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Introducing the new era of cities 3.0

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Brooks McCabe Brooks McCabe

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is the newly elected president of the United States Conference of Mayors, and much of his inaugural address focused on a new era for cities, which he called cities 3.0.

The first generation of cities, cities 1.0, were founded around ports, rivers and transportation corridors, which helped them become centers of trade. The next generation, cities 2.0, developed during the industrial revolution and became transportation hubs and centers of manufacturing and modern services. Today in the era of cities 3.0, success and growth will be centered on innovation, entrepreneurship and technology.

“It’s paperless, wireless and cashless. In 3.0 cities we have more cellphones then landlines, more tablets than desktops, more smart devices than toothbrushes. This truly represents a new era for the American city.” The 3.0 city, to survive and prosper, must become the “ultimate service provider” and this will require “open source leadership.”

Mayor Johnson’s insightful address is in some ways a wakeup call for West Virginia. It is a call to attention that it is through our cities where true economic and community development will occur. With the gridlock in Washington and partisan politics becoming the norm rather than the exception, much — if not most — of the leadership necessary to drive our future prosperity will be coming from our cities and their elected officials. Cities will need to provide services and infrastructure to their residents and businesses with increased efficiency and effectiveness and do it all at less cost. The mayor gave an example of a pothole that once could take weeks or months to fix. In the 3.0 city, a resident takes a picture of the pothole on a mobile phone and with a city app that identifies the GPS location. It is uploaded to the city highway maintenance department, which immediately dispatches a crew to repair the pothole.

More importantly, 3.0 cities must focus on the “Next Economies.” Cities must be the “laboratories and incubators of change” focusing on a pro-growth agenda. This agenda, according to Mayor Johnson, has five components. Infrastructure leads the list with transportation, sewer, and water as key components. Sustainability and cutting carbon emissions is another important focus. All aspects of public health need to be included herein. The pro-growth agenda must address income equality so all residents have a chance to participate in the benefits of an expanding economy. Trade, especially exports, must be a focus. Advanced manufacturing is a key component of this as well as the network connection to the global economy. The fifth component is education and in many ways the most important. The world of the future will be very different than the past and the city’s youth must be prepared for the lifestyle and workplace in which they will be entering.

Much of Mayor Johnson’s address rests on his assumption that significant change in the future must come from cities, as that is where the real interaction with commerce occurs. He is not optimistic with the federal government solving the problems of our cities. In fact he comments, “We don’t want to wait on Washington to solve our problems. We don’t point fingers. We don’t have the time to deal with bickering that goes back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. We don’t have that luxury; we have a responsibility to get things done at the local level. Mayors are the ones who have to make it happen.”

All of this requires a new form of leadership. “Open-source leadership” is looking for solutions, regardless of their source. Republicans and Democrats and business and labor should all be at the table. “Being open-source leaders means we’re proactive, pragmatic and problem solvers. We’re not going to sit on our hands waiting for the feds or someone else to solve our problems … . We don’t care about ideology or tradition, only about what’s going to work best for our constituents.” In many ways this is, in fact, the perspective of West Virginia’s best mayors. With the current dysfunction of Washington and the slow but steady creeping of that dysfunction into state legislatures, our cities may represent our best hope to turn West Virginia around. Perhaps the best thing to be done is to remove the shackles binding our cities to the past and set them free to make their own course.

The West Virginia Legislature has been slow to recognize the full potential of our cities. Home rule has been a successful experiment, but is still only being cautiously expanded. Many of the cities continue to have serious police and fire pension problems developed by years of ill-conceived state legislation. The hesitancy of the state to help solve this problem in a meaningful way is quickly becoming an albatross around the necks of our cities. Legislation encouraging the new economy — and as Michael Lewis has written, “The New New Thing” seems difficult, if not impossible, to get passed and signed by the governor. Tax policies making it difficult to create local wealth and to keep it in the community seem ever evasive.

There is little doubt that our cities represent the future of West Virginia. The quality of our mayors is exceptional. Perhaps the governor and the Legislature should set a path of true home rule and then stand back and watch with excitement as our cities strive to be laboratories and incubators of change as they become 3.0 cities of the 21st century.

Brooks McCabe is managing member and broker of West Virginia Commercial LLC. He has been involved in commercial and investment real estate for more than 30 years, and he also is general partner of McCabe Land Co. LP. He has served in the West Virginia Senate since 1998, and is a special project consultant to The State Journal.

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