TIGER Helps Orlando Connect Neighborhoods with New BRT Line

This is the third in a series of blogs that will explore the impact TIGER grants have on local communities by helping them better leverage financing options, meet transportation safety goals, and increase overall quality of life by introducing alternative modes of transportation.  Click here for the first and second blogs in the series.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is an innovative, high capacity, lower cost public transit solution that can significantly improve mobility in urban areas.  By using buses on dedicated lanes or special roadways, BRT offers the flexibility of buses with the efficiency of rail.  The result is less congestion and more passenger movement.

The City of Orlando’s existing BRT system, LYMMO, was 2.5 miles and consisted of 13 stations which connected various parts of the city.   Orlando recognized the benefits of expanding their BRT system to create regional links with the existing BRT lines, increase intercity and multi-modal transportation options, and expand accessibility in various neighborhoods. In particular, the BRT expansion would provide increased access to employment and educational opportunities to residents of Parramore, a low-income neighborhood just west of the city’s downtown.  The city applied for and received a $10 million TIGER grant to implement these changes.

According to the Federal Transit Administration, BRT is able to operate at faster speeds, provide greater service reliability and increase customer convenience.  Many communities are picking up on this as other forms of transit prove to be too expensive to invest in.  The Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority received a TIGER grant to enhance BRT services with priority signalization and to provide real-time bus arrival information to customers on bus signs.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada also received a TIGER grant to improve transit service by converting breakdown lanes to bus-only lanes in the 12-mile corridor of Sahara Avenue, a major road running through the heart of Las Vegas.   The project improved mobility along one of the city’s most important corridors and helped support local economic activity by creating or sustaining nearly 600 private-sector jobs.

Orlando’s planned BRT expansion, undertaken in partnership with LYNX, the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, will be a free bus service to downtown Orlando, estimated to be operational from the Parramore neighborhood beginning in 2014.  Service will also be provided within the Parramore community as well.  The service will be funded through Orlando’s Downtown Development Board and Parking Division, and receives contributions from a variety of sources including federal dollars through TIGER.

To learn more about Orlando’s Bus Rapid Transit and other TIGER grant programs, register to attend NLC’s Congress of Cities conference in Seattle, WA, November 13-16, 2013.  The conference will feature solutions to local challenges in the areas of infrastructure development and investment, environmental sustainability, and economic development.  For more information on bus rapid transit, please visit NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute.

About the TIGER Grants

In 2009, the US Congress dedicated $1.5 million for the first round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program which was created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The overwhelming popularity of the TIGER grant program has sustained this resource for local governments for 5 years and counting now.

Through the program, U.S. Department of Transportation provides competitive grants to local governments to invest in a variety of transportation initiatives that meet community needs while contributing to national transportation goals.

JuliaPulidindi

About the author: Julia Pulidindi is a Senior Associate for Infrastructure at the National League of Cities (NLC). Her work focuses on identifying local challenges and solutions to transportation and telecommunications infrastructure issues.  Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaPulidindi.

Partnerships Revitalize Baltimore Neighborhoods

A diverse set of partnerships lie at the heart of efforts in the City of Baltimore to revitalize neighborhoods, grow population, and support community prosperity. In Baltimore, it is “big tent” mobilizations that are emphasized. The coalitions across the city draw expertise and support from philanthropies, real estate developers, educational institutions, church congregations, community development actors, business owners, housing advocates and city officials.

Whether in East, Central or West Baltimore, the partnerships focus on holistic approaches that address challenges of housing, neighborhood stability and vitality, human capital development, commercial improvement, and grass roots empowerment. The combined actions lend credence to the professed goal of the elected leadership to achieve a net increase of 10,000 families by 2021.

East Baltimore site near Johns Hopkins University and Hospital complex where mixed use development is planned.

East Baltimore site near Johns Hopkins University and Hospital complex where mixed use development is planned.

Launched at the beginning of the 21st century with a boost from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI) seeks to transform 80 acres adjacent to the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital complex into a mixed-income residential neighborhood with roughly 2,200 new and rehabilitated homes, anchored by a university research and development building, commercial space, an elementary school, grocery store, and parkland. While a considerable amount of vacant land still remains where homes were demolished, new senior housing is now in place as is the Henderson-Hopkins school and the university research center. Despite progress that is slower than desired, Hopkins president Ronald J. Daniels has publicly stated his intention to be a significant actor in the city’s revitalization.

The Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), while newer than EBDI, encompasses an enormous swath of territory extending through ten neighborhoods anchored by the city’s Penn Station and the University of Baltimore in the south, and the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in the north. Within its borders are the Station North Arts District and the Charles North historic district. As with the city’s other coalition of partners, CBP brings together public, private, and neighborhood interests for a comprehensive community development strategy. Projects already completed include housing at Landbank Lofts and the mixed-use development at Miller’s Court as well as the North Avenue Market. Several other mixed use projects are still in development as is the restoration of the Parkway Theater at North and Charles Streets.

Union Mill development complex.

Union Mill development complex.

The city government does not want for allies. BRIDGE Maryland, a coalition of 20 diverse church congregations advocating for social justice, drives grass roots efforts to ensure that the region’s poor and disenfranchised have a voice in public decision-making. The University of Maryland BioPark at the West Baltimore medical center campus is an economic development catalyst on formerly vacant land adjacent to the Poppleton neighborhood. Seawall Development, a private company, has made significant investments in mixed-use housing projects including Millers Court (mentioned above) and Union Mill in the Hampden area.

Finally, community development experts within the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (which serves Baltimore) have teamed up with counterparts in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Detroit to organize a multi-city virtual laboratory looking at strategies to revitalize older industrial cities.

This veritable army of organizations will be critical for success in Baltimore. The challenges include a dearth of corporate leaders and community development financial institutions (CDFIs), the physical barrier of Interstate 83, which structurally divides the city, polarization along lines of race and class, drug and crime issues and a lingering problem with capacity inside the city government.

Nonetheless, based on my interaction with some of the leaders of these various partnerships, I believe that there is considerable room for optimism. After all, you only need to drive around Baltimore to be reminded that on any given street there are some remarkable buildings and many promising neighborhoods that are the firm foundation to prosperity in this city.

Brooks, J.A. 2010

About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Program Director for Community Development and Infrastructure and is also responsible for leading the International Programs.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Going from Crisis to Crisis is Bad for the Economy

The Cost of Crisis-Driven Fiscal Policy, a study conducted by Macroeconomic Advisers on behalf of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, finds that the uncertainty created by the on-going short-term spending bills and perpetual brinksmanship around the debt ceiling has pushed the unemployment rate 0.6 percentage points higher than it would otherwise have been this year. It also finds that this fiscal uncertainty cost 0.3 percentage points of GDP growth per year since 2010.

A chart developed by the Center for American Progress documents what that difference means for job growth.

900,000 jobs lost

The study also finds that cuts to discretionary spending from 2011 to the present have cost the country 1.2 million jobs and 0.7 percentage points of GDP growth. About three-quarters of the $2.4 trillion in total deficit reduction enacted since fall 2010 are in the form of spending cuts.

The study blames the polarized federal government for having fostered an atmosphere in which sensible legislative strategies to address long range policies that would address the U.S. fiscal imbalance are impossible to achieve.  As a result, Congress has only been able to adopt short-term solutions that further contribute to the polarization and economic instability that has been the hallmark of the past two years, and has prevented the nation from recovering more systematically from the Great Recession.

The study also documents the potential impact of hitting the debt ceiling, which we will be faced with yet again in just a few short months. The study finds that:

  • Hitting the debt ceiling even briefly would cause a recession; staying at the ceiling for two months would deepen the recession amidst tremendous volatility.
  • Hitting the debt ceiling even briefly would push the unemployment rate to 8.5 percent; staying at the ceiling for two months would raise unemployment to nearly 9 percent, or over three million lost jobs.
  • Delaying an increase in the debt ceiling for two months would cause unprecedented volatility in federal spending.
  • Fed policy would be more constrained following a debt crisis than during the Great Recession, when the Fed could, and did cut the overnight interest rate by five percentage points.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

What $24 Billion Means to Cities

According to Standard & Poor’s, the cost of the 16-day federal government shutdown was $24 billionTwenty-four billion dollars!

Twenty-four billion dollars can make a huge difference to cities and the people who live in them.  To drive home the point, I’d like to show you how that same $24 billion could be spent over the next twelve months to help low-income and poor Americans. The following numbers are each program’s annual appropriations (numbers are rounded) under the current continuing resolution.

  • Promise Zones to ensure that a broad range of federal programs are coordinated to improve the living conditions within some of the nation’s poorest communities: $0.7 billion
  • Clean Air programs to ensure communities have clean air: $1.0 billion
  • Clean Water programs to ensure safe drinking water: $2.0 billion
  • Community Services Block Grants (CSBG) to fund community action programs that work to reduce poverty: $0.7 billion
  • Homeless Assistance Grants to help localities pay for housing for homeless individuals: $1.9 billion
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) program to help low-income pay for heating and cooling: $3.0 billion
  • Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program to fund services and activities addressing employment, education, better use of available income, housing, nutrition, emergency services and/or health for low income individuals : $1.7 billion
  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to help cities improve infrastructure or redevelop low- and moderate-income neighborhoods: $3.0 billion
  • Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs to help low income adults, dislocated workers and young people train for and find employment: $3.0 billion
  • Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program for low-income children and their mothers: $7.0 billion

Instead, Congress wasted $24 billion shutting the government down, furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers, forcing another million to work without pay (until a budget agreement was reached), and hurting small and large businesses across the country. And the deal Congress reached yesterday only funds the government through January 15. What will the next potential shutdown cost us?

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Connecting with Congress during the Government Shutdown

The ongoing government shutdown hasn’t just frozen vital federal programs and funding streams, it has also made it difficult for citizens frustrated by the gridlock to reach their members of Congress.

Federal agencies were not the only organizations forced to furlough thousands of employees – Members of Congress also sent most of their Washington and district office staff home for the duration of the shutdown.

These furloughs present an additional advocacy challenge to city leaders and NLC as we call on Congress to end the shutdown and get back to work on the substantive issues that matter to cities and their residents.

With the shutdown now moving into its third week, most offices in the House of Representatives have committed their remaining senior staff to only receiving, cataloging, and responding to constituent contacts. If you strongly prefer email communication, or only have your legislators’ main office numbers, the House is a good place to start your advocacy efforts. You can use NLC’s online advocacy tools to call or email your elected officials about the shutdown and your city’s concerns.

However, in the Senate many offices are either not answering their main phone and email lines, or have turned off their email systems entirely since the shutdown began. For these Members of Congress, the best approach is to apply public pressure via Twitter and other social media – you can send your own tweets with the hashtag #CleanCR or use NLC’s suggested tweets. You can also use other private communication channels you have developed through your relationships with these officials.

Despite the government shutdown, now is not the time to stop leveraging the relationships you have developed with legislators and senior staff on Capitol Hill. If you have direct email addresses or mobile phone numbers for members of your congressional delegation, be sure to reach out to them directly on behalf of your community.

Members of Congress and their staff need to know the toll that the ongoing budget gridlock is having on the people in their states and districts. After you have contacted Congress, be sure to share what you are seeing on the ground with NLC. We are compiling and sharing news and feedback from cities and towns across the United States.

Tell Congress: end the government shutdown now.

 

Panettieri photoAbout the author: Angelina Panettieri is the Senior Associate for Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. She helps empower city leaders to engage directly with Congress on the issues most important to them.

Workforce Development Programs across America Are Shutting Down

A week ago I wrote a blog about the threat that the shutdown poses to Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs. The post noted that “as the shutdown drags on, serious questions are being raised as to how long some WIA programs will be able to continue to operate.” Unfortunately, these questions are being answered, and not in the way we had hoped.

The impact of the federal government shutdown on workforce development programs that are funded by the federal government but operated by cities, towns, and counties is being felt across the country. Programs in every state have implemented or are considering layoffs. Some have gone so far as to shut down all operations completely.

These programs, which are designed to help unemployed and underemployed individuals find work, are facing the ultimate irony: they are being forced to shutter their doors and lay off their own staffs.

Why is this happening?

The answer is fairly straightforward. The shutdown has prevented new federal dollars from flowing to states and localities to fund these programs, and without those funds to pay salaries and overhead these programs have been forced to shut down temporarily.

Prior to the federal shutdown, the U.S. Department of Labor was unable to obligate new funds, and now many of the nation’s workforce development programs are running out of the funds they had on hand. And states, counties, and cities do not have the resources to pick up the slack.

Here are several examples:

• South Carolina’s Lower Savannah Workforce Investment Area has furloughed nearly all of its workforce development staff and posted following message on its website:

Due to the [federal] government shutdown, the Workforce Development Unit (all but three staff) will begin furlough for an indefinite amount of time. Information on this site may not be updated in a timely manner or updated until the furlough has ended.

• Iowa Workforce Development furloughed 69 employees due to the federal government shutdown and cut back client services. Among the workers furloughed were those who perform occupational safety and health inspections, provide services to disabled veterans, generate employment data and support information technology, state officials report.

• The Buffalo Workforce Development Consortium and Workforce Investment Board furloughed 36 employees as of October 2. According to Buffalo Business First, the “Buffalo Employment and Training Center (BETC) has been closed indefinitely. . . . BETC customers have been redirected to the New York State Department of Labor and to the Educational Opportunity Center for assistance.”

• The State of Kansas has reduced the hours of the state’s many one-stop workforce development centers, and one major provider has furloughed 60 percent of their staff.

• All Missouri Work Assistance (MWA) employees have been furloughed until further notice, which means that comprehensive workforce development services such as orientation/assessment, case management, Individual Employment Plan (IEP) development, and training and employment services will not be available until these employees are able to return to work.

• All Workforce Connection Adult/Dislocated Worker Programs in LaCrosse, WI are suspended and the entire staff is furloughed.

• In Binghamton, NY, ten county employees who provide workforce development services have had their positions cut from five  to three days a week as a result of the federal government shutdown.

And the list goes on.

The services that these offices provide are desperately needed by low-income and unemployed workers so that they can obtain training and find new, well-paying jobs.  However, if the federal government shutdown continues more and more local programs will have to lay off workers, curtail hours, and possibly shut down completely.

People across America who were receiving outstanding assistance through their local Workforce Investment Act programs will be without services or a place to turn to to get the employment assistance they need.  We as a nation cannot afford this.  The most important thing we can do right now is get people back to work.

There is only one solution to this problem: reopen the federal government now and allow grant funds like those supporting Workforce Investment Act programs to begin to flow again.

Please contact your Representative today by phone, email or Twitter, and let them know that you support the passage of a clean continuing resolution for fiscal year 2014 so that people impacted by this shutdown can get back to work.

 

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Restarting the House Immigration Debate

Before the government shutdown, Members of Congress and their constituents were talking about important city issues, immigration among them.

NLC joins the chorus of voices asking the House of Representatives to move on a common sense approach to immigration reform.  For cities, the issue  is an economic one; immigrants bring incredible talent and energy to communities.  Local leaders also are responsible for community safety and cohesion, and a vulnerable population living in the shadows can be a threat to public safety and public health for the community as a whole.

In an effort to get the Congressional immigration debate re-energized, last week House Democrats introduced an immigration overhaul bill that mirrors the bill adopted by the Senate last June without the so-called “border surge” that called for 700 miles of new border fence.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her 165 Democratic co-sponsors don’t expect the House to consider their bill anytime soon, but they do hope their proposal will remind their House colleagues that immigration reform remains a pressing concern for our nation.

House Republicans immediately panned the proposal and made it clear the House will not consider the measure but will proceed with “regular order,” which has meant a piece-meal approach to immigration reform.

Instead of a comprehensive, bipartisan measure such as The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act adopted by the Senate in June, two House Committees have been working on individual bills – none of which deal with the most contentious issue of allowing the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status and ultimately a path to citizenship.

Two f these new bills are opposed by NLC. The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act would criminalize federal immigration violations, overturn last year’s Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s restrictive immigration law and place all burdens of enforcement on local governments, negatively impacting public safety.  The Legal Workforce Act of 2013 would mandate that local governments retroactively use an electronic employment eligibility verification system such as E-Verify, run by the Department of Homeland Security.

In contrast, the bill put forward by the House Democrats would allow the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to get  temporary legal status within six months, and apply for U.S. citizenship within 13 years if they pass a criminal background check, pay fines and learn English. The bill would revamp the legal immigration system to allow more high-tech and lower-skilled immigrants to enter the country each year.  The bill would substitute a House Homeland Security Committee bill requiring an administration border security strategy that stops 90 percent of illegal border crossings.

A bipartisan “gang” has been working for years behind the scenes to develop a common sense immigration overhaul bill.  While the Senate has been able to bridge the partisan gap and adopt a comprehensive bill, the only bipartisan success has been the House Homeland Security Committee effort to develop a sensible approach to border security.

Once Congress has resolved the current mess it has created with the shutdown and looming debt ceiling deadline, we urge House leaders to not delay the immigration debate any more.   2013 is the year to pass this critical legislation and keep our cities’ economies humming.

 

Lesle Wollack

 

About the Author: Leslie Wollack is NLC’s Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability. Through Federal Advocacy, she lobbies on behalf of cities around transportation, finance, infrastructure and community development.  Follow Leslie on Twitter at @lawollack.

The Federal Government Shutdown: Its Impact on Employment

As the second full week of the federal government shutdown comes to an end, the impact is being felt.

Government workers, for example, are not the only workers being affected. Many more people, many in the private sector, are now finding themselves unemployed.

Private sector government contractors including the consulting giant Booz-Allen and the engineering and aerospace giant Lockheed-Martin are laying off staff.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services furloughed 337 workers whose salaries are paid from federal grants.

The National Institutes of Health reports that new research grants to scientists nationwide will not be made during the shutdown, which is likely to be another cause for temporary or permanent layoffs.

USA Today is reporting that construction companies that build courthouses, dredge rivers and renovate U.S. Park facilities are preparing to lay off thousands of construction workers.

Moody’s is predicting that these layoffs, coupled with an overall downturn in spending, will shave fourth quarter growth by two-tenths of a percent, a large amount during this very sluggish economic recovery.

And the irony here is that we may not know the extent of the impact on employment for some time because the shutdown has stopped the Bureau of Labor Statistics from collecting unemployment and other economic data needed to determine the impact of the shutdown on the economy.

Cities across America are feeling the impact of this shutdown as federal, state, local and private sector employees are laid off from their jobs, or required to work without pay.  If we are to continue to expand our economy, strengthen the middle class, help people make ends meet, and ensure that we do not experience another recession, we must end this manufactured crisis, which puts the safety, health, nutrition, and education of residents across the country at risk.

Please contact your Representative today by phone, email or Twitter, and let them know that you support the passage of a clean continuing resolution for fiscal year 2014 so that people impacted by this shutdown can get back to work.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Fresno Leverages TIGER Grants for Complete Streets Planning

This is the second in a series of blogs that will explore the impact TIGER grants have on local communities by helping them better leverage financing options, meet transportation safety goals, and increase overall quality of life by introducing alternative modes of transportation.  Click here for the first blog, which explores Seattle’s Mercer Corridor Project.

According to the Best Complete Streets Policies of 2012 report, complete streets policies lay out a community’s plan to design and maintain streets so they are safe for users of all ages and abilities, and can accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, motorists and freight vehicles.

Typically, complete streets initiatives are developed to ensure that pedestrian and bicycle options as well as other alternatives to the personal vehicle are included in in an area’s transportation planning. In the case of Fresno, CA’s Fulton Mall Reconstruction however, the city sought to do the opposite – reintroduce car lanes into an area that had been without them since the 1960s.

Fresno’s 18-square-block downtown area is home to the city’s historic main street area, but its disconnected design has made it difficult for people to easily navigate the area.  Fresno is using TIGER funds  to reintroduce vehicle traffic lanes while improving the bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the area.  Business leaders and city planners believe that reintroducing driving capacity will help increase access and visibility to businesses in the mall, thereby helping improve the economic potential of the downtown area.

In Fresno’s 2013 TIGER grant application, they cited a statistic from a national survey which found that 90 percent of downtowns with pedestrian malls become more successful when the reopened the malls to vehicle traffic.  This highlights the importance of having  multimodal transportation options in downtown areas.

This is an extremely important project not only for the city but also for the region.  Fresno is being considered for a high-speed rail stop by the California High Speed Rail Authority, so the more the city can to do increase its economic competitiveness and attractiveness, the greater impact the investment will have for the state.  Fresno Mayor Ashely Swearengin noted that “This grant is a significant moment in Fresno’s history…The message that Secretary Foxx and the federal government are sending to us today is loud and clear: They believe in downtown Fresno, and they believe it will be the vibrant economic center for the entire region.  Our opportunity now is to carry this momentum forward to realize that vision.”

The total cost of the project is $20 million and the city’s $16 million TIGER grant will help fund a large portion of it.  The state and Fresno County will contribute other financial resources, leaving the city’s budget largely untouched for this project.

For more information on Fresno’s Fulton Mall Reconstruction and other TIGER grant programs, register to attend NLC’s Congress of Cities conference in Seattle, WA, Nov 13-16, 2013.  The conference will feature solutions to local challenges in the areas of infrastructure development and investment, environmental sustainability, and economic development.  And for more information in complete streets initiatives, please visit NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute.

About the TIGER Grants
In 2009, Congress dedicated $1.5 million for the first round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program which was created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The overwhelming popularity of the TIGER grant program has sustained this resource for local governments for five years and counting now.

Through the program, the U.S. Department of Transportation provides competitive grants to local governments to invest in a variety of transportation initiatives that meet community needs while contributing to national transportation goals.

JuliaPulidindi
About the author
: Julia Pulidindi is a Senior Associate for Infrastructure at the National League of Cities (NLC). Her work focuses on identifying local challenges and solutions to transportation and telecommunications infrastructure issues.  Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaPulidindi.

The Great Leadership Divide

While the U.S. government is stalled and wallowing in its own political dysfunction, I spent last week in the midst of some 3,000 movers and shakers representing the municipal movement on a world-wide scale. These city leaders and professional staff from national municipal associations were gathered in Rabat, Morocco for the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders organized by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).

The difference between what’s going on in Washington, D.C. and the stories that city leaders from around the word shared in Rabat could not have been more profound. In Rabat, leading city officials from Metro Vancouver, British Columbia discussed how to achieve a goal of zero solid waste output while down the corridor Guangzhou, China shared information from their Urban Innovation Institute and representatives from Quito, Ecuador reported on the 74 percent of residents using public transport each day.

By contrast, the news from Capitol Hill, in the world’s wealthiest nation with one of the oldest written constitutions, Members of Congress could only achieve consensus on the culpability of the other guy in the failure to adopt measures to keep the government open.

In the Congress, no real solutions were being offered, no practical compromises reached, and no acknowledgement of the need to serve the common good were put forth. Worst of all, no leadership was being demonstrated by elected Representatives in a country that still purports to be the best example of republican democracy the world has ever known. Looking back across the Atlantic Ocean some half-a-world away, I had no explanation that I could offer to all the delegates who wanted to know how the U.S. government could have reached this state of utter disappointment.

But to end the story here would be a terrible waste. Because this story has a genuinely happy ending.

In the face of many dysfunctional national governments all over the world, cities are leading! The small City of Almere, Netherlands (pop. 30,000), part of the wealthy Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) block, is building one of the most sophisticated traffic management systems using GPS technology and a city-wide fiber optic network.

In the global south, there is a mutuality of support and information sharing that feeds the aspirations of Kenyans in Mombasa, Columbians in Bogota, and Chileans in Santiago. At the hyper-local level, at the regional level, and at the global level, city officials are exercising creativity and innovation to solve problems and to improve the quality of life for residents. Sometimes they are acting alone and sometimes they act in partnership with the private sector or a combination of grass-roots community groups.

The important thing however is that these city officials are taking some risks and exercising real leadership. It’s a wonder to behold and a privilege to participate in such a process.

While it may be trite to say that the world is small and growing smaller, one cannot ignore that for a few days in Rabat, representatives from cities serving half the world’s population exercised a commonality of vision, a unity of purpose, and a clarity of judgment that crossed dozens of languages and cultures all toward one universal end – making life better on a small patch of land called “home.” I cannot help but be impressed by the success that can be achieved when Cities Lead!

Brooks, J.A. 2010

About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Program Director for Community Development and Infrastructure and is also responsible for leading the International Programs.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.