In Praise of Carol

Carol_ColettaIf you are lucky in life, you have heroes.
If you open your heart and your eyes  you begin to see heroes everywhere you look; extraordinary people doing extraordinary things; often in obscurity.
I have a bunch of heroes. And a few have really made it. They are recognized by their peers for excellence. They make a difference. They are game changers. People who make a positive impact in a world desperately in need of positive contributions.
Carol Coletta is one of those people.

She’s my hero because of her agile mind and her passion for cities.
Oh how I love cities and so it’s no surprise how much I admire Carol. She is a kindred spirit. Her curiosity, thought leadership and enthusiasm for what it takes to build great cities has inspired me for over a decade.

For those of us who love cities and study them, Carol Coletta is a well-known voice. She has worked as a consultant, radio host and has led the Mayors Institute for Civic Design, CEOs for Cities and the Knight Foundation’s focus on community and national initiatives. Recently, she joined the prestigious Kresge Foundation where she was named  Senior Fellow with the American Cities Practice which will work on urban transformation nationwide.

It sounds like a terrific fit. Here’s what Kresge President Rip Rapson had to say: “Carol is a peerless thinker, actor, and influencer in the urban policy and practice space – her experiences, passion, dynamism, and expertise have contributed in profound ways to improving the trajectory of American cities. She has tirelessly and imaginatively promoted research that tests new ways to make cities more livable and equitable. She has worked with mayors, city managers, council members and civic leaders to test new approaches to urban problem-solving. And she has galvanized philanthropy to work in different forms of partnership with the public, private and academic sectors in pursuit of urban reimagination,”

She’s all that and more.
I discovered Carol’s work many years ago when she hosted “Smart City” on NPR. In Miami, the show was on early Sunday mornings and I used to set my alarm to make sure I never missed an episode.
Each and every week, Carol delivered. She’s an amazing interviewer and always managed to produce compelling radio.
Every week I learned something new. I was a very young and very inexperienced mayor and I hung on every word. I wanted to improve. I wanted to understand. I wanted to do big things and Smart City radio was like attending grad school in cities. I couldn’t get enough.
We did big things in Delray during that era. We worked well together and moved what we called “the big rocks”. And Carol noticed.

For me it was like Bruce Springsteen hearing your song and saying “nice job, kid” keep up the good work.
I appeared on her show. We talked about Delray and about community building and the arts. It was a thrill. A huge thrill.
Appearing on Smart City was like receiving a gold seal of approval. My phone rang. I got emails from other mayors and people that were doing incredible things in their cities.  It was beyond cool.
We hired Carol to help us write a cultural plan and she and her stellar team did magnificent work. She recommended that our cultural positioning be “creative, authentic and intimate.”

Isn’t that perfect? Isn’t that Delray?
Since that time Carol went on to lead CEOs for Cities, a terrific national organization before becoming VP of Community and National Initiatives for the wonderful Knight Foundation where she managed $50 million and an ambitious portfolio of innovative programs.
Last week, she got the Kresge gig. We can expect great things.
Kresge is a transformational foundation and Carol is a sure bet to do important and monumental work for America’s cities.
That’s great news.
In a nation suffering from dysfunctional national politics, cities remain places full of possibility, innovation and creativity.
There is no better leader in America to further the mission of cities as engines for progress and betterment than Carol Coletta. That’s why she is my hero and a hero to smart people everywhere who love and believe in their cities.

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