Bold Pragmatism of Urban Innovators
New Orleans used to be one of America's worst-performing school districts, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu has "unapologetically championed charter schools and other changes that would be considered politically difficult in most municipalities." He has campaigned for pro-education reform candidates for the school board, helped raise millions from national philanthropies, and worked to secure a $1.8 billion lump sum from FEMA to rebuild schools. The dropout rate has been cut in half, and test scores have improved by double. John Avlon says, "The lessons are clear - increased competition, autonomy, and accountability along with public-private partnerships and parental choice can turn even the most troubled public school systems around."
The crime rate was expected to rise in New York following Rudy Giuliani's reign, but the city's crime rate has actually dropped to record lows. "The secret is the unusually stable partnership between independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the longest-serving police commissioner in city history, Ray Kelly," explains Avlon. The NYPD has been criticized for the increased use of surveillance cameras and the controversial "stop and frisk" policies, but "there's no debate that New York's crime decline over the past decade has outpaced the rest of the nation's." The police are putting 30 percent fewer people in jail and have reported the lowest murder rate since the early 1960s.
Chicago and Kansas City lead job creation through digital government and entrepreneurial infrastructure, respectively. Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Windy City has already put more than 200 data sets online and created useful applications like WasMyCarTowed.com and ChicagoBudget.org. Chicago is also working on "predictive analytics," an open-source form of digital government to anticipate and address citizens' needs. In Kansas City, Major Sly James successfully lobbied Google as a partner to test the city's ultrahigh-speed fiber network. "As a result," says Avlon, "new businesses and entrepreneurs are already starting to come to this Midwestern tech mecca."
Mayor Mick Cornett in Oklahoma City believes that "government has a direct role in improving the quality of life, and he's been willing to raise targeted taxes to invest in that vision." The neglected downtown area has been transformed with new sports and performance-art arenas and a canal through the entertainment district. Avlon says, "What's most impressive is that Cornett has been able to finance these quality-of-life improvements without incurring additional taxpayer debt by paying in cash, courtesy of a temporary penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax increase."