Advancing Urban Policy:
City Management October 17, 2013
This edition of Advancing Urban Policy, the monthly e-newsletter of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, features research and thought leadership from across the country related to City ManagementIt highlights articles on using data effectively, innovation that makes cities great, using technology to transform city government, "Civil City Councils," resident engagement, models of public safety, and more. Advancing Urban Policy will wrap up the year by featuring topics related to Environmental Policy (November) and Public Finance & Budgeting (December). We welcome your ideas and submissions. They may be sent to:


Edward (Ned) W. Hill, Ph.D., Dean


City Management and Big Data


"Big Data" Promises a Revolution

The emerging field of "Big Data" promises to revolutionize government and business by capturing, curating, managing, processing, and analyzing valuable information stored in vast databases. Information technology combined with predictive analytics makes it possible to identify correlations and predict and manage for better outcomes.


"Big Data" refers to things one can do at a large scale that cannot be done at a smaller one, to achieve new insights or create new forms of value, in ways that change markets, organizations, the relationships between citizens and government, and more.


Local governments can be voracious collectors of huge amounts of data but most do not have the public pressure, interest, knowledge, or technical skills necessary to actually put this data to use. Big data could be used to boost use of services, generate additional revenues, enhance decision making, improve the value and reliability of services, or increase employee productivity.


Some customer-centered local governments are already using information technology to flatten their organizational structures, streamline their permitting processes and procedures, reduce processing times and inspection costs, enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of services, and empower their customers to help themselves. They are, however, at this point in time, the exception rather than the rule.


Tough Decisions about City Facility Closures, Consolidations to be Data-driven
Philadelphia city planners are using new database and mapping software to help decide which recreation centers, libraries, fire stations, pools, and other city facilities should remain open, and which should be closed or replaced with new, more modern versions.

Overall the city likely has more facilities than its current population warrants. Population shifts have resulted in some neighborhoods being over-served while others are going without services because facilities are not always located where they are most needed. Since the database project began, many other departments have expressed interest in using it, or in creating a more sophisticated data tool with even more information about buildings and other facilities.
Cities of Big Data: Seattle Gets More from Less Power

As the population in metropolitan regions continues to swell with 82 percent of Americans living in cities, energy efficiency and water conservation are becoming critical aspects of many cities' sustainability programs. Cities large and small are looking for ways to make their infrastructures leaner and greener, while adapting to a budgetary climate of limited resources.


Increasingly, cities are tapping into big data and analytics techniques to increase efficiency, provide better public services, and save money. Seattle, for example, has forged a partnership with Microsoft and Accenture aimed at reducing power consumption through real-time data analysis of different types of buildings in the city's downtown area. The goal is to generate savings of between 10 and 25 percent for both energy and maintenance expenditures with the view of more buildings adopting smarter technologies for energy efficiency.



Innovation and Technology


Innovation and the City: 40 of the Best Urban Policy Innovations

With Congress trapped in budget battles and partisan gridlock, cities have emerged as the best source of government innovation. Two new reports by the Center for an Urban Future and NYU Wagner Innovation Labs demonstrate the growing vitality, experimentation, and creativity of cities in the U.S. and around the world. Together, these two Innovation and the City reports provide 40 tested and scalable reforms that can improve, and possibly transform, American cities.


Drawing upon hundreds of interviews with mayors, agency chiefs, policy institutes, corporations, labor unions and philanthropic foundations, the reports identify some of the boldest and most inventive urban policy reforms of the last decade.


4 Ways Cities are Putting Innovative Ideas into Action


In the article, 4 Ways Cities are Putting Innovative Ideas into Action, the National League of Cities showcases four initiatives that highlight how small and large cities throughout the U.S. are taking creative steps to solve local problems. This article features a case study on Baltimore's Food Policy Initiative, San Francisco's "Bank on Cities Campaign", Connecticut's "Municipal Leadership for Children and Families in Small and Mid-Sized Cities" initiative, and Seattle's green building program.



How to Make a City Great

How to Make a City Great, a new report by McKinsey & Company, argues that leaders who make important strides in improving their cities do three things really well:

  • They achieve smart growth.
  • They do more with less.
  • They win support for change.

Mayors are only too aware that their tenure will be limited. But if longer-term plans are articulated and gain popular support because of short-term successes, leaders can start a virtuous cycle that sustains and encourages a great urban environment.


Move over Mr. Mayor, Cities are Getting Chief Innovation Officers          

Hoping to infuse municipal government with a start-up attitude, a small but growing number of cities are adding a new position to their administrative ranks: chief innovation officer. The goal is to make cities more cutting-edge by hiring someone to find and implement new technologies that may oil the creaky wheels of local governance.


By creating chief innovation officer jobs, cities are borrowing an idea from big business. Over the past decade, a number of prominent companies like Dell, Citi, and Coca-Cola have hired chief innovation officers to help keep them a step ahead of their competitors. Their results are debatable, however, because corporate chief innovation officers often lack budgets, staff and authority. But those criticisms haven't stopped cities from jumping on the bandwagon.



Most Cities Don't Need Innovation Offices: They Often Focus on Short-term Projects Instead of Long-term Change

Innovation offices aren't the only places in local government in which creative thinking occurs and flourishes. And not all innovation offices pursue projects that result in long-lasting, meaningful change. Even when they do, they are not appropriate for every type of city. For smaller, less-well-resourced communities, other structures for encouraging and supporting innovation make more sense.


The leaders of these under-resourced cities are wise not to pursue the title of "early adopter." Instead, they can take smaller steps to encourage innovation. For instance, encouraging cross-departmental collaboration can help staff members develop, evaluate, and pursue new ways of solving existing problems.



Reducing the Fear of Innovation (and Failure) at City Halls

The ultimate goal for City Hall innovation teams like the New Urban Mechanics in Boston and Philadelphia, San Francisco's Office of Civic Innovation, Chicago's Department of Innovation and Technology and New York's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications is to foster innovation across government departments.


However, it can be tough to get new initiatives moving despite a general enthusiasm for new solutions because city governments have a culture of risk aversion - naturally so, given the nature of their services. New Urban Mechanics tries to address that problem by acting as a "risk aggregator" by encouraging innovators from outside the City Hall to try out projects and use them as a host organization.

A pipeline of promising innovation projects doesn't deliver openness and efficiency on its own, though, since all those projects need highly engaged citizens to work and develop. That doesn't just mean an active user group to test features and usability: Citizens need to be part of the process of generating new innovation projects. Apps can act as a gateway for civic engagement: Citizens who become interested in one issue through a useful and entertaining app are likely to broaden their interest and expand the range of issues they follow - even the geography they identify with. In other words, people begin by engaging with issues immediate to them and their street, and when they see the possibility for positive change, they begin to think about other issues and the larger community they belong to.



Five Steps to Digitally Transforming City Government

The City of Boston is showing how cities can use digital technologies to draw on the resources of citizens, including corporate citizens, who want to make their city a better place to live and work. Through a combination of tech-minded public servants, civic-minded corporations willing to work at or near cost, and focused leadership, over the last two years Boston has seen significant changes in its capacity to respond to citizens' needs. Data-driven projects have sparked real change in the relationship between the city and its citizens by making government more accountable.


Some examples:

  • Time to deliver recycling bins has dropped from 30 days to 7 days.
  • Burned-out streetlights are replaced in 7 days, down from 17.5 days.
  • In January 2013, 96% of reported potholes were repaired - up from 48% in February 2011 - and potholes typically are filled within 0.6 days of being reported, down from 3 days in 2011.
  • Sidewalk repairs take place within 1.1 days of a report, down from 5.4 days.
  • Park maintenance requests are fulfilled in 6 days, down from 10 days.
  • In 2013, 75% of constituents say they are satisfied with the city's customer service system, up from 54% in 2011.



Civic Engagement and Civic City Councils


Toward the Civil City Council

The article, Toward the Civil City Council, discusses American city councils with respect to their institutional uniqueness in municipal governance. As the local legislature, the city council is the municipality's preeminent aggregative institution; as the municipal corporation's governing body, the council has the potential to become the city's key integrative institution. If councils are to fulfill the municipality's integrative function, then they must learn a set of institutional leadership skills that incorporate specific public-regarding behaviors into municipal governance. The cumulative positive effects of integrative governance enable councils to become the Civil City Council.


The Civil City Council is appropriate to govern all types and sizes of municipalities. However, the pursuit of integrative governance by American councils is a challenge. The current trend, unfortunately, is for council members to emphasize aggregative politics over the public-regarding behaviors associated with integrative governance. Given this trend, the municipal governance deficit remains unresolved.


Therefore, this article calls the public administration community to partner with cities to reduce the municipal governance deficit. This partnership can help councils see the urgent need for American municipalities to perform the integrative function. The achievement of the Civil City Council enables American municipalities to secure the political future of citizens and local self-government.

* Full Article Available by Subscription. Written by Vera Vogelsang-Coombs, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Voinovich Fellow at the Levin College of Urban Affairs and published in State and Local Government Review. Ranked among top most-read articles in August, 2013.



Tackling Wicked Problems Takes Resident Engagement

Local governments throughout the United States and many of the world's democracies are struggling to adapt to a paradigm shift--one that is resetting the roles and responsibilities of local governments, residents, and the private sector in how communities govern themselves. In the United States, disruptions to public services reached crisis proportions following the 2008 collapse in the housing market and global financial meltdown. Fiscal instability continues to plague many U.S. local and state governments.


In dealing with the local impacts of national and global issues and the myriad other problems confronting local governments, managers must do so in a public policy context more frequently characterized by widely dispersed expertise in the community, rapidly expanding social media platforms and venues for sharing information and opinions, more organized and active advocacy groups, more incivility in public discourse, and a declining public trust in government.


Local governments need to recognize the importance of engagement work as well as the need for effective plans for engagement and ways to measure the results of their efforts. The local government manager will play a key leadership role in achieving these goals.



Public Safety


Fighting Fires with Good Data

Insurance companies use data to determine levels of risk. Why can't a fire department? ICMA's Center for Public Safety Management assembled a group of experts to discuss community risk reduction, a concept that takes data collection combined with GIS mapping to help fire departments assess risks and better allocate resources. The discussion focused on how fire departments can look at multiple factors - from dwelling type to socioeconomic indicators to determine frequency and types of calls - and then use GIS to map out hot spots within a jurisdiction. This mapping process helps to better determine staffing and equipment levels, as well as improve response times and survival rates.


More information on this ICMA web conference is available here. On Demand; please visit:



Are Police and Fire Department Mergers Catching On?

This July, Jersey City, N.J., Mayor Steven Fulop did something only a small number of cities have attempted: He introduced a measure to establish a Department of Public Safety, which would effectively merge the city's financially strapped police and fire departments. Granted, the proposed merger only involves administrative operations and shared services, such as technology, but mergers like this are highly controversial.


Before Jersey City, Bay City, Michigan, went a step further and merged both police and fire departments from top to bottom, cross-training police officers in police and some firefighter duties; 10 firefighters were laid off. The merger is expected to save the city $1.8 million by 2017. Three other major cities in Michigan - Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming - are considering the formation of a metropolitan public safety agency that would consolidate police and fire operations, cutting costs by $17 million per year.



Is the Current Model for Public Safety Service Delivery Sustainable?

The dramatic challenges that local governments faced over the past five years have forced a complete rethinking of how cities and counties operate across the board. Until the latest fiscal challenges, public safety operations were typically immune from close scrutiny because elected and appointed officials feared that they would be accused of endangering the public's safety.


Managers finally began to scrutinize the internal operations of police and fire agencies, only to discover that the percentage of their operating budgets devoted to public safety had increased. ICMA's Center for Public Safety Management team members have seen numerous communities where the public safety budget exceeds 75 percent.


This forced a complete rethinking of what public safety agencies did and how they did it. Many police and fire departments take significant staff reductions while retreating back to their core missions. The end result has been that staffing and funding levels for police and fire agencies have been dramatically reduced with little or no impact on outcomes or the public's perception of safety.



In Cleveland, Killings Show Social Costs of Deterioration

Once again, a chilling crime has drawn national attention to Cleveland, exposing how violence festers in semi-abandoned neighborhoods where social bonds have weakened and women seem especially targeted as victims.


"This is what happens when you have poverty," Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, told reporters. "It's what happens when you have individuals who are very dangerous inside the community and somehow lose track of them." The crimes also exposed how a city that is proud of its downtown business revival and world-class cultural and medical institutions continues to harbor pockets of despair and social breakdown.


Cleveland was hit especially hard by the foreclosure crisis, and its legacy of abandoned homes has frayed neighborhoods, leaving behind those who cannot afford to get out, while providing shelter to people on the social margins. Areas with many vacant and abandoned homes are breeding grounds for crime, local officials said.


Cleveland and surrounding Cuyahoga County receive nearly 20 percent of the population leaving state prisons, with many returning to the neighborhoods on the East side, said Ronnie A. Dunn, an associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University and a member of the criminal justice task force within Cleveland's N.A.A.C.P., which has proposed a City Hall forum on women's safety.



Detroit, Baltimore, and New York City


Pontiac's Rough Road to Recovery Could Foreshadow Detroit's Path

When the governor of Michigan declared the city of Pontiac's financial crisis resolved last month, officially ending the tenure of the state-appointed emergency managers who have controlled it for four years, the elected municipal leaders thought they were getting their jobs back. However, they may not be in charge anytime soon.


The mayor has been demoted, reporting to a city administrator who is now calling the shots. The part-time City Council has the authority to do little more than approve the minutes from its weekly meetings. Public employees, totaling several hundred not long ago, are almost extinct, overtaken in City Hall by private contractors who deliver nearly all of Pontiac's public services.


As speculation grows about what Detroit will look like when it is expected to emerge from bankruptcy proceedings and state control a year from now, Pontiac's experience offers a glimpse at the myriad complications that accompany a transition back to elected leadership after an emergency manager departs.



Manager of the 'City That Outsourced Everything' Says Privatization Can Help Michigan

When Sandy Springs, Georgia became the "city that outsourced everything" in 2005, it did so out of necessity.


Today, the town of about 100,000 residents has great roads, a state of the art traffic system, award-winning parks, and has funded major capital improvements every year without once raising taxes.


"The key is writing the contracts well," the former City Manager said. "But there is incentive for the companies because if they screw up, the city can use someone else." In addition, a cost-benefit analysis is done with each contract.


In the past few years, five other cities in Georgia have followed the Sandy Springs model. However, as health care and pension obligations have increasingly pushed many cities to the financial brink, more cities may be forced to take a look at what Sandy Springs has done.



Urban Renewal: Baltimore's Vacants to Values Housing Program

Baltimore's significantly abandoned districts have been slow to rebound. The city estimates that it has about 16,000 vacant buildings with 10,000 of them located in areas with no development demand.


More encouraging, perhaps, are the 6,000 vacant buildings in neighborhoods where there is some development interest, such as in the area near Johns Hopkins Hospital, but not quite enough for the private market to respond without a boost. This is where the city comes in.


In late 2010, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake initiated the Vacants to Value program. In particular, the city undertakes careful market analysis of Baltimore neighborhoods to determine their potential for development. It then compares the geography of the market findings with the geography of vacant properties to identify areas for different types of stabilization, rehabilitation, and development incentives and support.


Advancing Urban Policy: City Management was created with counsel from Ronnie A. Dunn, Ph.D., Vera Vogelsang-Coombs, Ph.D.; compiled by Jessica Murphy, graduate assistant; edited by Roslyn Miller, consultant.

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