Monday Morning Thoughts Part I: Mayors Lead, World Follows

Mayor Dan Wolk talked about the importance of service to the community at last week's MLK Day Event
Davis Mayor Dan Wolk talked about the importance of service to the community at last week’s MLK Day Event

(Editor’s note: our readers asked me last week to segment the Monday Morning Thoughts column into separate parts, and I have obliged)

In the late 1960s, a phrase emerged, “Think globally, act locally,” which in essence urges the public to think about the world in a systemic way but take action at home – in their local communities. where they can make a much larger difference.

In a lot of ways, efforts locally – whether it is our local efforts to reduce our greenhouse footprint, our efforts to ban single-use plastic bags, or even our pursuit of food justice and other environmental and sustainability initiatives – arise from that thinking.

I recently read and viewed a fascinating TED blog talk first posted in 2013, that was entitled, “Why mayors have more chance of saving the world than global leaders do.”

“The challenges we face in the 21st century are global in nature. Yet it often seems like we are woefully ill-equipped to address issues such as poverty, violence, security or public health with our large-scale political institutions,” they wrote.

One of the speakers, Benjamin Barber, suggests that “we should transition away from nation states towards a system of cities, where mayors rule.”

Why? “Because, he argues, mayors are pragmatic problem solvers who are deeply involved in the issues of the cities they serve. They are ‘homies,’ that is, people who grew up in the city.”

They get things done, “they are responsible for fixing potholes and educating children.” Well, sort of. As we know, our city is finding it difficult to get the resources to fix its potholes. And, of course, our cities don’t educate our kids, the school district does.

But leaving aside the devilish details here, I think Mr. Barber has a point, as “presidents rule abstractly and distantly, governing imagined nation states from above.” He argues, that “cities are hotspots of potential for solving the challenges that face us. Most of the issues are concentrated in cities, and these governing bodies are best equipped to collaborate and address them together. Where nation states clash, cities mesh.”

At a time when our national government is polarized and often at gridlock, we do see cities and local government taking the lead on things like global warming. Gay rights initiatives on marriage equality emerged, not from the federal government, but at the local and state levels.

Even our economy is reemerging. A few weeks ago, we cited the Brookings Institute report on the emergence of innovation parks.

The report noted that, as the nation emerges from the Great Recession, “a remarkable shift is occurring in the spatial geography of innovation.” It continues, “For the past 50 years, the landscape of innovation has been dominated by places like Silicon Valley—suburban corridors of spatially isolated corporate campuses, accessible only by car, with little emphasis on the quality of life or on integrating work, housing and recreation.”

“A new complementary urban model is now emerging, giving rise to what we and others are calling ‘innovation districts.’ These districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators and accelerators,” they write.

To me this is another example of local cities and communities changing the world – not just on a political level but an economic level as well.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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        1. LadyNewkBahm

          I read the link and the discussion below. the admission by Davis Progressive at 1049AM in response to the observation by Anon at 1041am was particularly revealing.

          the term was made up recently by academics at UC Davis. the nutshell is we want to feed all the worlds poor. But considering the exhaustive list and the point made by anon, at 1041, one wonders if this is really an attempt to solve a problem or  simply an excuse to bank more research dollars.

        2. David Greenwald

          the term doesn’t appear to originate from UC Davis.  There is a book called “Food Justice” by Robert Gottleib and another researcher out of Occidental College.  That book was published in 2010, but the term seems to predate that book.

        3. David Greenwald

          this is abstract from that book.  As you can see the concept goes well beyond the simplistic feeding the poor and moves into topics we have covered locally like sugary soft drinks.

          In today’s food system, farm workers face difficult and hazardous conditions, low-income neighborhoods lack supermarkets but abound in fast-food restaurants and liquor stores, food products emphasize convenience rather than wholesomeness, and the international reach of American fast-food franchises has been a major contributor to an epidemic of “globesity.” To combat these inequities and excesses, a movement for food justice has emerged in recent years seeking to transform the food system from seed to table. In Food Justice, Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi tell the story of this emerging movement.

          A food justice framework ensures that the benefits and risks of how food is grown and processed, transported, distributed, and consumed are shared equitably. Gottlieb and Joshi recount the history of food injustices and describe current efforts to change the system, including community gardens and farmer training in Holyoke, Massachusetts, youth empowerment through the Rethinkers in New Orleans, farm-to-school programs across the country, and the Los Angeles school system’s elimination of sugary soft drinks from its cafeterias. And they tell how food activism has succeeded at the highest level: advocates waged a grassroots campaign that convinced the Obama White House to plant a vegetable garden. The first comprehensive inquiry into this emerging movement, Food Justice addresses the increasing disconnect between food and culture that has resulted from our highly industrialized food system.”

    1. Davis Progressive

      what is food justice?  really?  where have you been for the last five years or so?  not to mention the article from a few weeks ago which generated 82 comments.

      1. Alan Miller

        It’s one of those “progressive” terms.  Know the term and feel superior.  If you surveyed general public, betcha a strong majority would have no idea.

        For the record, I have no idea.  Didn’t read the article.

          1. Alan Miller

            “no surprise.”

            I purposefully wrote the thing about not reading the article because I knew you would react exactly that way.  Remember above when I said, “Know the term and feel superior.”?

      2. Anon

        Yes, and part of the discussion was how ridiculous the definition of “food justice” was because it was so friggin’ broad to include everything but the kitchen sink!  In other words, it is an ill-defined term.

        1. Davis Progressive

          be that as it may, it’s become an enormous issue, especially here in yolo.  the world food center for example is borne out of this effort at food justice.  that’s a multibillion dollar facility.

        2. wdf1

          Anon:  Instead of using a broad term “food justice” that could mean anything, say what you mean, e.g. improper diet; food insecurity (not enough food).

          The term food insecurity is a commonly used term — see link — but it is not restricted to “not enough food” (i.e., hunger).

          Food insecurity means more than “not enough food.”  For years hunger has been a popular social cause as represented by images of famine-ravaged children in Africa.   But then you find less informed Americans stating things like, “How can food be a problem in the U.S. when there are all these obese people around?  There’s no hunger here!  lol”

          USDA refers to food insecurity as:

          limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

          Because the issue isn’t just having access to enough food, but having enough of the right kind of food — having a fresh apple vs. a Twinkie.  To me “food justice” includes a moral imperative to correct the situation.  Do you not think there is a moral imperative to correct situations of food insecurity?

          I notice that this table shows that single mothers with children are  notably more vulnerable to food insecurity than many other populations.  Given your past comments in sympathy with single mothers with children, you are still uncomfortable with the concept “food justice”?

    2. wdf1

      LNB:  lol what is “food justice?” anyone care to take a crack at this?

      I suggest checking out the documentary, A Place at the Table.

      The concept of food justice also is about access to a healthy diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables.  In summary food justice involves the economic equation that a single Twinkie is cheaper than a fresh apple and has more calories.  If on a limited income, then one might choose the cheaper option to survive, but have crappy health in the long term.  For kids, a poor diet is a contributing detrimental factor to educational outcomes.

      Also check out food deserts.

  1. Davis Progressive

    now to go back on subject – it’s an interesting idea that the local cities have the new ideas, the innovation if you will.  congress is bogged down and the engine of social change is coming from outside of washington.

    1. hpierce

      “local cities” ?

      If you mean small town cities, that tend to be very “parochial”, I think “not”.  If you mean LA, NYC, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas/FW, Denver, New Orleans, Atlanta, Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland, maybe.

        1. hpierce

          Ok… get it…anything I say on whatever subject, you will rebut, most often in “the form of a leading question”.  Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. If you truly think smoking, plastic bags, woodburning are in the top 100 issues the USA or the world faces, tells me a lot about your world-view.  Whatever.

        2. Davis Progressive

          i never said they were top 100 issues in the usa, although smoking bans in public places are now more common than not.  my point was that even small towns generate issues and innovations that spread throughout the country.

  2. Napoleon Pig IV

    Indeed, barnyard pigs are much better leaders than those who make it past the county fair to national or global Pinnacles of Power. After all, a local barnyard pig has an incentive to make his own barnyard as pleasant as possible, since he must live there – unless he can progress to a position nearer the Pinnacle. Until then, whatever improvements he makes in his own backyard benefit not only himself, but the sheep, cows, and chickens also. As for those vaunted Porcine Potentates and Pretenders at the Pinnacle of Power, they no longer must live an any given barnyard, being well on their way to tenure-track shearing of multitudes of mindless sheep; and therefore, they can focus more directly on the consolidation of personal power rather than progressive populism. Has anyone ever met a national or global politician who failed to retire rich? Oink!

    1. Anon

      Actually, yes, I have known of national politicians who do not retire rich.  Not all U.S. Congressmen are wealthy, by any stretch of the imagination. The problem is they have to maintain two residences, one in Washington D.C. and one in their home state.

      From the Washington Post:

      A Washington Post analysis of the personal finances of all 535 members of Congress reveals how the nation’s lawmakers position their portfolios and how they win and lose money on Wall Street. Some invest aggressively in the stock market; others seek the shelter of bonds and mutual funds. They range from the super-rich to the deep-in-debt, from inherited wealth to married wealth to no wealth at all. They are entrepreneurs and farmers, oilmen and ranchers, lawyers and real estate developers.

      From Time:

      Rep. David G. Valadao (R-CA)

      With an estimated net worth of negative $12.2 million, give or take, it’s tempting to imagine that Valadao’s financial woes came from gambling debts, scandal cover-ups, and backroom political deals gone wrong. In reality, Valadao’s poor standing is a simple matter of debt from a few dairy farm loans—more House of Cows than House of Cards.”

  3. Frankly

    One of the speakers, Benjamin Barber “suggests that we should transition away from nation states towards a system of cities, where mayors rule.”
    Why? “Because, he argues, mayors are pragmatic problem solvers who are deeply involved in the issues of the cities they serve. They are “homies,” that is, people who grew up in the city.”

    I made a new years resolution to try and not be so partisan, but then…

    The problem with this type of thinking – which I am all for considering – is the people that are not really interested in the change, just another alternative to turn to for getting their way/win.

    There are trade-offs for every form of governance.   And conservatives are much more apt to push for decentralized governance… to the individual family as the first priority, then to community then to local public governance.  County, state and federal governance are the last resort from a conservative’s worldview… and those powers of control should be limited to preserve liberties.   Liberals tend to want to push more policy and rule up-stream because liberals tend to be fixated with fairness and equality as their driving consideration, and top-down rules-to-live-by so that nobody escaped outside the lines of their utopian coloring book.

    Are liberals really going to accept the trade-offs for a move toward and emphasis on more local governance to solve problems?  For example, more occurrence of unequal outcomes from community to community?   I think not.  I think instead they will just demand that this is another sharper tool in their toolbox used for their (always destructive) pursuit of unattainable social utopia.  The fed won’t do it, the state won’t do it… so let’s get the Mayor to do it!!!

    The majority of states have turned red over the last several years.    And this more than anything is what this suggestion is all about.  Instead of the left accepting that the majority of Americans disagree with the left direction of the country and states, we will hear many ideas to change the game so that the left can continue to get their way/win.

    1. Davis Progressive

      so the first question is how do you know what benjamin barber’s ideology is?  after all, you’re assuming he’s a liberal, but why?  second, from my own standpoint, i think my view is that i’m not going to support moving from nation-states to cities because it’s absurd, but the idea behind it is more interesting and worth exploring.

    2. Anon

      I am more a middle of the roader.  I want the federal gov’t to step in when necessary to regulate big business, e.g. oil industry, food producers, safety of medications – not that they are very good at it!  But I would prefer gov’t to stay out of other things, e.g. Untangling Whale Restriction, Common Core.

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