(Photo by Flickr user Travis Warren, used via a Creative Commons license)
Solving our city’s wicked problems will take some hefty creative thinking, and City Hall needs to be prepared.
Last week’s DNC-concurrent panel event “Innovation and Local Government,” hosted by the Philadelphia Citizen and the Barnes Foundation, brought mayors from Braddock, Pennsylvania; South Orange, New Jersey; and Rochester, New York, to speak about the issues they’ve solved creatively in their communities.
Jim Kenney, listen up.
Braddock is a formerly industrial town that blossomed during America’s steel boom in the 1920s. In the past 50 years, though, it’s been plagued by unemployment, crime and loss of business.
Mayor John Fetterman knew he had to change something in his adopted home.
By installing security cameras, getting rid of some destructive officers and instituting a youth summer employment program, Braddock Redux was able to provide kids with constructive outlets that curb crime.
No one has been killed by crime in the town in five and half years, according to Fetterman. He believes that it’s because of the proper use of the resources of his county and nonprofit.
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On the arts
In 2011, one of the issues that the former mayor of South Orange, Alex Torpey, and his community struggled with was their ailing performing arts center.
Drowning in debt of roughly $12 million, the South Orange Performing Arts Center wasn’t able to find enough donors or grants to be sustainable due to its deficit. Some community members thought it would be best to either sell the center or convert it into office spaces.
However, with a plan in mind and a focus on community engagement, the town’s board of trustees found a way to change negative community sentiment while working closely with the center to fix internal issues: The debt from the center was placed on the town’s balance sheet.
Weeks later, the performing arts center announced that it had received a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, giving the center the fresh start it needed while also exposing it to more grants and donors.
“The shows they book now are incredible,” Torpey said. “They sell out more shows than ever before, they sponsor more events in town, and now everybody’s behind them.”
Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester focused on solving her community’s education problem.
“I have a 6-year-old child and what I want for her is what I want for my city,” Warren said. “I want them to grow up knowing they can achieve their dreams.”
In order to organize for better access to a quality education, Warren met with parents and experts in education in order to form the best solution possible.
Focusing on early childhood education, they concluded that all children should enroll starting at age 3. Warren was then able to get help from the governor to form the Pre-K for 3 program.
After implementing the program into the local school district, adding academic programs to rec centers and starting a literacy campaign in Rochester’s libraries, the city saw higher literacy rates throughout the school year and during the summertime.
“When our educational systems fails our children, they are basically a pipeline for the prison system,” Warren said. “In order to stem that, we have to use every resource available for our children for them to have a successful life.”-30-
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