Politics of the New City

It seems you can’t get away from politics these days. Every potential candidate for this or that has their own magic wand to fix the nation’s problems. I might offer up a different approach. And no, it doesn’t matter which side you’re on.

To be a successful city leader or political figure, one must first understand how cities function. To understand this is to figure out how humans interact. We don’t need to focus so much attention on how specific departments of city, county, or state work – rather, why those departments exist in the first place. We need to get to the root of the problem instead of treating the symptoms. Then we can discuss how to appropriately fix the problem and grow organically from there.

The way our cities (or towns) are run have become too confusing and daunting for the everyday person to understand. We the People have willingly chosen to put all of our trust in people we refer to as the “specialists” of these matters. This is not an attack on any particular individual, since I’m sure they’re all well-meaning people. However, these quote unquote “specialists” often do not comprehend how complex a city organism is. These “specialists” are a part of, or ARE, the head of departments that specialize in one or two things at most. Often, they become too narrowly focused on tweaking or improving those particular elements that they miss the enormity of the situation.

Currently, each “specialist” has their own organization or department that they represent which doesn’t allow information to flow through efficiently. Each one of these “specialists” then becomes so self-serving. In turn, they need more time, money, and resources to continue operating. Until these “specialists” come together and understand the full scope of how a city operates and how they can all work together, they will continue to further hamper the true growth of a city. Any success that occurs in the meantime is merely coincidental or will be short-lived.

I’ll use Anytown, USA to illustrate this. In Anytown, USA there are “specialists” in the city and county government, park district, school district, libraries, township – list any other taxing bodies you want. The main focus here is that all of these entities are all working towards individual, self-serving roles all while representing the city. Each has their own mission statements, visions, budgets, and plans for the future. For example, the city has a parking lot that needs to be refilled and resurfaced since it is on the site of a once demolished building. The county needs more parking for jurors serving on jury duty. The county decides to purchase a building in the heart of a downtown district to raze for make parking. Instead of working collaboratively fulfilling both their needs, the county moves ahead to demolish a vital building in a lagging downtown, the city decides not to fix their parking lot but to turn it into a “green space,” and the park district will soon inherit a park with little users.

You might be thinking…with everyone trying their best – they should be able to make it all work together. Not so much. The resources and information to make it all work harmoniously are spread too thin. As previously mentioned, these individual entities will grow further apart needing more time, money, and resources to continue operating. As more time passes, these resources continue to be used more and more inefficiently simply because we placed all control and knowledge in someone else’s hands. Add to the mix other non-profits and volunteer organizations and the spread of time, money, and resources continues to widen instead of helping the cause. Consider the previous example: the city spends less on fixing the problem of their lot, but will need more regular maintenance. The county spends even more money to abate environmental concerns, raze, and construct a parking structure than would have cost to fix the city’s lot. A non-profit organization that is seeking to improve the downtown is faced with one more reason people won’t come downtown. Lastly, park district will probably inherit a park with little users since there are no longer places for people to live, only to drive.

It’s no surprise that many states, counties, and cities don’t know where to begin to pull themselves out of the funk they find themselves in. To handle the organized complexity of how a society functions, we as citizens have allowed more and more “specialists” to make things easier. As a result, we have only made it harder. Insufficient funding and a lack of coordination between agencies have left vital projects undone, and in most cases impossible to start.

Did I solve the world’s problems here? No, but I recommend we start asking ourselves some tough questions, making some even tougher decisions, and getting back to basics. The only thing getting in the way of progress is ourselves. We are all specialists whether we have the title or the experience. We created rules and laws to help us, but at certain times like the present, we have to become flexible and adaptive to new situations.

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