Sunday, November 01, 2009

Great Mayors: New York's Michael Bloomberg And Bogota's Mayor Enrique Peñalosa

It’s hard to brag on a guy who’s spending $100 million to run for a third term that was supposed to be prohibited by law, but despite that, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is counted among our great mayors.

Our last addition to our list of great mayors is former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa whose bold aspirations inspired an unimaginable leap forward by his city.

Separated by half a hemisphere, both mayors’ accomplishments are anchored in their emphasis on quality of life. In New York, it took the form of smart transportation and a 127-point plan to make the city sustainable. In Bogotá, it was transportation, education and the public realm, and it’s hard to remember anyone who made more progress on as many fronts.

More to the point, if Mayor Peñalosa’s “no excuses” attitude in a Third World city could work, it’s pretty hard to suggest hat we should not set our sights higher in Memphis.

The Right Focus

But if we’re looking for inspiration, we could do a lot worse than emulating his radical improvements to the city and its citizens, giving priority to children and public spaces and restricting private car use and building hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, greenways, and parks.

Two accomplishments particularly interest us because of the intransigent bureaucracies that stand in their way in Memphis. He planted more than 100,000 trees (MLGW continues with its same Depression era thinking that treats trees are irritants) and he created a 21st century bus-based transit system (as for MATA, don’t get us started).

Most of all, he proved how a great mayor can transform a city's attitude from hopelessness to one of pride. "We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality. (Bogotá's) pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity. We’re telling people, ‘You are important.’

"Every Sunday we close 120 kilometers of roads to motor vehicles for seven hours. A million and a half people of all ages and incomes come out to ride bicycles, jog, and simply gather with others in community. A bikeway is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as a citizen on a $30,000 car."

Beautifully Said

His advice to other mayors: start with a vision, “an understanding of what alternatives there are.” “People don't go to the suburbs because they're dumb. It's because they are looking for something. You must help people understand that they can have more of what they want by giving a little less preference to cars.

“We are living in the post-Communism era when we have immense confidence in private entrepreneurs and individualism and distrust any form of government intervention. Adam Smith is reigning triumphant. He told us that each citizen behaving selfishly yields the best good for society.

“This is not always true. If you have a shipwreck and everyone tries at the same time to grab the lifeboat, everyone will drown. You cannot allow a developer to do anything they want, whatever it does to his neighbors or the rest of the city. There is not a mathematical rule that will tell you exactly how many pedestrian streets, or how far people should live from a park or sports field, or how tall a building should be. These standards are a collective creation. How do societies create collectively? They do this through an institution called government.”

He urges mayors to pay attention to the power of good urban design and architecture. “Every detail in the city should shows respect for human dignity and reflect that everything human is sacred. And I do believe that if people have to walk in the street, avoiding parked cars, or next to some horrible surface parking lot, or they are mistreated by poor quality transportation systems, it's very difficult to ask them to be good citizens, to keep the streets clean, or even pay taxes. If a city shows respect, and more than that, loving care for its citizens, people will behave in kind. I do believe it, because I've seen it happen. It was beyond my wildest dreams the way the attitudes changed in Bogota, from being despondent and convinced the city was doomed, to civic pride and hope that the future can be better. If the physical quality of the city is poor, the quality of life there also will be poor.”

Up North

With this in mind, parks are especially powerful because they are equalizers of society. “We almost always meet under conditions of social hierarchy. At work, some people are bosses and others are employees; at restaurants, some people are serving and others are being served. Parks are the gathering place for community. They create a sense of belonging. Everybody is welcome regardless of age, background, income, or disabilities. This creates a different type of society.”

Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg was expected to spend his energy on control of the school district and fighting crime, but he surprised many of his fellow citizens when he gave just as much emphasis on global warming, parks and sustainable government and neighborhoods.

He enacted "PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York" to fight global warming, protect the environment and prepare New York for the projected 1 million more people expected to be living in the city by the year 2030. “We now know beyond a doubt that global warming is a reality. And the question we must all answer is, what are we going to do about it?" he asked, urging cities to fight climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, using cleaner and more efficient fuels, and encouraging public transportation.

He took the $6 billion deficit that he inherited when he took office and turned it into a $3 billion surplus without slashing programs that help the poor, or improve health care, or ensure a social safety net.

Happiness Matters

He made HIV, diabetes and hypertension top priorities, extending the city's smoking ban to all commercial establishments and implementing a trans fat ban in restaurants. He strongly supports New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the largest urban healthcare agency in the United States serving over 1.3 million New Yorkers and Opportunity NYC, the nation's first-ever conditional cash transfer pilot program designed to help New Yorkers break the cycle of poverty in the city. Also, he instituted $7.5 billion municipal affordable housing plan, the largest in the nation, aimed at providing 500,000 New Yorkers with housing.

The most important measurement of whether a mayor is succeeding, according to Mayor Peñalosa, is the happiness of the public. He is no doubt right, and using this measure, the Bloomberg years delivered a level of happiness only hinted at by the Giuliani years.

In our next post, we’ll explore the lessons of great mayors that have special meaning for Memphis.


The Urbanophile said...

I am a big fan of Peñalosa, who did some great things and also is a great communicator on these issues (maybe the best out there), but he lost at least one mayor re-election bid so clearly he and his policies weren't universally popular:

Seems like there is more to his story that meets the eye and I'd love to see someone do an in depth study on what happened down there.

Zippy the giver said...

As long as Memphis keeps on saying publicly to the nation "we'll do it Memphis' way", they are saying to the nation, "you who have moved on, improved, succeeded, transcended strife and racism and become one humanity are wrong".
I recently sent a letter to someone working to effect a better future here and they asked how I had insight into problems he'd been digging in for years. The answer is simple, "how couldn't you see it?" The answer to that is "mass denial". It's obvious to outsiders why Memphis is always perpetually in such dire straights, only Memphians are clueless.
You have been deeply hoodwinked by people who put a game of politics to get money above all else, especially education, they never have had your best interest as a city in mind. I've met them, it's unfathomable to most that people like this exist outside the prison system.
They are your city's powerbrokers. Not just the ones in the news, the ones behind the scenes too, and they think your citizens are animals, exactly the atmosphere they have been cultivating in Memphis for a century. These folks come in all colors, common factor: GREED. Willy included.
Then it goes to your congressmen, except Cohen, weirdly, he is a public servant.
One thing I have noticed when speaking to some of these people is how they have completely lost site of anyone else's humanity and can treat a large swath of people badly like beasts.
There is not one single action going on in city hall, or county that has one single thing to do with making Memphis a better place, and it shows blatantly. There are only games designed to put money into people's pockets, steal money from the federal government through misappropriation of funds and other subversions. PROVEN.
If the city or county ever see any benefit it is only because it could not be avoided in order to maintain the farce's false legitimacy.
Memphis "leadership" is so lost in the sauce, there is no other strategy to advocate, call for their removal, what ever it takes.
Media outlets reinforce civil service maladies going on here.
Local reporting is atrocious. Shallow stories about city corruption, absolutely no investigative approach, shallow fluff investigative stories about "products", airing stories happening all over the country in an effort to cover up like, "it's happening all over the country", 15-30 minutes of "overnight shootings", 30 minutes of pretending to be a regional power by calling us "the midsouth" as if there is any cooperation. Memphis has become a cancerous shanker on the country by the hands of your power brokers.
You have to stay in there when that happens and make sure your outcomes improve a place, throwing city or county money in the air for a predetermined catcher does not equal anything but criminal activity here.

Yeah, people can blame it all on the messenger, complain about the posts perceived negativity, but, that doesn't equal having a snowball's chance in hell.
The power in the power broker in Memphis is the people they enslave in whatever fashion they do, usually economics and propaganda, well, we're about to undue all that and them.

20% voter turnout is 80% failure.

Our new mayor must have decided to go after open warrants and got 80 out of 1400, that 5.7%, that's the effectiveness of the Sheriff's dept. 5.7%
Wake up dipsticks, numbers mean things when applied.

Zippy the giver said...

Process is only 1/2 of the equation, the results ARE just as important. They are not meaningless, process is not everything, it's only half, 50%.
Don't forget that.

Many of the "Great Mayors" and many of the other inspirational people we should be emulating to make Memphis great as they have made their local realities great, had the guts, genius, and ability to execute taking a course on what it is to be human, the commonality of human design, how reality works, what's actually important, I could go on and on but It's like speaking martian in Memphis.
I call that being clueless, looking at results, admitting it, and then searching for instruction that will WORK.
Now, before you go shoot it down, the company they all went to designed many programs for Harvard, Wharton, and the very top of the worlds top companies.
If you think they can't design a program for your personal life, which is where your day starts, then you'd be fooling yourself, and probably try to fool others to agree with you, but, then you get he booby prize, no change and no results.
Just because a person went to Wharton School does not mean the took the course. One person taking it will not help, you need a groundswell.
They could design a program for memphis government employees, 50 to 300 a month could take it and you'd see substantive change in less than one year that would yield positive results in that same time span.

Zippy the giver said...

I paid one person to vote against a criminally bad deal for the county, I paid 7 to vote yes, I paid one to be vocally against and make it public news, but, not vote, one to to abstain from voting though it's clearly not in anyone's best interest but mine and everyone should have voted no.
I'm going to get rich off this and you will now get stiffed, because I have no intention of delivering on this. I had people get mad publicly about how it should go through, I even convinced people who it would be in their personal best interest to be against it and speak out to be on my side.
You guys are going to get stiffed, I'll get caught and the money, follow the money, will go somewhere. This is the oldest trick in the book, it's old time Memphis corruption.
I'm going to make sure none of the people who think the will get the money get stimulated.

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