City Strengths

Cities are incredible organizational units that human beings organically developed long before larger political boundaries and units could be conceived. Cities were the first forms of collaborative human living for our ancestors, before we could think of nations or states. But even though the idea of cities is ancient, they are still dynamic and evolving. In an age where everything is online, where virtual human connections are common, and where goods, services, and products can be obtained from almost any couch in the United States, cities are nevertheless growing. Despite video chat and meet-up software, companies still like to have private offices and there still seems to be value in face to face communication and interaction. Cities, it seems, are here to stay in our globalized and digital world.


In The New Localism authors Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak lay out a vision of new structures of governance that hinge on the flexibility, adaptability, and inventiveness of cities. The authors explain why they think cities are natural and fitting leaders to manage globalization and help drive solutions to the problems that face the entire globe.


“The ability of local communities in the United States to become effective problem solvers should not come as a surprise. Cities and towns developed in the absence of any intentional federal urban policy during most of the nation’s history. Historically, city building was more of a bottom-up and relatively chaotic enterprise, involving builders and investors, merchants and workers, civic associations, immigration and immigrant entrepreneurs, and local government. It was never the result of a top-down policy so much as it was a self-organizing market and civic practice.”


Top down solutions to problems in the United States have not been super successful in recent years. The most pressing problems we face as a planet don’t have a structure that allows them to be addressed in a top down manner. Cities, however, operate best by adjusting to local pressures, demands, and opportunities. In a bottom-up way, cities are well positioned to respond to the challenges the world faces and to develop new technologies, new trends, and new organizational structures that can respond to threats. The chaotic and constantly evolving nature of cities can lead them to be administratively hard to wrangle and can make many of their decisions appear non-rational, but it also allows them to adapt and coalesce around shared goals that can drive the innovation that the planet needs for progress.

Adjusting in Mid Flight

Continuing from yesterday’s post and where the last quote left off, Vesterfelt wrote, “Maybe what I needed wasn’t fewer expectations, or lower expectations, but the ability to adjust them in the middle of my trip.” This quote came from Vesterfelt when she made it to Mt. Rushmore during her 50 state road trip. She had really been looking forwards to seeing the mountain, and found it to be underwhelming. It was smaller than she expected, filled with retirees in RV’s, and crowded with souvenir dealers. As she drove through and stopped for a while, she couldn’t help but wonder where her expectations came from, and why she was so upset that her expectations were not met.
Ultimately, Vesterfelt’s quote shows her ability to take a step back from the situation and examine not just where she is or what she is doing, but why she is reacting the way she is. I believe this is a powerful ability that everyone should practice. Being aware of who you are, where you are, and what your situation is, helps you avoid being reactionary in any situation.  It is easy when we are driving down the road to feel rage when someone cuts us off or is driving too slow, but if we take a step back and examine those feelings we find that we are better off if we just take T-Swift’s advice and crank up Shake it off.
In this situation Vesterfelt was trying to understand her reaction and emotions for a bigger set of expectations. The small disappointment she felt by having Mt. Rushmore not live up to her expectation allowed her to look deeper into her life to think about what types of expectations she had been carrying with her. She started to understand that we can expect certain outcomes, but at the same time she was seeing the value of not tying too much importance or value judgments to those outcomes. In my life I have tried to understand the same thing and let go of expecting a certain amount of financial success in my life. I have expectations that I can work hard and reach a point where the money I have is sufficient, but I am trying to allow my expectations to shift for how I will get there, and what that point will be like.  This is the overall message that Vesterfelt was passing along. She learned during her trip that she can have high expectations for things she could or couldn’t control, but that she had to allow those expectations to change depending on the demands placed on her or the nature of her situation.