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G-Sync: A-list with Bliss

Recently we learned of another list that includes Grand Rapids’ Mayor Bliss as the only one from Michigan and just one of the 40 mayors from around the U.S. to be invited to be a part of an ambitious new program called the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.
These days it is nearly a weekly occurrence that Grand Rapids finds itself landing on a new list.  Some of these accolades might be ones we would rather not be included on, but for the most part, the singling out has been positive. 

Recently we learned of another list that includes Grand Rapids’ Mayor Bliss as the only mayor from Michigan and just one of 40 mayors from around the U.S. to be invited to be a part of an ambitious new program called the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. 

This initiative arrives at a time when cities around the world are experiencing tremendous growth after decades of decline. The City Leadership Initiative seeks to harness the education resources from a collaboration between Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Harvard Business School. 

Mayor Bliss is in New York this week as a part of a three-day kick off in New York City for this year-long program that will enable these mayors to access to some of the world’s best global policy and management experts, cutting-edge research, as well as the support of Harvard’s students. 

What makes this new $200 million program stand out is how Mike Bloomberg—former Mayor of New York—has envisioned it and why he believes it is needed in the first place.

After many years of "partisan paralysis”—a term Bloomberg employs to describe the lack of advancements within state and the federal government—the need for cities to lead was never more needed than today.

“When I was first elected, I remember people telling me, ‘You shouldn’t address problems that are politically controversial, because it will only hurt your popularity.’ I found the reverse to be true,” says Bloomberg via the announcement of this new initiative at the June 2017 U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Annual Meeting in Miami. “The more we took on those kinds of issues, the more voters respected and supported us, even if they didn’t agree with us. That’s how a non-Democrat could win three successive elections in a city that’s 5-to-1 Democratic.”

I can relate locally to what the Mayor is saying here because it has been my experience over the years that party rancor often falls away as we work locally together on the tasks before us. There is something wonderful about a community that has an opportunity to learn of a matter in society and then work together to address it.

This initiative is perfect for Grand Rapids, a city that has been laboring for many years on a series of projects aimed at transforming us into a  model city for others hoping to modernize and adjust to the many changes facing our urban centers.

The desire to provide this level of mayoral instruction was something Bloomberg recalls from his years in public office. 

"Being a mayor is, without question, one of the toughest executive positions around,” says James Anderson of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation programs in the NY Daily News opinion piece, “Needed: First-class training for mayors.

The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative seeks to bring to our nation’s city halls an executive-level educational experience that hails from the private sector and is missing from the public sector.

When you think about it, the historical model so far has been pretty straightforward: if elected to the position of Mayor, the number one qualification to seal the deal is to get the most votes. 

No one requires any training or extended understanding of the work in front of them to govern. You just have to get elected.

“Yet in a country where we spend nearly $14 billion a year on an endless array of courses broadly described as ‘leadership training,’ there is no formal training for the job of mayor. We expect the people who lead our city halls to rely only on what they bring to—and learn—on the job,” says Anderson.

When we look at it from this perspective, it just makes sense to invest in leadership as Bloomberg has proposed with the City Leadership Initiative.

According to Benjamin Barber, political scientist and author of “If Mayors Ruled the World,” our mayors are far more adept at problem solving as they tackle the daily issues of society head-on. This positive view of mayors as successful politicians is held up via the Pew Research Center, who reports that nearly two-thirds of Americans polled view favorably their local government during a time when favorable views of the federal government hovers around a 28 percent approval rating.  ("Want to See How Governments Are Making Real Progress?" by Sarah van Gelder)

This is a nice development for local politicians because it allows us to grow locally solutions that could be applied further up the political chain. 

Cities are evolving epicenters of emerging transparency and good policy creation around topics like living wages, housing, and immigration. Cities are solving their problems (or attempting to when their hands are not tied by state and federal law) to ideate and innovate for a better way of living together as they embrace our ever-expanding, multi-cultural and diverse population via the dynamics of density that opens up space for understanding to flourish in our daily lives.

In a brief exchange with Mayor Bliss about her experience so far, she stated this is an incredible opportunity and experience. Going on to cite that not only is the City Leadership Initiative a place to learn, but also to create powerful connections between the mayors who will together embark upon this journey over the next year. 

We at Rapid Growth are proud that Grand Rapids has been selected to join such a distinguished group of mayors who are sure to make a positive impact on the U.S. and state in the years ahead because of this opportunity.

The Future Needs All of Us. 

Tommy Allen
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