Sunday, May 22, 2016

Adopting Visionary Strategy to Change the Landscape for Cities

As the Chief of Staff for a Pittsburgh City Councilor, I have the privilege of being involved with two of the City’s overarching planning efforts:

  1. The City’s 5-year financial plan, as required by PA Act 47 Financial Oversight
  2. Annual Operating and Capital budget processes 

Government, perhaps like the oil industry, is incredibly predictable, even in its unpredictability. We have certain obligations-- infrastructure, pensions, and debt service, to name a few-- and we know that sometimes our expenditures can fluctuate due to extreme weather, major events, retirements, and more. The City does not compete for market share per se (unless you count trying to attract new residents), but we strive to improve processes, invest strategically, and reduce costs to provide the best City experience with limited funds. We use the 5-year plans and the annual budgets to lay out how we will do that.

“Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” immediately resonated with me, because the City plans in a very classical way, perhaps underestimating the malleability of our environment. Pittsburgh, like all cities, is hemmed in by a framework of state code, court precedent, home rule, and an ever-shrinking amount of federal and state funding for urban areas. Rather than accept this environment as permanent, the City should adopt a more visionary strategy that attempts to change the landscape to be more favorable, or at least less damaging, to cities.

In an article in Governing Magazine titled “Mending the City-State Relationship,” Stephen Goldsmith says it plainly:  “...it's time to fundamentally rethink the relationship between large cities and their state capitols. If states are going to send fewer resources, they should also enact reforms that allow cities to operate more efficiently.” (December 22, 2010) In addition to reforms for better efficiency, we need reforms that enable Pittsburgh to raise additional revenue.

Certainly, envisioning and implementing a strategy to influence state policy from the city platform would be no easy task. That is particularly true now, with a state legislature so dominated by conservative representatives, the majority of whom do not represent Pittsburgh. But, legislatures, governors, and judges change over time, and the risk of visionary planning is low. We must adopt a visionary strategy to influence the framework in which we operate, or we will continue to struggle within its confines.

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