The American Dream Is a Local One


Social and economic inequality is shaping up to be a centerpiece issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The issue is at the core of “The American Dream”, the notion that in America anything is possible if you work hard and play by the rules.

On both ends of the political spectrum; the left and the right, there is a sense that even if you do those things it’s becoming harder and harder to get ahead in America. There’s a sense that it’s more difficult for the poor to ascend to the middle class and beyond, for the middle class to stay in the middle or move up a rung and data shows that indeed the rich are getting richer.

Democrats tend to think that government provides solutions and Republicans want to get government out of the way.

I don’t think either party has a lock on the truth or the answers and when it comes to Washington both parties have failed—a judgement in which both party’s presidential candidates and grassroots seem to agree.

So with Washington failing and hopelessly gridlocked, policy innovation and economic development seem to be left to the states, counties and cities in our nation.

I think the most action happens on the city level, where government is closest to the people and–theoretically at least– most accountable.

That’s why it’s critical to keep informed and get involved in your community.

I think local policymakers have a tough job to do.

The decisions they make are often personal and they vote not in some far off place, but often around the block from where they live. I can’t remember the last time I saw my Congressman or State Representative but local elected officials are easily located—well most of them are or should be. If you can’t find them, get rid of them.

So I think the issues of inequality being talked about by candidates ranging from Bernie Sanders to Ben Carson will actually be dealt with by mayors, council members and commissioners in cities across America.

The fate of the American Dream has been localized.

Which states, cities and regions will offer quality education and economic opportunities? Which cities will work on innovative policy solutions to create attainable housing for young people and allow the rest of us to age in place if we choose to stay?
Which cities will tap into the tremendous human capital that exists in our cities and in neighborhoods that many choose to overlook or ignore?

Which cities will aspire to create special places that will attract and retain creative people—artists and entrepreneurs?
Who will wake up every day on a mission to create opportunities and protect cherished and hard won victories?

Cities have to strike a delicate balancing act—they must respect the past, take care of the present and prepare for the future.

Often times they skip the first and last responsibilities and spend their time on the issue du jour. That’s a mistake. Respect for the journey is critical.  The past informs the present and also can guide you into the future. Neglecting the future will leave your city vulnerable to communities that are working to further the American Dream.

Ask yourself where your city is on this spectrum of thought. Let’s hope they are addressing the past, the present and future.




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