Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SRB last hurrah at the National Conference of Mayors

As much as Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is prone to making a splash at all, she did so at her last US Conference of Mayors this last weekend. She had chaired the conference since last year, an excellent platform for an urban leader. During the four-day gathering in Indianapolis more than 200 city leaders met to discuss policy issues impacting America’s cities and their economic health including community policing, federal investment in America’s cities and public-partnerships. The most notable speaker at the conference was presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who reminded the Mayor's that her husband had been a great friend of cities. 
Stephanie Rawlings Blake at last year's conference

The conference ended Monday in Indianapolis with the baton handed over to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. SRB's splash was some national news coverage she got by showing solidarity with Flint Michigan and decrying the national urban infrastructure crisis. She knows what she is talking about with her own city being dug up left and right to fix aging pipes. The Mayor's conference issued this news release with Rawlings Blake's name in the title line:
“We have worked closely with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver to help spread awareness about the lead contamination that has afflicted her city’s water supply. We will continue to do everything we can to bring resources to Flint that are needed to recover and re-build the city’s water infrastructure,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake who appointed formed Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, USCM CEO & Executive Director Tom Cochran and a resource team to travel to Flint on several occasions to better understand what the Conference can be doing to bring the resources and national attention to Flint that it desperately needs. Rawlings-Blake today made those comments during her President’s Report – her outgoing speech as she approaches the end of her tenure as Conference President. Flint (MI) Mayor Karen Weaver was present during Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s presentation and was recognized for her tireless work on behalf of her residents.
While Baltimore has been in the national spotlight since the unrest last year, the Mayor's national profile at the Mayor's conference brought less attention to Baltimore than it could have with a somewhat less tongue-tied spokesperson. One mayors conference had even been held in Baltimore. 

For one thing, the city went empty in the Smart City Challenge issued by the US Department of Transportation in competition with over 70 other cities. The challenge had been issued under the leadership of US Secretary Foxx who has a keen interest in the nexus between transportation and social justice. Baltimore has a lot to offer in this arena and Foxx, indeed, came to the City and stood atop the "Highway to Nowhere" to announce a small grant to beautify the Fulton Avenue bridge spanning the highway.

But the City's Smart City application didn't make it through the first and into the shortlist. The final winner was announced last week: Columbus, Ohio. A city only slightly bigger than Baltimore, a "legacy" city as well, but one that has managed to grow faster than any other in its region. Foxx announced Columbus as a winner for the clear focus in its pitch on Linden, a disadvantaged community. The Columbus entry outlined how smart interventions will bring better and smarter transit to the neighborhood along with a smart card that can buy transit and many other Columbus services.

It would have been nice if Foxx had come back to West Baltimore and Sandtown Winchester and would have announced that the City was the winner of the Smart City challenge for its unique focus on that area.

The opportunity should not be entirely lost though: The public private partnerships formed for Baltimore's application to the Smart City Challenge should endure and be leveraged for improved services to West Baltimore. The new Mayor can see to it that this will happen. Catherine Pugh, the designated Democratic candidate for Mayor was out in the streets of Penn and North last night again after another member of that community had met an untimely and violent death and caused large gatherings in the area.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


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