Last week, the chief of staff to President Obama, Rahm Emanuel, chose to leave arguably the second most powerful position in the U.S. government to run for mayor of Chicago. Quite a development but one that shows the lure of a major city to someone as powerful as Mr. Emanuel.
But this is not that surprising when we recall how New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani captured the mood of America after 9/11, and how the influence of a mayor can occasionally transcend the actual city he leads. When Mayor Bloomberg recently exercised a leadership moment on the controversy regarding the mosque at Ground Zero, he ended up framing the national debate on this sensitive and controversial subject. Like it or not, cities and their first administrators are being called upon to play a greater role on issues affecting more than their actual jurisdictions and this is a welcome development.
Whether it has to do with climate change and other environmental concerns, it is obvious that large cities have a greater responsibility because of the density of their populations and their jurisdiction over local public transportation. If the issue revolves around employment, cities can play a pivotal role in keeping and in creating jobs by virtue of the quality of life they offer and their receptivity to businesses. When it comes to security and crime, city officials are the best guarantee for the needed security to enhance community life. And when we search for creativity and cultural expression, increasingly we see the inspiration and leadership coming from cities and their artistic communities.
Just last week the Mayor of Montréal Gérald Tremblay visited New York City on a trade mission with a special emphasis on creativity and as part of the city’s delegation to Advertising Week. To different and prestigious audiences, he articulated the many ways that Montréal and New York City have so much in common and how they have and can continue to cooperate in the future. The mayor’s enthusiasm extended to supporting a high-speed rail link between these two diverse and creative cities that are only 370 miles apart. We can expect more talk of common purpose in the months ahead from other mayors. Why, then, should we pay so much attention to cities?
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.