Mayors Imagining the Just City: Volume III

At the Closing Workshop of the 2023 Just City Mayoral Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Mayoral Fellows participate in two panel discussions led by Just City Lab Founder and Director Toni L. Griffin. In conversation with Harvard GSD planning and design students, Fellows discuss the efforts their cities are making to embed equity and justice goals in government processes and practices. Fellows speaking in a panel on mobility as an infrastructure of access and connectivity are Mayors Tim Keller of Albuquerque and Friday Ellis of Monroe (LA). In a panel on neighborhoods as infrastructures of inclusion and opportunity are Mayors D.C. Reeves of Pensacola, Kathy Sheehan of Albany (NY) and Alan Webber of Santa Fe.

Combatting Hate and Extremism and the Violence They Fuel

Held January 18 during the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2023 Winter Meeting, this session focuses on the current state of hate and extremism in cities and what mayors can do to combat these problems. It includes an update on the threat landscape, a discussion of issues relating to the hate crimes reporting system and what mayors can do to increase reporting, and assistance available from the Anti-Defamation League on implementing the Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate and Extremism.

Co-moderated by Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, who presented the Mayors’ Compact at the White House United We Stand Summit held the previous September, and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Chair of the Conference’s Center for Compassionate and Equitable Cities, the session includes presentations by Mary B. McCord, Executive Director and Visiting Professor of Law, Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown University Law Center; Vanita Gupta, Associate Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice; Max Sevillia, Vice President for Government Relations, Advocacy and Community Engagement, The Anti-Defamation League; and Mayors Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge, Lili Bosse of Beverly Hills, Juhana Vartiainen of Helsinki (Finland), Todd Gloria of San Diego, and Levar Stoney of Richmond, VA.

Mayors Imagining the Just City

The Mayors’ Institute on City Design concludes its second annual Just City Mayor Fellowship program on April 22, 2022, with a livestreamed event in which the Fellows discuss strategies for using planning and design interventions to address racial injustices in their cities. The event explores ways to create lasting, transformational impacts from new federal funding streams such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. In two panels, the mayors reflect on how racial injustices manifest in the social, economic, and physical infrastructures of their cities and discuss their aspirations for transforming those spaces into ones of connection, healing, community, and reconciliation. Fellows speaking include Mayors John Tecklenberg of Charleston, SC; Patrick Wojahn of College Park, MD; Emily Larson of Duluth, MN; Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison, WI; Jorge Elorza of Providence, RI; Levar Stoney of Richmond, VA; Jacob Day of Salisbury, MD; and Jamael Tito Brown of Youngstown, OH. The moderator is Toni L. Griffin, Professor in Practice of Urban Planning and Director of the Harvard Graduate School of Design Just City Lab.

Delivering Sustainable Transportation for Disadvantaged Communities

Part of the Conference’s 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Implementation Webinar Series, this March 15 webinar focused on the implementation of Executive Order 14008, also known as Justice40, which aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy, including sustainable transportation, to disadvantaged communities. This webinar also examines IIJA sustainable transportation funding opportunities, such as RAISE, that are available directly to cities, and helps prepare mayors to be competitive in applying for these funds,

The session includes presentations by White House Deputy Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Samantha Silverberg and USDOT Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Christopher Coes.

Expanding Broadband Service for Unserved and Underserved City Residents

Part of the Conference’s 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Implementation Webinar Series, this March 8 webinar focused on how new federal broadband investment programs can expand services and facilities for unserved and underserved city residents.

Mayors must engage the Department of Commerce and their individual states to ensure that unserved and underserved residents in their cities are equitable beneficiaries of these programs. A panel of mayors discusses this challenge along with ongoing local efforts to make broadband accessible and affordable, and the importance of ensuring that needs of city residents are covered in new state broadband plans governing investment of billions of dollars in state formula funds.

The webinar is moderated by the Conference’s Transportation and Communications Committee Chair Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver; speakers include Mayors Hardie Davis, Jr. of Augusta, Adrian Perkins of Shreveport, Steve Adler of Austin, and Mike Lynch of the Boston Department of Innovation and Technology who is Past President of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

The Many Faces of Antisemitism and the Tools to Defeat It

In June 2021, a spike of 80 percent in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. drew national attention once again to the ever-present problem of antisemitism in cities throughout the nation. A shared focus of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Conference of Mayors through the years, a renewed commitment to defeating antisemitism was underscored by the two organizations on August 16 in a one-hour training session designed to enable mayors and key staff to recognize and condemn antisemitism in its many, diverse forms; understand the nexus of antisemitism, mis/disinformation, and conspiratorial thinking; empathize more fully with local Jewish communities; and Identify proactive, concrete steps that can be taken on the local/municipal level to protect Jews and promote pluralism.

The session, organized in partnership with AJC under the auspices of the Center for Compassionate and Equitable Cities, is moderated by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Chair of the Center. The training is led by an AJC team that includes Melanie Maron Pell, Chief Field Operations Officer; Holly Huffnagle, U.S. Director for Combatting Antisemitism; and Rebecca Klein, Director of National Outreach.

Mayors’ Virtual Seminar: Safe Places, Active Spaces

In Part I of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design’s “Safe Places, Active Spaces” series, recorded July 29, 2020, speaker Ifeoma Ebo shares insights regarding the root causes of crime and poverty as well as proven strategies for addressing those issues through community design. Ebo’s examples of how design can transform cities into safer places are based on her experience consulting with city governments and civic institutions around the world, along with her leadership on the board of the BlackSpace collective and as the Founding Director of Creative Urban Alchemy LLC.

In Part II of the series, recorded June 23, 2021, mayors explore proven strategies for improving community well-being and safety and addressing injustices through design. Building on Part I of the series, Ifeoma Ebo shares insights into a capacity-building placemaking program for community safety. Additionally, Mariela Alfonzo, CEO of State of Place, describes how integrating community-driven approaches with data-driven placemaking can enhance quality of life equitably and efficiently.

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Mayors’ Virtual Seminar: Mayors Imagining the Just City

The MICD Just City Mayoral Fellowship is a collaboration between the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and the Harvard Graduate School of Design Just City Lab. In this March 12, 2021 webinar, the seven inaugural MICD Just City Mayoral Fellows discuss their uses of planning and design interventions in tackling racial injustices, including histories of underinvestment, in predominantly Black neighborhoods in each of their cities.

In the first of two panels, presentations are made by Mayors Stephen Benjamin of Columbia (SC), Errick Simmons of Greenville (MS), Yvonne Spicer of Framingham (MA), and Vince Williams of Union City (GA). The second panel includes Chokwe Antar Lumumba of Jackson (MS), Shawyn Patterson-Howard of Mount Vernon (NY), and Randall Woodfin of Birmingham (AL). The moderator is Toni L. Griffin, Professor in Practice of Urban Planning and the leader of The Just City Lab. She is the founder of Urban Planning and Design for the American City, based in New York.

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Mayors’ Virtual Seminar: Designing for Restorative Justice

In this May 13, 2021 webinar produced by the Mayors Institute on City Design, architect Deanna Van Buren examines how municipal architecture and infrastructure can help uplift communities and correct historical injustices through design. Co-founder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces, a nonprofit architecture and real estate development firm, Van Buren creates spaces and buildings for restorative justice, community building, and housing for people coming out of incarceration. The webinar describes projects conducted in Syracuse, Atlanta, Detroit, Oakland and Los Angeles County. In Atlanta, Van Buren’s team worked with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the community to repurpose the underutilized Atlanta City Detention Center into a Center for Equity that supports wellness and healing, skills-building, economic mobility, and other needs.

Empowered Cities: A Roadmap to Inclusion

In this April 27, 2021 webinar, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot describe how their cities have improved delivery of quality services to the disability community. Both are leaders in Empowerment Cities, a multi-city collaboration to advance equity, financial empowerment, employment, and affordable accessible housing for people with disabilities and their families – one of the most underserved and financially vulnerable groups in the country. Mayor de Blasio is joined in his presentation by Commissioner Victor Calise of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Mayor Lightfoot is joined by Commissioner Rachel Arfa of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Describing Boston’s initiatives is Commissioner Kristen McCosh of the Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities. A transcript of the webinar is also available here.

Preventing and Responding to AAPI Discrimination and Violence in Cities

On March 16, 2021, a series of mass shootings at spas in the Atlanta area resulted in eight fatalities, six of whom were Asian women. The event brought into sharp focus the growth in anti-Asian American Pacific Islander incidents – violence and hate crimes, among them – during the Covid-19 pandemic. On April 1, the Conference of Mayors conducted a webinar designed to update mayors on the problems and discuss what can be done to prevent them and to respond to them when they occur. (On the previous day, President Biden had announced his administration’s additional actions to respond to anti-Asian violence, xenophobia and bias.)

The webinar is moderated by Fremont Mayor Lily Mei, who describes her personal experience with anti-Asian sentiment. Discussing the issues are John C. Yang, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice; representing the White House: Howard Ou, Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement, and Gabriel Uy, Associate Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; and Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, also of Asian descent and a Past President of the Conference of Mayors. Opening remarks are made by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, the current President the Conference. The webinar was recorded and later shown on C-SPAN.

Dismantling Systemic Racism

Part of a Mayors and CEOs Roundtable Series presented in 2020 by the Conference of Mayors and Verizon, this October 7 discussion examines the role of racism in public institutions and recommendations to reform public policies that have led to inequitable outcomes across the country – the goal being more equitable outcomes for people of color, politically, socially, and economically. It is co-hosted by Conference CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg. Participants include Mayors Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento, and Hardie Davis, Jr. of Augusta (GA); Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League; and Mary Schmidt Campbell, President of Spelman College.

Confronting Civil Rights Threats in the Year Ahead

In this session of the 2021 Winter Meeting of the Conference of Mayors, the leaders of two major national civil rights organizations are joined by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to discuss civil rights threats that must be confronted in cities in 2021 in the face of the continuing pandemic and a divisive political atmosphere that has fostered growth in racism and antisemitism, and in the wake of the January 6 Capitol insurrection which underscored the potential for violence in cities posed by far-right white supremacist and antisemitic hate groups.

This January 21 panel is chaired by Steve Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and founder of the Conference of Mayors Center for Compassionate and Equitable Cities. Along with Mayor Turner, presentations are made by Jonathan Greenblatt, President and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, and by Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League and a former two-term Mayor of New Orleans. Both Benjamin and Morial are Past Presidents of the Conference of Mayors.

A Conversation on Kind and Compassionate Leadership

The 2021 Winter Meeting of the Conference of Mayors concluded with a January 27 online conversation on kind and compassionate leadership involving His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and a group of mayors of U.S. cities and cities in several other countries. Sponsored by the Conference and the Strong Cities Network, the event is moderated by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, the President of the Conference, and Sasha Havlicek, the CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Strong Cities Network. Throughout the conversation the Dahli Lama stresses the importance of mayoral leadership in the quest for compassion, happiness and kindness. He speaks from his residence in Dharamsala, HP, India.