What Would You Say to the Mayor Elect (Round Two)

It’s day two in this post-election series!  Today’s letter was also presented at Cuningham Group’s “Dear Mayor-Elect … Congratulation, Now The Work Begins” Urban Currents series event. The author, Alissa Luepke Pier, is a resident of North Minneapolis and a national award-winning architect. She received her Master of Architecture degree with a thesis entitled “Architecture and Game Theory”, which explored the vital role that authentic community voices have in planning and development.  Named among the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s “40 under 40”, and recently recognized by the University of Minnesota as “Alumni of Notable Achievement”, she is a committed to helping all communities reach their full potential. She has led innovative projects such as Block 009 and the Rebuilding It Right initiative. In addition to speaking engagements and running her own design practice since 2004, Ms. Pier has served as a member of the Minneapolis Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Minneapolis Planning Commission.

This series of articles will publish the open letters that three people presented at Urban Currents.  While there are many opinions on whether the change in leadership is good or bad, I think that we will all find consensus on certain topics just as the three letters do include common themes.  This is an important time for our community to have an open dialogue about what we expect from a better city, I hope this sparks a healthy discussion here just as it did at the event.

Dear Mayor-Elect Frey;

Congratulations on being elected to represent the amazing city of Minneapolis. What a unique position you are in! Given the past few decades of mayoral observation in this city, I can only conclude that the position of “Mayor” is really whatever you want it to be. Will you be energized, or reserved? Proactive, or reactive? Will you lead with extroverted gusto, or introverted diligence? Only time will tell.

No doubt you are full of energy and fresh ideas. You think you will lead this city to GREATNESS! Surely you realize that you are not unique in this sense? It’s safe to assume that every Mayor-elect has shared those same feelings. And you’ll fare no better than any previous mayor if you aren’t willing to examine the difficult issues, promote the best solutions (even if it is a tougher fight, with less accolades along the way), involve impacted communities in creating solutions (rather than promoting well-intentioned others who wouldn’t even consider living there), and truly prioritize what’s best for the city over what might be more beneficial to you.

At this very moment, I have no doubt that you are shoring up your staff and charting a course of an agenda of “fill in the blank with an energizing, leadership-type of word” here – …something that represents the “success” you wish to be remembered for, as a future, former-Mayor someday… but in all that enthusiasm and anticipation, I would ask that you keep a few things in mind:

I ask that you first and foremost consider sacrifice. We all know that life goes by too fast. You’ll blink and your term will be over, perhaps you will have a second term, or even a third…. In your haste to squeeze the most into your time in office, please remember that your REAL legacy will unfold long after the initial fanfare around a new policy initiative has died out.

Hasty “solutions”, imparted by benevolent municipalities that reap short term benefits, often come at the expense of long-term success in the very areas they were initially crafted to address. More accurately, they lead to a bigger hole for the communities to try and dig out of later…

So, although everyone wants a “win” under their belt to show that they are effective leaders and worthy of re-election in a few short years, I would ask that you check your ego at the door and be willing to sacrifice your political future it if it meant greater success for the city of Minneapolis in the long run. Now, as an architect, I can attest to how difficult it can be to set one’s ego aside… (even fictional architects are notorious for this problem.)

..but I would remind you that you are a public servant….a term used so loosely, that we forget that it isn’t a mash-up of sounds to make a title…it is the presence of two, distinct words, placed side-by-side. You are a servant, and you work for people of this city. You are entrusted with the care and keeping of a place that is home to a diverse populace of people, whom you are on the cusp of pledging an oath to serve for at least 4 years. When is the last time you equated the word “servant” with the word “ego”? I’m going to venture a guess that the answer is somewhere between “Never” and “Never.”

Now, this isn’t a judgement statement. I don’t know you, so don’t take this as an accusation of ego run amok by any means. What it is, though, is a plea to remember that there is only room for one of those words in your position, and I ask you to consider which you will rely upon when executing your elected duties.

As the Mayor, if it came down to a flashy initiative that you could hang your hat on for re-election, versus a less glitzy strategy that would reap greater benefits for the city in a longer time-span but with little fanfare, could you resist the lure of the quick “fix”? Would you be willing to plant the seed, knowing that the tree would not bear fruit until long after anyone remembered who planted it? The future strength and sustainability of our communities depends upon this virtue. Do you have the moral fortitude to do the inglorious work of making real change that will reap long-term benefits?

The second thing I ask you to consider is this: the details matter.

In my life, I have made the observation that many a good (or even excellent) idea can quickly and easily devolve into the most horrific outcome imaginable when no one is paying attention to the details. When it comes to city policy and initiatives, the same holds true: the best and even most noble of intentions often end up doing more harm than good when the right people are not at the table, and the tough questions are not being asked.

I ask that you examine solutions to see if they actually get to the heart of the problem. I ask that you engage with all communities, so you know that you actually understand what the problem is, in the first place! I ask that you consider what the actual (measurable) goal of the initiative is, and then look to see if what is being proposed actually addresses THAT. I ask that you not only look at it from afar, but that you also get to the nitty-gritty, close-up details about how the rubber meets the road. What are the barriers to entry? How could the proposal be exploited? Who all benefits and to what degree? I ask that you take a good hard look at whether the initiative is TRUE TO ITSELF.

And this actually starts…now. Your understanding of how the city works is based on a view from a side of the river that is very different than my own. How will you bridge that divide? In assembling your staff, please consider that the zip code of the pillow they lay their head on at night actually will have a greater impact on the future of my neighborhood that the college they got their degree from.

While I do not question everyone’s good intentions, I bear constant witness to the mediocrity that is foisted upon my community as a result of it. If you really want to improve the lives of those in the most impacted areas of the city, it starts now. It starts by ensuring that voices are at the table long before a task force is convened… it starts by learning about the real problems from those who live it, rather than just by those who observe it. It starts by surrounding yourself with minds that are different than your own, voices that can question direction rather than echo platitudes, and hearts that are truly committed to serving the greater good of our entire city.

So, congratulations! Now that you’ve got the job, we’ll be watching to see what you do with it.

With Regards and Best Wishes,

Alissa D.Luepke Pier, AIA

Look for the final letter tomorrow!  If you’re interested in learning more about Urban Currents, click here or email rnash(at)cuningham.com.

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