America needs a National Urban Policy Summit.
Kevyn Orr is an inspiring fellow. And, as the Emergency Manager for the City of Detroit, overseeing the city’s bankruptcy process, he knows a thing or two about cities. In a recent forum at Harvard University, he suggested the country is way overdue for a close look at what is happening in cities today and what lies ahead in the future.
The last time America took a close look at cities was the Kerner Commission in 1967. That commission was set up by President Johnson in the midst of a series of racially charged riots in cities across the country. Its deliberations captured the attention of millions and laid the groundwork for thinking about cities for a decades.
Today America gets a D grade on its infrastructure. New York is figuring out how to build for a future of more storms and floods like Sandy in 2012. Katrina left New Orleans with major policy decisions about land use and open space. Detroit, post-bankruptcy, has similar open space issues, the challenges of delivering services to a much smaller number of people spread out over 138 square miles. Detroit also raises the specter of more bankruptcies from cities that fail to fully fund their pension liabilities.
There is good news too. The digital revolution brings the promise of so many more exciting success stories. Kansas City MO, with its new fiber highway is focused on ending the “digital divide”, making the internet available to all, and using “smart city” tools to bring better city services to more residents and businesses. So many cities, large and small, are finding new ways to enhance their operations through technology. But there is so much more to do and not enough sharing of ideas among cities.
Kevyn Orr. Make it happen. Please. How about an Academy Awards for Cities. Let’s reward and showcase the cities that know how to fund their pension plans, cities that plan and build for resiliency, cities that have emergency services that “Black Lives Matter” can admire, cities that plan their capital budgets 5 years into the future with transparency and community participation, cities that have figured out how to keep a healthy middle class housed and schooled. Ten awards to ten cities every year. Sunday night, prime time. I nominate Kevyn Orr for the first MC. With back up from John Oliver and Tina Fey.