At the annual summit of the Intelligent Community Forum two weeks
ago, there was a keynote panel consisting of the mayors of three of the
most intelligent cities in the world:
- Michael Coleman, Mayor of the City of Columbus, Ohio from 2000 through 2015
- Mayor Rob Van Gijzel, Eindhoven, Netherlands, from 2008-today
- Paul Pisasale, Mayor, City of Ipswich, Queensland, Australia, from 2004-today
Both Eindhoven and Columbus have been selected as the most intelligent community in the world and Ipswich has been in the Top 7. Columbus also was just selected by the US Government as one of the winners of its Smart City challenge.
topic was intriguing (at least to those of us who care about economic
growth): “International Economic & Business Development — Secrets of
international development at the city and region level”.
did have interesting things to say about that topic. Mayor Coleman
pointed out that 3,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars of
global trade that Columbus has. He reminded the audience that making
global connections for the benefit of the local economy is not a
one-time thing as it takes years to build relationships that will
flourish into deep global economic growth.
That reminder of the
long term nature of creating economic growth was a signal of the real
secrets they discussed — how to survive a long time in elected office
and create a flourishing city.
Part of what distinguishes these
mayors from others is not just their success at being elected because
the voters thought they were doing a good job. An important part of
their success is their willingness to focus on the long-term, the
By contrast, those mayors and other local officials who
are so worried about re-election instead focus just on short term hits
and, despite that, often end up being defeated.
This requires a
certain personal and professional discipline not to become too easily
distracted by daily events. For example, Mayor Coleman said he divided
his time into thirds –
- Handling the crisis of the day (yes, he did have to deal with that, just not all the time)
- Keeping the city operations going smoothly
- Developing and implementing a vision for the future
another statement of the importance of a future orientation, Mayor
Pisasale declared that “economic development is about jobs for your
kids” — a driving motivation that’s quite different from the standard
economic development projects that are mostly sites for ribbon cuttings
and a photo in the newspaper.
He was serious about this statement
even in his political strategy. His target groups for the future of the
city are not the usual civic leaders. Rather he reaches out to
students (and taxi drivers) to be champions for his vision of the
Mayor Van Gijzel pointed out that an orientation to the
future means that you also have to be willing to accept some failures –
something else that you don’t hear often from more risk-averse, but less
successful politicians. (By the way, there’s a lot more detail about
this in the book, “The City That Creates The Future: Rob van Gijzel’s
This kind of thinking recalls the 1932 declaration by the most
politically successful and re-elected US President, Franklin Roosevelt:
country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands
bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method
and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above
all, try something.”
That brings up another important point
in this time of focus on cities. Innovation and future-orientation is
not just about mayors.
Presidents aside, another example of long term
vision comes from
Buddy Villines, who was chief executive of Pulaski County (Little Rock, Arkansas) for twenty-two years until the end of 2014.
a time when many public officials are disdained by a majority of their
constituents, these long-time mayors – successful both as politicians
and for the people of their cities – should be a model for their more
© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved