elect Murray used his own city as an example of adaptability. Seattle used to be an economy based on the timber and fishing industry. Now it’s largely a technology-based economy.

Mayor Hancock reminded the crowd that this idea of a metropolitan revolution, the idea that it is cities and regions that are leading the charge for innovation and change, is still a relatively new phenomenon. We have to look at the successes around us, he said, and have to be willing to trust our neighbors, take risks with one another and be willing to both win and lose together. Then the revolution will be full blown.