Questions about a Quality City Life

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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According to the most recent Quality of Life survey by Mercer Human Resource, our major cities are falling behind—yet again. Pollution, traffic, crime, population density, and access to quality education are all dragging our ratings down. Honolulu and San Francisco are our highest rated cities, and they don’t even crack the top 25. Bagdad, not surprisingly, is the lowest rated city for the second survey in a row. Mercer conducts and distributes this survey as part of an effort to inform international companies as they make choices about where to locate headquarter and design compensation packages for expatriates. Again, as the world become “Flat”—as Thomas Friedman argues—or as the international creative competition ensues—as Richard Florida argues—we had better start paying attention to the data. Others certainly are. We can argue about the structure of the survey or the weighting Mercer gives to different elements; however, the fact remains that international conversations are not swaying positively in our favor. We look more insular, anti-education, regressive, and protectionist than ever. Yes, our large cities may not be the most accurate reflection of how “most” in the US live. However, they are our largest brand to an increasingly connected and competitive world. While they may be a convenient target for dogmatic diatribes, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot as we demonize these urban centers. So, the question remains: How do we create a quality city life? What should be doing to improve our approach to education, environment, and safety? I read with interest what NY is investing in their massive reforms of their city schools. Is this the right kind of model? How will this relate to and improve rural and suburban funding, connections, and community building as well? For other ideas, check out the One Cleveland Initiative, which was introduced to me by the always impressive Lev Gonick—CIO of Case Western Reserve University. This may be another powerful option, a creative way leverage technology, community building, and collaboration to improve our cities. Their work to address poverty and improve quality of life has been impressive. Are there other areas where we can use the information already at our fingertips in our cities to make a difference? I’m not sure of the answers here; but as champions of quality learning, leadership, creativity, and health, I know we better start asking the questions.