Nation & World News

At Urban Summit, A Feeling Of ‘The Feds Can’t, But We Can’

By Franklyn Cater on October 12th, 2013

The partial government shutdown was part of the buzz this week at an international gathering of mayors, city planners and urban experts in New York City.

Passing mentions of the U.S. government during several seminars at the CityLab conference sent knowing chuckles rolling through the audience. As in: “Those guys? They’re closed for business! At least we’re still on the job.”

The sentiment — that municipal leaders take the responsibility of governing more seriously than their federal counterparts – was perhaps best encapsulated in a session featuring political theorist Benjamin R. Barber, author of the book If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. He contends city governments are about getting things done in very tangible ways and that, regardless of party affiliation, mayors tend to be pragmatic leaders. (Barber cites this quote from former New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia: “There is no Democratic or Republican way of fixing a sewer.”)

Barber invited mayors to an informal, post-conference meeting to discuss his proposal to form a voluntary “World Parliament of Mayors,” which he says would give city leaders more opportunity for international collaboration and a stronger presence on the world stage.

Considering the number of cities worldwide, this sounds like a rather unwieldy undertaking. But darned if he didn’t get a dozen or so mayors hailing from several continents to join him before they rushed off to catch their planes. Bogota, Columbia; Perth, Australia; Vancouver, Canada; and Santa Monica, Calif., were among the cities represented around the conference table.

In practical mayoral fashion, each leader stopped short of endorsing Barber’s concept but expressed interest in exploring its potential. They wondered how such a World Parliament would be useful to their citizens, they noted the existence of similar groups — World Conference of Mayors, the C40 Cities Group, etc. — and they spoke of how time-consuming their jobs already are.

“How would this be different,” they asked. But they were clearly not dismissing the idea.

As Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told NPR, “I think that there may be some merit in doing this, but it’s tricky to get the right kind of structure and make it compelling enough for mayors to come from all over the world and put aside the day to day work, which is relentless, and actually focus on working as a big team.”

He added: “Cities in Canada have equal challenges with our federal government and the provincial governments, as well. I think that’s a theme you see right across the world. … It’s a tough thing in many countries where there’s paralysis or inaction at a federal level, and there’s a lot of action on the ground in cities because every single day we have to deliver solutions and serve the people and make our cities livable.”

It brings to mind the spirit that inspired city slogans such as “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” and “Chicago: The City That Works.” For all the ills city governments have been unable to remedy, urban places are responsible for a huge percentage of GDP and city officials like to see themselves as industrious, too.

That attitude transcends international borders. And these leaders could not have asked for a better opportunity to promote it than they had this week, against the contrast of gridlock in Washington.

Franklyn Cater is a senior producer at All Things Considered and editor of the NPR Cities Project.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

 

More Stories in News from NPR

New Era For Cuba? Voices From Miami And Havana

In Miami, home of the largest Cuban diaspora, two generations faced off on the streets. In Havana, demonstrators spoke of hope.


The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. voted against Arizona's appeal, which would have allowed a state ban on drivers licenses for young undocumented immigrants.

Supreme Court Refuses To Block Arizona Driver’s Licenses For ‘Dreamers’

Arizona’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court failed to prevent the state from having to issue driving permits to undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.


George Stinney Jr. appears in an undated police booking photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. A South Carolina judge vacated the conviction of the 14-year-old, who was executed in 1944, saying he didn't receive a fair trial.

S.C. Judge Says 1944 Execution Of 14-Year-Old Boy Was Wrong

In her ruling, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen wrote that she found that “fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process exist in the 1944 prosecution of George Stinney, Jr.”


U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korea was centrally involved in the recent attack on Sony Pictures' computer network — possibly out of retribution for its film The Interview. Above, a security guard stands outside a theater during the film's premiere in Los Angeles last week.

U.S. Officials Believe North Korea Was Behind Sony Hack

The recent attack on Sony Pictures’ computer network that resulted in a flood of confidential data has its origins in North Korea, U.S. intelligence officials say.


Bearing the message "The Greatest Gift is Knowledge," a holiday display by the Satanic Temple will accompany a Christian Nativity scene on the grounds of the Michigan State Capitol.

Satanist And Christian Holiday Displays To Go Up At Michigan Capitol

The situation has brought controversy — and energized Christians who realized that a planned Nativity scene was in danger of being canceled.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments