One of the group's the League sought out early in our quest for new research, strategies and tools for our members was the group CEOs for Cities. And to this day, we continue to make use of what they put on the table to assist cities become vibrant places.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend their spring Strategy Session in New York City. There are certainly worse places to be of course, but if you're a fan of the League Facebook page then you got a taste of what was being "put on the table" for attendees to digest.
The morning of the first day featured three powerfule speakers discussingbranding, parks and transportation. Thomas Sevcik, of the firm Arthesia, discussed the fact that since many cities have the same assets, the key to developing a brand is to differentiate by breaking down a city's DNA to create a narrative. That narrative then becomes the basis for policy, projects and marketing. You have to be careful though because there is no quick fix. It takes a series of steps to establish yourself and it takes co-authorship, co-leadership and collaboration among city and regional anchors.
The second speaker was Adrian Benepe, parks commissioner for New York City. Among all its concrete and buildings, 26% of the entire city (all five boroughs) is open parkland. The focus of his discussion was the importance of public-private partnerships to create sustainability for park operations. Public-private partnerships does not mean privatization and these partnerships are an important element in the city's largest park expansion since the 1930s. Later in the morning we heard from the President of the Bryant Park Managment Corporation, one of those private partners that has helped reinvent Bryant Park to a thriving urban setting that not only attracts visitors but also generates revenue.
But perhaps the most exciting thing to listen to was how New York City is transforming how people get around. In a city that is already known for its multiple transportation options, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan is leading the "pedestrianization" of the city. To this native New Yorker, I can honestly say that it is the largest transformation the city has seen since Robert Moses bisected the region with parkways during the first half of the 20th century. With the twin goals of sustainable mobility and valuing streets, her department is instituting complete street design, improving traffic lanes and the grid system and at the same time increasing pedestrian volume and moving traffic along at a better rate than before. Check out their website for more, including their report on "world-class streets".
Now I know what you're going to say... its New York, they have the ability to do these things. Actually, if a city as big as New York, with a bureaucratic structure second to none can get these things done, then any community can. It is fascinating to walk around and see the reinvented public spaces all over the city as we did in the afternoon. From Bryant Park, the pedestrian mall on Broadway and Times Square to High-Line park in the meatpacking district and everything in between, New York City is an urban experiment in action.
Arnold Weinfeld is director of strategic initiatives for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at 517-908-0304 or by e-mail.