The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2021, 10 Big Ideas to Improve Life in Small and Midsize Cities
For those who want to know what the U.S. might look like in 20 years, a look at a handful of small and midsize cities offers clues. As mayors look to plug holes in their budgets, help people who lost their jobs or work to fix crumbling infrastructure, they are turning to ideas that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. They are testing ambitious social programs including universal incomes and reparations, adding sensors to everything from sewers to streetlights, and testing self-driving shuttles.
America’s cities have always been test labs for new ideas, but the Covid-19 pandemic has sped up the pace of innovation. The pandemic created a “sense of urgency” to address problems such as economic inequality, lack of child care and spotty internet access, says Debbie Cox Bultan, chief executive of NewDEAL, a network of progressive elected officials.
Ambitious, controversial ideas are often easier to test in cities than at the federal level, where the legislative filibuster and partisan deadlock makes passing laws difficult. Their proponents hope that if they work, they will eventually spread across the country. “These local initiatives are nimble,” says Robin Rue Simmons, a former alderman in Evanston, Ill., who led the push for a reparations program in the city. “We are able to respond quickly and hear precisely from our neighbors who we serve.”