Here in the US, we're celebrating a national holiday, Presidents' Day. While I appreciate the time off, I feel this day has run its course.
Don't get me wrong. I really do dig some of our founding fathers and early presidents. George Washington, whose birthday (Feb. 22nd, don't forget to send a card!) this holiday was originally set to revolve around, was an admirable general. And, I read David McCullough's excellent John Adams biography and watched the HBO miniseries based on it... twice! Oh, and fast forwarding through time just a bit, I'm fully obsessed with Abraham Lincoln -- as you can see from my Twitter profile photo -- whose birthday was also in February. (By the way, if you're in the mood to read about Lincoln and depression in one sitting, Joshua Wolf Shenk's Lincoln's Melancholy is my personal favorite historical biography.)
So there, I've declared my appreciation for early American history. But, skipping ahead a couple hundred years, as I sit and ponder about the whole host of other presidents we're supposed to be honoring this day (James Buchanan, really?), I can't help but think we're celebrating the wrong crew.
If I've learned one thing by interacting with the Future Cities community, both on the site and off, for the past 14 months, it's that mayors and cities are not just our only hope in overcoming critical global issues, but they're also facing these immense challenges with little to no help from national governments, especially here in the US.
The failure of national governments versus the success and perseverance of cities and mayors has been well documented. Here are some quotes from prominent people whose views have been shared on Future Cities:
Manny Diaz, former Mayor of Miami, on funding for cities:
It's unacceptable to a mayor to say, "We're not going to take care of the poor in our community, we're not going to continue to take care of the poor in our community, we're not going to continue to improve the quality of our educational system in our areas, simply because we're getting less funding from our state capital or from Washington... So we need to do something about it, and we have to figure out ways to do it, even though at the same time, by the way, our budgets are more and more strained because of local issues and also because of Washington cutting funding for programs that have been traditionally a federal responsibility. (See Mayor Diaz on the Perils of Partisanship -- or watch the video below.)
Bill Finch, Mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., on funding partnerships:
We have some great public-private arrangements, and I think more and more mayors are looking to the private sector... There seems to be more of a will from private companies than there is from Congress at this point. (See Cities Must 'Row the Boat' Away From Rising Waters -- or watch the video below.)
Al Gore, former US Vice President, on the decline of nation states:
The nation state is in the process of disintermediation... Cities are rising to the fore, partly to fill this vacuum left by declining influence of nation states. (See Al Gore Wants Cities to Lead on Climate.)
Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World, on mayors taking charge:
Mayors, who have always had their foot on the pulse of reality and had to get things done, have increasingly jumped in and begun to take responsibility for maintaining political stability, maintaining democracy, and most importantly trying to deal with these global problems like immigration and climate change that nation states are no longer able to deal with. (See Benjamin Barber, Political Theorist & Author: 'If Mayors Ruled the World'.)
So, with all of that in mind, I propose we bump Presidents' Day and add a new holiday to our calendars -- perhaps an international one -- to celebrate mayors. Mayors' Day!
And, since I founded it, we can revolve it around my favorite mayor, Mike Bloomberg, whose birthday is uncannily also in February (Valentine's Day, believe it or not). So we won't even have to do much readjusting.
OK... fine, Mayors' Day doesn't have to be Bloomberg-centric -- we can leave that up for debate on the boards. I'm flexible.
Regardless, Presidents' Day celebrates those who founded and fought for the United States, and those who continued to lead it thereafter. But the world as we know it is becoming entirely city-centric, and its salvation will force a new era of battles -- against climate change, against car culture, against inequality, etc. What's more, it requires international collaboration among mayors of different cities across the globe. The good news is, that work is already well underway. And celebrating Mayors' Day would acknowledge that. Furthermore, unlike Presidents' Day, which up until Barack Obama took office in 2008 only honored the white male, Mayors' Day would be a chance to honor leaders of different races, religions, sexualities -- and not one but two (2!) genders.
But, even if we do keep Presidents' Day -- if only for the sake of good old Georgie Washington -- hopefully someday we'll also get a day off to celebrate mayors, who in reality are the founding fathers and mothers, and ardent defenders, of our new urban planet.
— Nicole Ferraro, Editor in Chief, UBM's Future Cities