Forget Washington: Three Ways Cities are Leading the Fight for Excellence


KofiPhotoBy Kruse Scholar Kofi Gunu

The election is over. No matter what your personal preferences were, Donald Trump won, and barring some truly extraordinary development, he will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. For the past couple of weeks, I have heard countless people ask that great postelection question: “What will happen in a Trump administration?” I encounter this query more often than most because of my current role as an intern in a U.S. Senator’s office in Washington, D.C. But I believe this is the wrong question. It is the wrong question not because I doubt the far-reaching impact of a presidential administration; four years can mean the difference between war and peace, as we well know. It is the wrong question because every day I come across examples of American cities, from large ones like San Diego and Los Angeles to mid-size ones like Portland and Columbus, that have developed innovative strategies to confront the biggest challenges facing America. For an answer to the country’s prospects in the next four years, or the next century, we need to look to these communities of excellence, not to the politicians in Washington. The COE2026 Initiative is premised on the idea that local towns, cities and, maybe, states are the optimum units for enacting broad-based change.

Here are three areas where cities are pioneering solutions to global challenges:

International trade. Perhaps the most defining issue of the 2016 election, America’s failure to adjust to globalization demands concerted effort from Washington. But several American cities are already fighting back. They have developed their own strategies to boost exports, attract investment and gain jobs in the traded sectors. The most successful cities are busily promoting businesses in which they are already world leaders—medical devices in Minneapolis-St. Paul, aircraft and parts in Wichita, life sciences in San Diego. Portland, which has long been a hub for exports because of chipmaker Intel, has launched a new initiative for boosting exports of clean technology and has undertaken trade missions to promote its athletic and outdoor industry. These cities understand that local prosperity depends in good part on success in international economic competition.

Climate change. Another issue that has been a source of worry in the aftermath of the November polls is climate change. Significant uncertainty now surrounds the future of the Paris Accord. But a number of city planners and mayors are not waiting around for world leaders to act; they have already initiated action to curtail the impact of global warming. Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines, for instance, recently committed the city to reducing its energy consumption 50 percent by 2030 and becoming “carbon neutral” by 2050. In San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer championed a climate action plan that commits the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. And other cities are following their lead. Over 10,000 climate initiatives are underway in cities worldwide, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Refugee resettlement. This issue has generated megawatts of emotion in the last few months, with the Syrian conflict forcing scores of refugees into the Western Hemisphere. Policymakers in Washington appear deeply divided on the number and process of resettling refugees on American soil. However, this is in stark contrast to the situation in Canada where private sponsorship is allowing small towns across the country to raise their hands and offer to help settle thousands of refugees. Private communities have shouldered the bulk of the costs of settling refugees and sustaining them for a year. Areas of the country where the population is declining or aging rapidly, such as towns in the province of New Brunswick, are especially aggressive in recruiting newcomers. There are advantages for the refugees too. Research indicates that privately-sponsored refugees become more successful than their federally-sponsored counterparts, perhaps because they have a support group from the moment they arrive.

These then are three ways cities and towns are leading the fight to revitalize the economy, protect the environment and provide a new life for refugees. As a new Congress and administration convenes in Washington next year, they will be well-served to consider these innovations.

Read more about Kofi Gunu here          


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