To Be An Effective Leader, Be a Lifelong Learner

“It was clear to me that I could have great policy ideas and a keen grasp of budgeting, but if I didn’t develop key leadership skills, I would never be able to lead my colleagues, my constituents, or my city forward.”

Clarence Anthony welcomes city leaders from across the nation to NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Washington, D.C. (photo: Jason Dixson)

This post originally appeared in the newsletter of the Colorado Municipal League.

When people hear that I was elected mayor of South Bay, Florida at age 24, they often comment that successfully running for office at such a young age must have been difficult.

“No,” I tell them. “Getting elected was the easy part. Governing was the hard part.”

I am fortunate that the skills it took to get elected came naturally to me. But governing required a different set of skills. Some skills were operational, such as budgeting and planning. Others skills were more policy-oriented. I have a master’s degree in public administration, and I specialized in city growth management, so my education provided me with many of the basic skills I would need to govern.

Once in office, however, I realized that it would take more than an understanding of policy, budgeting and planning to succeed. It would take leadership.

I quickly learned that the most important skills for an elected official – communication, vision, building trust, leading change and collaboration – were personal and organizational skills. It was clear to me that I could have great policy ideas and a keen grasp of budgeting, but if I didn’t develop those key leadership skills, I would never be able to lead my colleagues, my constituents, or my city forward.

Armed with this new realization, I immediately turned to my State League (the Florida League of Cities), the National League of Cities (NLC), and NLC University (NLCU, formerly known as the Leadership Training Institute). Then, as now, NLCU’s courses provided invaluable leadership development skills that I utilized and applied in my professional and personal life. I highly recommend these courses for all elected officials. They are offered online, as pre-conference sessions at both of our annual conferences, or at our Annual Leadership Summit.

One of the most important tenets of leadership I’ve learned in my career is that leadership is a mindset and practice that is applicable to all facets of life, not just one’s professional life. Other mayors and councilmembers have shared stories with me over the years about how they, too, have leveraged their leadership competencies and behaviors to achieve great outcomes in a variety of endeavors.

For so many of our members, the role of elected official is but one of several roles they play. Our members are also dentists, architects, farmers and small business owners, as well as parents, spouses and coaches. In each of these roles, they are expected to be leaders. NLCU educational sessions help them develop behaviors and skills that enable them be better leaders and achieve greater success in all of the roles they play.

I’ve also come to realize that being a leader means recognizing that the process of learning and development never ends. There is always new information to be gained, and there are always new insights to be discovered. As the great management theorist and author Peter Drucker once said, “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly – or it vanishes.”

As an elected official, I felt that it was my responsibility to my constituents to be a learner – constantly improving, challenging and increasing my knowledge so that it did not vanish. I trust you feel the same way.

Learning of course, takes many shapes; it encompasses more than just engaging in formal classroom education. In fact, most leadership researchers agree that the ratio of formal learning opportunities available (workshops, seminars, classes) to informal learning opportunities (self-study, mentorships, networking, on-the-job experiences, problem solving and feedback) is somewhere around 1:4.

This is not to say that formal learning opportunities are not important. In fact, a formal education is the essential building block of a larger education that is complimented by all types of informal learning opportunities. Informal learning involves applying what was learned in the formal learning setting. It also involves learning from one’s peers, and learning about and incorporating best practices and creative ideas. The National League of Cities and NLCU are essential partners in helping our members become lifelong learners ­– and thus, more effective local leaders – through both formal and informal learning.

Our members are exposed to the best in-depth research on cities, courtesy of our City Solutions and Applied Research department. In addition, when our members attend NLCU offerings, they take the formal knowledge they’ve acquired for an informal “test drive,” sharing it with their peers and discussing possible applications outside the classroom that can lead to best practices. Armed with a wealth of knowledge that has been acquired in many different ways, our members apply that knowledge to their roles in their professional and personal lives, leading to better outcomes for their communities and citizens.

The National League of Cities has a number of strategic goals, one of which is to “expand the capacity of city officials to serve as ethical, effective and engaged leaders.” It is a goal born of belief and experience – belief in the power of leadership to transform individuals, organizations and communities, and the experience that comes from constantly learning and consistently applying the mindset and practice of leadership to governing.

About the Author: Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @ceanthony50.

How the City of Newark is Leading in Historic Preservation

The city of Newark, New Jersey, has a strategy for historic preservation, multi-sector partnership, and the creation of new residential mixed-use development in the heart of downtown.

Newark is demonstrating that, while simple economic arithmetic may dictate demolition and abandonment when it comes to older downtown structures, those willing to see beyond the next fiscal quarter tend to reap far greater rewards. (photo: Harry Prott/Newark CEDC)

Is historic preservation only the crusade of upwardly mobile, urbanist Whites with a longing for a bygone era, or is it the essential strategy for every city and town that thinks creatively about place, the built environment, and the long-term prosperity of residents? Although that was not the intended question that was up for debate at the Legacy City Preservation forum, a gathering of preservation experts and legacy city practitioners in Newark, New Jersey, that was a recurring theme.

The participants themselves, some long-serving historic preservation professionals and many avid volunteers working vigorously in cities, were a mix of men and women from assorted races and ethnicities. They were all highly vocal, highly engaged, highly motivated, highly educated (even without counting the number of Ph.D.’s in the room) and highly entrepreneurial. More than this, many of the stories about first-hand experiences in cities demonstrated the importance of acquiring a certain adeptness at working “the system” to secure desired goals. Those telling the stories also were skilled at pushing for systemic change to advance a broad-based agenda that supports many avenues for community revitalization.

In truth, I felt right at home! Although I’m not regularly creating networking groups for home improvement do-it-yourselfers (Brick + Beam Detroit) or residential micro-development companies (Buffalove Development), the work being done by these folks is the bone marrow of cities. This is from where community strength and resilience springs.

(photo courtesy L+M Development)

Construction workers labor to restore the core of the Hahne & Company department store in downtown Newark. (photo courtesy L+M Development)

The Newark forum was partly a celebration of the rehabilitation of the historic Hahne & Company department store building, a collaboration among the City of Newark, Rutgers University – Newark, L & M Development, and J. P. Morgan Chase. Together these partners, along with several others, are reactivating the former department store as a centerpiece of Newark’s recovering downtown. A similar coalition of partners have nearly completed renovation of the former American Insurance Company tower at 15 Washington Street where the day’s events took place. These are transformative projects in terms of historic preservation, multi-sector partnership, and the creation of new residential mixed-use in the heart of downtown.

(photo courtesy L+M Development)

An architect’s rendering of the soon-to-be-finished Hahne & Company department store restoration. (photo courtesy L+M Development)

Once the grande dame of the local retail industry, the Hahne’s building was abandoned and in a state of disrepair for the past 30 years. During a hardhat tour of the renovation ($174 million, 400,000 sq. ft.), the development team highlighted the future for the building. By December 2016, the mixed-use, mixed-income space will be open to the first residents. A total of 161 rental units, 60 percent market rate and 40 percent for low income residents (at 60 percent of area median income), will be ready. The retail floors, with anchor tenant Whole Foods, will open in March 2016. Rutgers University – Newark will house their Department of Arts, Culture, and Media there, which will include classrooms, artist studios and gallery space. Nearly every relevant tax credit opportunity was leveraged for this project – historic preservation, new markets, and low income housing. For the coup de grace, the great skylight – 4-stories above the central atrium – is being meticulously restored to its former glory.

For Rutgers University – Newark’s burgeoning campus, building preservation and reuse has been a religious calling. Moreover, the imagination and creativity that has gone into rethinking what a university campus is and ought to be is remarkable. University Chancellor Nancy Cantor spoke in almost lyrical terms about the future use of historic spaces both for students and residents. For her, and for many others in the room I suspect, the process of historic preservation has taken on poetic qualities. It is as if the buildings themselves, being returned to productive use, will not only stand more proudly but will instill in those who see and use the space a sense of achievement and hope, and fortify the community for the work ahead.

Heady stuff and quite a challenge for any individual much less a historic structure. After all, we are not talking about the Pyramids at Giza or the Parthenon. But, in effect, the point of the projects are to connect present needs with past capacity. This theme runs through the entire “Action Agenda for Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities” produced by the Preservation Rightsizing Network – an agenda for cities having considerably more infrastructure than needed for the smaller population base now present.

Some of the most interesting work in cities today is in those places at the center of headlines about depopulation, disinvestment, dilapidation, dysfunction, despair, and general disaster. But the headlines never tell the full story nor even the right story. The truth about legacy cities, or any city seeking growth for that matter, is that the social and civic infrastructure (government, residents, philanthropies, neighborhood associations, faith institutions, businesses and schools) are at the heart of setting a vision and implementing the plan to reach the goals.

In legacy cities, preservationists are taking full advantage of the assets they have available – 60 to 100 years of growth in the built environment that yielded homes, factories, shopping arcades, warehouses, transportation systems, public utilities, parks, schools, and neighborhood residents. Although simple economic arithmetic may dictate demolition and abandonment, those willing to see beyond the next fiscal quarter tend to reap far greater rewards. It is for this reason, for the creation of a more prosperous and distinctive place – a place that people want to live in or go to rather than drive through – that historic preservation needs to be an essential strategy for every city and town.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Mayors and City Officials Lead Communities Toward Global Engagement

Effective global engagement strategies are essential for any leader and community that aspires to remain at the cutting edge of international trends for the coming decades.


Local leaders who want to ensure their communities retain jobs and continue to grow must seek global connections – and small cities stand to gain the most by seeking international opportunities. (photo:

This is a guest post by Reta Jo Lewis and Lora Berg.

The peaceful and prosperous future of transatlantic cities and regions depends on their ability to recognize and seize opportunities for global engagement. As refugees flee from war torn regions in historic numbers, as the effects of climate change disrupt vulnerable communities, and as a slowing Chinese economy reminds us that recovery from economic crisis involves acknowledging our shared economic ties, municipal officials must transcend their local perspectives and access shared resources and agendas to address international challenges. Subnational leaders, such as governors, mayors and local leaders, stand at the forefront of efforts to link local and global action and implement policies enacted at national levels to create meaningful change.

Thriving local economies capitalize on global investment opportunities. The average major metro area in the United States leads the country in foreign direct investment (FDI) from 33 different countries and 77 different city-regions worldwide. Similarly, the European Union is the largest recipient in the world of FDI, at approximately $US 246 billion. Jobs, moreover, increasingly depend on global economic links. Foreign-owned U.S. affiliate companies directly employ some 5.6 million workers spread across every sector of the economy. In the European Union, 14 percent of the total working population is employed by foreign controlled enterprises. Local leaders who want to ensure their communities retain jobs and continue to grow must seek global connections, and small cities stand to gain the most by seeking international opportunities. Trade ties, use of natural resources, increased labor mobility, and shifting demographics impact a community’s economic health, job creation, ability to innovate, and capacity to create schools and cultural centers for diverse populations.

Economic imperatives are not the only motivation for greater global engagement. As natural resources diminish and the dangerous effects of carbon emissions — on both large and small cities — become apparent, nations are increasingly working together to build resilient communities by  developing renewable energy resources and curbing emissions. At the 2015 COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, governments around the world agreed to limit temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius through historic commitments to cut carbon emissions. Local leadership was vital in pushing for this agreement, with cities and regions at the forefront of climate action, through their own ambitious commitments to carbon reductions and green investments.

Mayors and regional leaders on both sides of the Atlantic understand the value added by their own citizens. They also understand that newcomers, who are part of the sweeping demographic change remaking Europe and the U.S., serve as a stock of innovation and a resource for future growth and stability. In the United States 9.2 percent of public school students — approximately 4.4 million students – are learning English as a second language. In large U.S. cities, students come from hundreds of different language backgrounds; the New York City Department of Education reports that there are 180 different languages spoken in the homes of students citywide. In the EU at large, an estimated 33.5 million people born outside the EU now live in an EU member state. Globally engaged communities that are inclusive, recognize the realities of demographic change and encourage global economic ties demonstrate the highest rates of growth, lowest unemployment, and highest rates of social stability.

Effective global engagement strategies are essential for any leader and community that aspires to remain at the cutting edge of international trends for the coming decades. They provide the opportunity for cities and regions, large and small, to lead from the front, and to drive international agreements rather than simply react to national priorities.

About the Authors:

Reta Jo Lewis is a Senior Resident Fellow for Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She has been a global business affairs adviser since leaving government in April 2013, and specializes in working with U.S. governors, mayors, legislators as well as provincial leaders across the Atlantic.

Lora Berg is a Senior Resident Fellow for Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She develops partnerships on the international stage to strengthen diversity and inclusion, and designs leadership programs such as the Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN), which builds the capacity of rising diverse young leaders from both sides of the Atlantic who hold or plan to run for public office.

Please note that the opinions here are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent those of the German Marshall Fund.

In the Presidential Candidate Debates, a Missed Opportunity for Infrastructure

Perhaps what’s most disappointing about this week’s events is the candidates’ failure to take hold of the growing chorus in our country that is talking about transportation as a ladder of opportunity.

(photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

(photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Monday’s Democratic presidential candidate town hall and Thursday’s Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa – much like the debates that came before them – can hardly be counted as a win for cities across America that rely on our road, bridge, transit, air, water and port infrastructure as their economic lifeblood. America’s infrastructure has long been the envy of the world, and for cities, it is our economic competitive advantage. Yet, with only brief mentions of infrastructure and how to pay for it, the debates continue to be a missed opportunity for the presidential candidates.

But perhaps what’s most disappointing is the candidates’ failure to take hold of the growing chorus in our country that is talking about transportation as a ladder of opportunity – the idea that our transportation network can serve as a tool to uplift every member of our communities by connecting them to new opportunities for education, employment, services, and physical well-being. Inequities in safe, reliable access to transit, safe routes for children to walk or bicycle to and from school and parks each day, or for our businesses to have access to a truly diverse workforce too often impact low income communities and communities of color across our nation.

For too many Americans, our nation’s streets serve more as a painful symbol of injustice than they do a stage for exciting new technologies like self-driving cars and the shared economy. This campaign season should be an opportunity for candidates to highlight their biggest, most innovative ideas for tackling these problems. If we want to move our multi-trillion dollar economy and continue growing opportunities in our cities, we need permanent, long term solutions to backfill and sustain the trust funds that keep our roads and bridges in a state of good repair. We need transit systems that are safe, equitable, and reliable. And we need to repair and replace our hundred-year-old water infrastructure that is crumbling around us. America’s cities should, and do deserve better.

While we support the few proposals that have been put forward to make significant investments in our nation’s infrastructure, we urge the candidates to do more and go further. Let this be an opportunity to detail how you will continue to make our transportation infrastructure the envy of the world. Propose real solutions that won’t leave our cities once again guessing as to whether or not they can count on long-term funding every few months. And highlight the critical role transportation plays in connecting communities to opportunity.

Join NLC’s effort, Cities Lead 2016, to make sure that city issues are a top priority for 2016 presidential candidates. View a copy of our platform online and sign your name in support of cities everywhere!

About the author: Matthew Colvin is the Principal Associate for Infrastructure and Development on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. He leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on surface, air and marine transportation issues. Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewAColvin.

Presidential Candidates: Here’s What You Should Learn from Flint, Michigan

Using the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as a case study, here are three reasons why the presidential candidates need to pay attention to and address city priorities.

Much has been written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the hundreds of children who have been exposed to lead. (photo courtesy

Much has been written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the hundreds of children who have been exposed to lead. (photo courtesy

As the Republican and Democratic candidates took to the debate stage in South Carolina last week, they attempted to persuade voters, particularly those in the upcoming early primary states, that they are the best candidate for the for job. With a few exceptions, there was limited discussion of city priorities: the economy, infrastructure and public safety. Perhaps that is to be expected at this stage in the campaign or because of the different natures of Republicans and Democrats, but nevertheless, the candidates are ignoring some very real issues that matter to local elected officials, cities and the future of our country.

Much has been written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the hundreds of children who have been exposed to lead. Using this as a case study, here are three reasons why the presidential candidates need to pay attention to and address city priorities.

  1. Economy – Lead poisoning affects the brain and brain development, which effects a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school without proper educational programs and medical support. Education is the foundation of a successful career and job that not only supports one’s self and family, but helps grow our economy. How will these children fare in the world 25 years from now? If there ever is a financial settlement in this case, this small glimpse into the lives of lead-poisoned children in Baltimore demonstrates why establishing sufficient support programs, such as financial literacy programs for example, will be necessary.
  1. Infrastructure – From the most basic stand point, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan highlights the nation’s aging infrastructure problem and the need to invest—at all levels of government—in improving and maintaining our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure systems. According to the U.S. Census, local governments spend over $100 billion dollars annually, including $117 billion in 2013, on water infrastructure, but the need is close to $1 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain our existing infrastructure.
  1. Public Safety – While recent FBI statistics indicate that the national rate of violent crime today is roughly half what it was in 1993, and is continuing to decline, lead poisoning has been linked to an increase in crime rates, even at the neighborhood level. Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Stephen Benjamin recently addressed why gun violence in cities should be a priority. Addressing mental health issues, particularly in light of Flint, Michigan, is also a necessity.

Without getting into the questions about decision making, righting this wrong will require bipartisan action and commitment from all levels of government for the long-term. In many ways, the situation in Flint is unique, but in many other ways it highlights the everyday challenges faced by cities across the country. We ask the presidential candidates to address these important city issues. Join us in this call by signing onto our Cities Lead 2016 platform.

About the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

5 Strategies for Inspired Leadership in the Budget Process

Brenda Morrison and Chris Adams explain how to bring your constituents together for better budget solutions that move your city forward. This article is based on the budget toolbox session led by Brenda and Chris and presented by NLC University at the 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville, Tennessee.

To harness the power of their constituents and create broadly supported budgets, government leaders should consider new strategies. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Brenda Morrison and Chris Adams.

Citizens are increasingly disconnected from the public budgets that impact their pocketbooks and daily lives, but smart leadership in the budget process can change this.

The 2012 Census of Governments counts 89,005 public budget entities in the United States, including the federal government, 3,031 counties, 19,522 municipalities, 16,364 towns, 12,884 school districts, and 37,203 special purpose districts (utility, fire, police, library, etc.).

That’s a whole lot of public budgets that need inspired leadership to move communities toward their common vision and goals. To harness the power of their constituents and create broadly supported budgets, government leaders should consider these five strategies:

1) Continuously revisit why you ran for office.

In a recent budget toolbox session for city leaders, participants summed up the reasons they ran for office in single words. The most notable of these were “transparency,” “development,” “growth,” “connectedness” and “accountability.”

It’s difficult to keep these larger goals in mind when budgets bring about tough questions with no single right answer. When conflicts arise, keep returning to the reasons you ran office, and this will help you stay focused on larger budget goals.

2) Frame the budget as a leader.

Savvy municipal leaders understand that the budget is many things to many people:

  • a financial plan;
  • a communications document;
  • a reflection of local government priorities; and,
  • a tool for accountability.

But once budget negotiations begin drilling down into math and minutiae, budget leaders can lose sight of the larger themes. To avoid this, stay focused on values and problem solving. Leave the administrative and technical issues to professional staff, or seek help from your state municipal league or state government.

3) Hone your negotiating skills.

Strong negotiating skills are necessary when trying to solve the toughest budget problems – the right vs. right problems. Effective leadership while negotiating means you must consider the larger themes, as articulated by the Institute for Global Ethics:

  • short-term versus long-term;
  • individuals versus communities;
  • justice versus mercy; and,
  • truth versus loyalty.

The book “Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” describes a negotiating style of constantly searching for mutual gains and what is most important to each party. Interest-based negotiation starts with developing and preserving the relationship. Parties educate each other about their needs, and then jointly problem solve on how to meet those needs.

It’s important to note that bad negotiators are like bad drivers: harmful to themselves and dangerous to others. Unfortunately, the history of policymaking is littered with missed opportunities due to bad negotiators.

Unless we want to keep having the same conversations about the same issues with the same inadequate solutions, policy makers need to be excellent negotiators.

4) Engage the public.

“Public engagement” and “government transparency” are more than buzz words in the budget process.

Successful public engagement on the budget can counteract the political apathy so increasingly prevalent in our democracy. Innovators in technology and public policy are developing a range of high touch and high tech methods as alternatives to the giant budget PDFs and budget sessions that offer participants three minutes at the mic but not much genuine participation.

These new budget methods both educate and involve citizens so they can develop better governments that improve society. They include:

  • open data platforms that bring financial transparency to government;
  • participatory budgeting practices that bring groups of citizens together to allocate public dollars; and,
  • civic technology tools that both broaden and deepen citizen input through web and mobile-based tools.

To ensure effective public engagement, leaders need to plan and prepare using the right strategies that consider purpose, issue, primary message, audience and timing. They also need to cultivate an environment of shared purpose, openness, learning, transparency and trust. This builds a participatory culture that leads to sustained engagement.

A detail from the city of San Antonio's budget.

A detail from the city of San Antonio’s budget.

5) Embrace technology’s power.

The public’s expectation of how government should use technology to operate is often defined by the private sector’s use of technology. This means citizens are expecting more technology tools as part of government processes.

For fiscal year 2016, San Antonio engaged residents in a conversation about the budget through #SASpeakUp, which enabled residents to join the budget conversation through in-person meetings or from the comfort of their home on a computer or smartphone by using the city’s interactive budget on Balancing Act, available in both English and Spanish.

The interactive budget enabled citizens to learn about the complex tradeoffs involved in balancing a $1 billion general fund budget. They also got to try their hand at actually balancing increases in certain programs and services with cuts in others.

All of the priorities and ideas gathered from #SASpeakUp were then presented to City Council.

“We thought about it from the residents’ perspective, and saw that we needed to make the budget process more accessible and easier than ever to participate,” said Bryan Layton, assistant director for innovation. “Instead of just asking residents to come to us, we went to them (digitally and physically) as much as possible.”

About the Authors:

Brenda Morrison is a partner at Engaged Public and co-founder of Balancing Act, an online budget simulation app, and the Taxpayer Receipt tool.



Chris Adams is president of Engaged Public, a Denver-based public policy firm that created Balancing Act.

The Rise of Cities and a Global Parliament of Mayors

Building on a foundation of intercity cooperation aimed at addressing the increasing dysfunction of nation-states in dealing with global crises, Benjamin Barber proposes a governance revolution: the founding of a new global legislative body comprising the world’s cities called the Global Parliament of Mayors.

Dr. Barber delivers an address at NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville, Tennessee on Nov. 6, 2015. (Jason Dixson)

This is a guest post by Dr. Benjamin Barber.

The age of the dominion of nation states, four centuries long, is over. Their national borders and insular sovereignty no longer accommodate the borderless interdependence of the 21st century world. Cities on the other hand are rising, their pragmatic capacity to solve problems and their inclination to cooperate across borders making them more successful politically than any other political bodies. That is hardly surprising, given that cities are much older than the nation-states to which they belong, and much more multicultural and hence open, transactional and tolerant as well. More than half the world’s population now live in cities (75 percent in the developed world) and over 80 percent of global GDP is produced by them. Moreover, cities are viewed by citizens as home, their own community and neighborhood to which their attachment is more traditional and visceral that their link to the nation state.

Little wonder, then, given this irresistible rise of cities to political preeminence, that a governance revolution is underway. This revolution is the consequence of two trends: the first, a devolution revolution in which, as Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne explained last spring, England will “deliver radical devolution to its great cities,” giving them “levers to grow their own local economies.” The second trend, grounded in the results of the first, is the manifest capacity of cities to work together across borders in addressing such common global issues as climate change, refugees and crime. As Mayor Bill di Blasio of New York City has said, “when national governments fail to act on crucial issues like climate, cities have to do so.”  Climate and sea rise have been particular concerns of cities, 90 percent of which are built on water: rivers, lakes, oceans and seas. Although the COP 21 meetings in Paris finally achieved a modest general agreement, it appears that real implementation will depend on cities where 80 percent of greenhouse emissions are generated and the political will is present to act.

Both devolution and global urban cooperation are fact not theory. The leadership of mayors in addressing the real problems of citizens from climate change, education and inequality to transportation, pandemic disease and security has inspired trust by citizens in local government more than double that of their trust in national politicians. And cities are already cooperating through associations like the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors; but they are also collaborating across borders in successful global urban networks which go far beyond the beguiling but modest sister cities program and that embrace institutions like the UCLG (United Cities and Local Government), the environmental collective ICLEI, the Hiroshima-based Cities for Peace, and the C40 Climate Cities founded by Mayors Livingston of London and Bloomberg of New York. It’s not just that cities can collaborate, they do!

Building on this foundation of intercity cooperation aiming at addressing the increasing dysfunction of nation-states in dealing with our global crises, I proposed in 2014 in my book If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities that the time had come for a governance revolution: the founding of a new global legislative body comprising the world’s cities that I called the Global Parliament of Mayors. Mayors responded enthusiastically, and theory is on the threshold of becoming practice.

On September 10-12, 2016 in The Hague (The Netherlands), the inaugural convening of the Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) will launch. This founding will take place in the “city of peace and justice” that in 1922 became home to the League of Nations Permanent Court of International Justice, in 1945 became host to the International Court of Justice and since 2002 has hosted the International Criminal Court.

How deeply fitting that The Hague and its visionary mayor Jozias van Aartsen, the former Dutch foreign minister, along with his colleagues in the Dutch G4 cities, should host the establishment of this new experiment in global democratic governance and mutual justice in our roiled age of global anarchy and pervasive injustice. For as the successive world courts in The Hague aspired to bring a degree of justice to international public affairs, the GPM aspires to encourage cities and their mayors to work together across borders to realize the public goods and global interests their citizens share in common but have yet to be secured by their national governments.

The establishment of a Global Parliament of Mayors as a governance keystone in the organizational arch of impressive urban networks alluded to earlier will build on their extensive achievements. It will act as an experiment in organizing and deploying the common power of cities; and in affording them common policies and laws through common legislation – but on an opt-in basis by individual cities. The opt-in approach will emphasize the bottom-up federal nature of municipal governance and the ultimate sovereignty of citizens themselves in authorizing legitimate governmental authority. Participation, collaboration and consensus will be the working methodology of the GPM, not top-down mandates via hierarchical decision-making.

Initial participants will include up to 125 motivated cities led by public officials keen to act. More than a hundred have already been engaged in the two-year planning process under way, along with numerous urban networks, NGOs and urban experts. These cities come from North and South, from municipalities large and small, from every economic bracket and every continent. In time, through virtual meetings on a digital platform, as well as innovative representative mechanisms, the GPM will be able to represent and include a preponderance of the world’s urban population. The aim is not just to represent traditional municipalities but emerging “metro-regions” that encompass old cities and newer suburbs and exurbs, as well as surrounding agricultural regions.

The GPM will not compete with or encroach upon sovereign nations, but will rather work to cooperate with them and with the United Nations in solving common global problems. The GPM cannot pretend to represent everyone, but will manifest the ultimate right of urban majorities across the globe to take action together, across borders, in domains where the global agenda has been stalled or thwarted. In this it will serve a sustainable and just planet and all those who live on it.

Ultimately, the founding of the GPM in September 2016 is an experiment in democratic urban governance that will depend on the vision, prudence and courage of its founding mayors and those who come to join them in The Hague. This innovative cross-border exercise in democracy and responsibility, rooted in the leadership of visionary mayors and their engaged citizens, represents a historic and constructive moment in unruly and dangerous times.

About the Author: Dr. Benjamin Barber is a senior research scholar at The Graduate Center, CUNY, founder of the Global Parliament of Mayors Project and the Interdependence Movement, and Walt Whitman Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University.

He is the author of eighteen books including the classic Strong Democracy, the international bestseller Jihad vs. McWorld, and his latest work, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, which is the foundation for Barber’s current project aimed at establishing a Global Parliament of Mayors.

His honors include a knighthood from the French Government, the Berlin Prize of the American Academy, the John Dewey Award, and Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Social Science Research Fellowships. Barber has also written for the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the L.A. Times as well as The Nation, The New Republic, and The Atlantic.