The New Localism

I conducted an experiment last week.

I asked 10 random friends/colleagues/acquaintances from all political stripes one question: What’s the first word you think of when you hear the words Washington D.C.

The answers I received were as follows: three said “swamp”, four said “dysfunctional”, two said “partisan” and one replied “nausea.”

Chances are you might have answered the same way. And it’s not because the nation’s capital isn’t a cool city full of great museums and monuments.

Sadly, this is not exactly a golden age for “can do” federal government.

So what’s a caring citizen supposed to do in times like these?

The answer: go local.

If you want to solve problems think local, work local, vote local and get involved in your city, county, or region.

That’s the advice given in a great new book “The New Localism” written by urban experts Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak.

I breezed through the book soaking up the stories of successful efforts in cities as varied as Pittsburgh, Copenhagen and Indianapolis. It’s heartening to read success stories in our time of national dysfunction and gridlock.

“The New Localism is a philosophy of problem-solving for the 21st century,” says Katz who works for the Brookings Institution. “Cities are now dealing with some of the hardest challenges facing our society: social mobility, competitiveness, climate change, and more. The 20th century was very much about hierarchical systems; specialized, compartmentalized, highly bureaucratic. The 21st century is going to be networked, distributed, and led by cities.”

Says Nowak: “It (New Localism) calls into question how we think about leadership. It must be much more horizontal than vertical. These are things that we have observed on the ground, so this isn’t only aspirational, although we’re certainly in a nascent stage.”

I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Nowak in that “new localism “may be a nascent term, but local problem- solving has been around for a long, long time.

Look at any successful city—Austin, Boulder, Boston, NY, Chicago and yes Delray and Boca—and rest assured any success you see did not happen by accident.

It took planning, vision, implementation, entrepreneurial thinking, private sector engagement and public and private sector leadership to create whatever level of success you experience.

But while there is no newness to the efficacy of home rule, it is good to see a new term applied to it: New Localism has a ring to it. I hope it takes off.

Why?
Because it needs to.

Because the swamp just isn’t going to be drained any time soon.

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