Bringing It Home

November 4, 2015


recently had the privilege of attending the third annual CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges meeting, hosted in London by the Aspen Institute, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Philanthropies. It was incredible to be with an international community of more than 300 mayors, global city leaders, experts, and practitioners to share best practices and learn about the exciting and important work being done at a local level around the world.

It was empowering to be reminded that so much of the important work to change the world and improve people’s lives is being done by mayors and other local officials, including learning about the impact of the mayor of Accra simply painting a line on the street to solve an encroachment problem and thus make the streets safer and listening to Cities of Service member, Bristol Mayor George Ferguson, and Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis, discuss the opportunities for European cities in the current refugee crisis. There is so much we can learn from each other and take home to our own cities to replicate.

I left the inspiring CityLab conference and traveled straight to Houston for our Cities of Service annual convening of chief service officers, city leads, and our City Hall VISTAs. The convening this year was sponsored by our partners at JPMorgan Chase who understand the importance of the work happening in our cities and joined us to engage in discussion with our participants around how they can better engage corporate partners in their work at their respective cities.

To step from the international stage of big ideas and stories about cities in action, where Cities of Service was one small part of a much larger picture of the important work being done in cities, to a convening with the cities I get to work with every day, where people are solving complex problems for their cities and helping each other through our network of more than 200 cities was very fulfilling.

I got to watch as our Cities of Service cities shared best practices and lessons learned with each other and worked together to solve problems to make real change in their local communities around the country. We are so lucky to have such a collaborative cohort of people who care about each other as people and help each other succeed. The diversity of the Cities of Service cities, their varied roles within our network, and the different work that they do, reminds us that what we do is universal, and that we can work with any and every city to make it better for its citizens.

Even more important than me seeing the value of the work our cities are doing is our cities feeling the importance of what they do and feeling supporting by Cities of Service. After the conference, one of our city leads, Cheryl Skafte, from Duluth, wrote to me to say, “Thank you. For investing your energy and expertise in this important work.  For convening City Hall leaders to share ideas. For reminding us why this work is critical in our communities.  For your national advocacy so we can continue to do this work on a local level. I am honored to be a part of the Cities of Service Coalition.” And, we are thankful that Cheryl and the city of Duluth are such wonderful coalition members!

It is always gratifying and inspiring to meet with our cities and see the value and strength of our ever-growing network to support and propel each other forward in their work for cities, but I found this year especially inspiring because I was reminded that the “big ideas” that get shared at a meeting like CityLab are not just big ideas. They are real, tangible initiatives that our cities are putting into action every day.