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March 13, 2020  

Should Mayors Be Visionaries?

March 13, 2020

Do we really want our mayors to have a vision? This is the provocative question asked by Alain Bertaud in an article on The MIT Press Reader. Bertaud is a Senior Research Scholar at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management, an urban planner, and the author of the 2018 book Order without Design.

In his article, Bertaud writes that a mayor “convinced of the necessity of having a vision” is less inclined to support innovation welling up from the population and more inclined to impose his or her own vision. 

A mayor with a vision needs to be followed, not questioned by people who lack one. Visionary leadership implies a top-down approach, in other words, but a city is mostly created from the bottom up.

Bertaud’s alternative?

Mayors and their municipal staff, including urban planners and economists, should be considered not visionaries or rulers, then, but a well-coordinated team (one hopes) of competent managers and janitors.

Bertaud’s article is the subject of this week’s Upzoned. In this episode, host Abby Kinney, an urban planner with Gould Evans in Kansas City, is joined by Strong Towns senior editor Daniel Herriges. They discuss visionary mayors, the role of city managers in creating good feedback loops, and how local governments can act as support systems for local innovation rather than gatekeepers.

Then in the Downzoned, Abby recommends a podcast that’s taking a hard look at the lucrative wellness industry. And Daniel recommends a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about North Vietnamese spy living in Los Angeles after the Fall of Saigon. 

Show Notes