Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pragmatic Mayors in America

Mayors at the convention Urban nation Democrats give cities their due respect

Sep 8th 2012 | CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA | from the print edition

At last, a good Castro ONE, the grandson of an immigrant maid, delivered a moving keynote address centred on upward mobility, opportunity and education. Another praised the “black and white families [who] met and decided together to break down the barriers that had so long divided their children.”

A third recalled his widowed mother’s struggles to run an inner-city pharmacy. And a fourth introduced his party’s platform, which, he said, “is not about partisanship but pragmatism”. These four mayors—respectively Julián Castro of San Antonio, Anthony Foxx of Charlotte, R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis and Cory Booker of Newark—all spoke on the opening night of the Democratic convention. So did Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago.

Three more mayors spoke the next night, including Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, who chaired the convention. The Republican convention, by contrast, featured just three, including Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa, the host city, who, as is customary, welcomed the delegates early on the first day; and Mia Love, a picture-perfect candidate (a black woman and a Mormon who is mayor of a small city in Utah).

 Democratic National Convention Democratic Party (United States) Politics Government and politics Local politics The uncharitable might point out that the Democratic convention featured mayors because they have little else left. In the 2010 mid-terms Democrats lost 63 House seats, six Senate seats, six governorships and a whopping 680 seats in state legislatures, giving Republicans bicameral legislative and executive control in 15 states and the biggest tally of state legislators since 1928.

Cities remain one of the few reliably Democratic power bases: of America’s 20 biggest, just three (San Diego, Indianapolis and Fort Worth) have Republican mayors. But the featured role given to American cities also is a useful reminder that while Mitt Romney’s roots, like George W. Bush’s, are in the business world, Mr Obama’s are in the messy pragmatism of city politics. He worked as a community organiser in Chicago before representing the city’s South Side in the Illinois senate. Less than a month after his inauguration he created the White House Office of Urban Affairs in order to “articulate goals for cities and metropolitan areas” and to “advance the goals of competitiveness, sustainability and inclusion”.

 Many of his cabinet secretaries share his urban roots: Shaun Donovan, for instance, ran New York’s public-housing department before becoming secretary of housing and urban development, while Arne Duncan, Mr Obama’s education secretary, previously ran Chicago’s schools. Those positions, like much of city governance, tend to be more pragmatic than partisan, and tend to focus on more tangible goals than national politics does. A candidate can get elected to Congress on the strength of a shiny grin and gauzy rhetoric; people want their mayors to fix potholes and keep the streets safe.

And as much as the right wants to turn Mr Obama into a blend of Karl Marx and Huey Newton, he is at base a rather cautious pragmatist—an approach that reflects not just his temperament but also his roots in urban politics. The prominence given to mayors at the convention is also a reminder that, for all the amber waves of grain and frontier nostalgia, more than four out of five Americans today live in urban areas. The rate of population growth in America’s cities exceeds the national average. America’s large cities generated nearly 85% of its GDP growth in 2010—a greater share of national output than cities in Europe, India or China. To feature the leaders of America’s economic engines and population centres is simply sound politics. from the print edition | United States

A comment on Napoles, World Urban Forum WUF 2012

URBAN WONK In Aiding Struggling Megacities, Can Any Conference Solve These Problems? ANTHONY FLINT9:00 AM ETCOMMENTS Reuters NAPLES, Italy – At the beginning of the World Urban Forum VI here last week, a conga line of sorts wound its way past the exhibits, from the solar-powered refugee shelter to the prototype gondola used as an alternate transport system in some favelas in South America. A large group, some in traditional African dress, chanted "Africa’s future is your future!" and "Toilets for all!" The boisterous invocation left no room for subtlety. Cities in sub-Saharan Africa are expecting an influx of tens of millions of poor rural migrants in the years ahead, flooding into already precarious conditions in sprawling megacities like Lagos. Overall, Africa will account for about half the total increase of urban population in the developing world, from 2 billion to 4 billion, over the next 30 years. Just picture these four billion people, living in cities in the developing world – places where, by some estimates, there may be one billion people already living in informal settlements, slums, and shantytowns, with no access to basic services such as clean water or sanitation, let alone education or arts or recreation, the fundamental elements of the metropolis elsewhere. Urbanization seems almost impossible to coordinate on a global basis. Each city is in some ways proceeding alone. All of which raised the question: is any conference up to this staggering challenge? Could any problem-solving gathering possibly make the way this trend plays out even a little bit better? More humane? Conferences about global cities struggle with the reputation of this pattern: advocates, government officials, academics and generally a great many smart people fly in from all over for several days, and then nothing happens. The World Urban Forum is run by the United Nations organization UN-Habitat, which has as its slogan "a better urban future." Under current director Joan Clos, a salt-and-pepper haired former mayor of Barcelona, the organization has shifted its emphasis from housing to cities in a broader perspective. The ambition of the gathering – held every two years, most recently in Rio de Janiero, and Nanjing before that – might be described as the definitive gathering on the great planet-wide urbanization project, the Davos of global cities. This year’s forum, from September 1 to 6 in the southern Italian port city overlooking Mount Vesuvius, was initially contemplated to be in Bahrain, but that fell through. Naples took up the cause admirably enough, welcoming some 10,000 registered participants to the Mostra D’Oltemare – a convention center complex built in 1940 as a fairgrounds to celebrate Mussolini’s imperial designs on Africa. One morning, both the bus drivers and the volunteers helping participants with logistical questions went on strike. Then the acoustics were so bad in the temporary conference rooms – inexplicably fitted with fabric ceilings – that translation headphones were needed to make out what the speakers were saying, even for English speakers. But the conversation went ahead, from the broad to the technical: how to create inexpensive sanitation or water-delivery systems; how to "regularize" informal settlement through titling or upgrading; how to deal with the impact of climate change in fast-growing cities, where poor populations will be most vulnerable to things like flooding associated with sea level rise. I was there with a delegation from the Lincoln Institute, in part to launch the book Planet of Cities, in which author Shlomo "Solly" Angel makes the case for acquiring urban land for major expansion of cities, rather than worrying so much about compactness or densification.  The earnest dedication to this one single problem – how to accommodate so many millions moving into cities as this century progresses – was uplifting, though not everyone thought so. An alternative group called Habitat International Coalition issues its own urban manifesto to match UN-Habitat’s, asserting that not nearly enough was done to address the plight of poor people and their "right to the city." But even considering this Occupy-style dissonance, as a policy challenge, urbanization seems almost impossible to coordinate on a global basis. Each city and each nation is in some ways proceeding alone. And who knows what unknowns and disasters await to complicate the project even further. A 30-minute train ride away from Naples lie the ruins of Pompeii, a glorious example of functioning urbanism with water and sewer infrastructure, open space, commercial centers, housing and the arts – all the more amazing for being in place more than 2,000 years ago. They had everything, my wife remarked. Everything, I said, but an evacuation plan. Top image: High-rise buildings are seen behind informal settlements in the Angolan capital of Luanda. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters) Left inset: A talk at the World Urban Forum (Anthony Flint) Keywords: Urbanization, Megacities Anthony Flint is a fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think tank in Cambridge, Mass., and author of Wrestling With Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took On New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City and This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America. His next book, The Raven: The Life of Le Corbusier, Maker of the Modern will be published in the fall of 2014 by Amazon Publishing. 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Sub national Green Financing

Content Alert: The Avenue Blog
Banking on the States for Clean Energy Innovation
Posted: 12 Sep 2012 08:00 AM PDT

With Washington mired in unproductive argument this fall, it’s a great time to look elsewhere in America for smart, constructive problem-solving. Specifically, it’s a great time--in the realm of energy policy--to look at what’s going on in U.S. states, many of which have been at the forefront of implementing innovative clean energy solutions. Which is why my group at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings (working with the team at Ken’s Coalition for Green Capital) just posted a new brief this morning on the growing interest among multiple states in state-level clean energy finance banking—a new innovation in U.S. energy finance and sub-national pragmatism.

Written by Reed Hundt of the coalition, Devashree Saha, and ourselves, the new brief (part of our Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation) describes Connecticut’s path-breaking design of the nation’s first “green” bank and proposes ways other states might get into the act.

They probably need to. Financing the broad deployment of clean new energy and energy efficiency solutions remains one today’s most challenging energy policy problems. Energy efficiency projects remain complicated to finance given their large up-front costs and the limited capital resources available to consumers while the delivered cost of energy from renewable energy projects--even though its has been dropping rapidly--is still generally more expensive than the delivered cost of energy from conventional sources, making the widespread deployment of these projects problematic.

Most notably, clean solutions tend to falter in the marketplace because neither their full social benefits not their dirtier competitors’ full social costs are priced in, leaving those dirtier solutions cheaper. Yet, here is where Connecticut innovated.

By consolidating several existing programs into a new quasi-public corporation and then securing for the new entity the ability to raise and leverage funds from private sources, the state set up the nation’s first clean energy finance bank to leverage scarce public dollars with private capital so as to provide a combination of low-interest rate funding for clean energy projects and low-cost up-front loans for energy efficiency projects.

The result was the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, and over the last year the new entity has been making progress at transitioning Connecticut’s clean energy programs away from relatively expensive grants, rebates, and other subsidies toward the attraction and deployment of private capital to finance commercially available clean energy technologies.

Though the start-up has been slower than hoped for the concept remains promising. And so in this way, Gov. Dannel Malloy, Energy and Environment Commissioner Dan Esty, and the state’s legislature have scored what appears to be a significant institutional and finance breakthrough on one of the truly hard problems.

Drawing on such models as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, and several foreign examples, such as U.K.’s Green Investment Bank and Australia’s proposed Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a determined U.S. state has pushed ahead, and now other states are interested. Work is getting done and our paper seeks to suggest a variety of ways interested other states can design their own clean energy finance authorities beginning from their own starting points. In the vein, while some states may need—like Connecticut—to establish a new quasi-public corporation into which to gather existing funds and then leverage them, other states may prefer to repurpose an existing finance authority or adjust an existing state-level infrastructure bank so as to attach a clean energy finance bank.

Others, moreover, may want to attach to their finance entity a special “innovation window” to provide financing solutions for scaling up riskier emerging technologies. There are many ways to proceed and states are looking at all of them, just as they have embraced the important concept of state-level infrastructure banks, as reviewed in a companion paper by my colleague Rob Puentes. In a way, then, the new paper represents a more encouraging follow-up to the story of pending federal policy roll-back I told earlier this year with colleagues from the World Resources and Breakthrough institutes.

Though Washington is gridlocked and retrenching, states are stepping up and inventing--once again. In that sense, clean energy, or “green,” finance banks look a lot like American federalism at its best.

Authors Mark Muro Ken Berlin Publication: The Avenue,
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Thursday, September 06, 2012

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Symposium on Behavioral Approaches to Bureaucratic Red Tape and Administrative Burden

CALL FOR PAPERS Public Administration Review Symposium Editors: Christopher Carrigan, The George Washington Universit...