The Blog

May Changemaker — Wim Wiewel

May Changemaker — Wim Wiewel

Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State // 

What inspires you?
I’m a city boy.   I’ve always focused on how to make cities economically strong, culturally vibrant, and socially just.  Urban universities are in a great position to contribute to these goals, and I’ve been fortunate to work on this for the past 38 years.

How do you foresee higher education further developing and driving city success?
People’s need for higher education continues to increase as technology develops and the world becomes ever more competitive.  Therefore, both the education and the research provided by colleges and universities will be ever more important.  Urban universities that partner with their cities—business, government, and nonprofits—will make the greatest contributions, and will thrive through partnerships.

What is your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
Regardless of which sector you work in, you have to know how to create and manage partnerships.  It’s through complementarity, identifying shared needs and joint resources, that you can have the biggest impact.  That means you have to spend lots of time building trust, learning to understand the needs and priorities of others, as well as your own organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

In your opinion, what are the top 3 opportunities facing your city today?
First of all, we continue to build on decades of environmental awareness to be a leader in dealing with climate change.  Portland State University, city government, and many others have climate action plans that give us a realistic path to carbon neutrality.  Cities and states have to be the leaders on this incredibly important issue.

Second, over the last 15 years, Portland has rapidly become more diverse; it used to be one of the whitest cities in the U.S.  With our progressive ethos, there’s a great willingness to reconsider how we deal with this change.  Along with several other large organizations, PSU has adopted an “equity lens” in our strategic plan, committing ourselves to consider equity issues in all decisions we make.  So we have a great opportunity to set a new standard in this area.

Third, Portland is home to a great “maker” economy that continually generates entrepreneurial success. We still have many more opportunities to tie students and faculty from all local higher education institutions into this innovation eco-system.

What are one or two projects you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
I’m stepping down from the presidency this summer, which will give me an even greater opportunity as a faculty member to focus on the things I most care about (instead of having to worry about budgets, politics, etc.!)  I intend to do fundraising for our Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and work on urban and international projects with our Institute for Metropolitan Studies and our Center for Public Service.  There’s so much to be done, and I look forward to continue my work to “Let Knowledge Serve the City,” as PSU’s motto says.

Could you tell us something about yourself that most of your colleagues don’t know about you?
Even though I’m very busy, I make time to read fiction; I read about 40 novels each year.  When I visit a new city, I love reading mysteries and other fiction set there; I find that they provide much more insight into a place than guidebooks do.

The Million Dollar Question: How Can We Turn Everyday Spaces Into PLAYces?

The Million Dollar Question: How Can We Turn Everyday Spaces Into PLAYces?

by Priya Madrecki, Senior Manager, Strategic Communications, KaBOOM! //

Oftentimes the most poignant childhood memories are the simplest ones: playing in the backyard with a sibling, learning baseball with a parent, or going to the playground after school. And, frequently, those memories involve play. Play is a critical component to healthy development, and to simply being a kid. It sets the stage for helping kids to achieve their highest potential, and provides those essential, formative moments with friends and adults. It cultivates social skills, greater self-confidence, risk-taking opportunities and the chance to live a healthier lifestyle. Today’s kids deserve each and every one of those benefits linked to play. But for many kids, particularly those living in poverty, having time and access to daily play is a challenge. So how do we provide more opportunities for play by turning everyday spaces into PLAYces?

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April Changemaker — Brian Stephens

April Changemaker — Brian Stephens

by Brian Stephens, CEO + Co-Founder, CAISSA Public Strategy //

What inspires you?
I get passionate about my city and people getting excited about Memphis and fighting for it. From the business perspective, our company’s primary objective is to help move opinion. We work on visibility for clients and to improve reputation. We work to make things better and help people think differently and more positively. This is translated into the Memphis Cluster because in our city we have a deficit mindset. Leadership Memphis along with the Memphis Cluster are working to get people to have a positive opinion.

How do you use your background in business, industrial psychology, law and military science to help inform the work you are involved in and improve your city?
The movement of opinion is how we do things, get people to think differently, and get rid of biases, which is more psychology based. With a law and military background, strategy is vital. Also, what has helped teach me are my failures. I have had massive and epic failures and it was these failures that helped me learn! I am better able to break down the silos in the community and now am working to get the right people talking to each other.

In your opinion, what are the top 3 issues facing your city today?
I am going to change that – let’s talk about the top 3 opportunities… We all have the same problems in our cities, but here are opportunities Memphis has. First, we have a lower cost of living, which makes us attractive to businesses. Second, the people here are so real and polite in a way that is not fake. We are from the south, so of course we are polite, but we are down to earth. Third, we are one of the most generous and giving cities. When we look at what cities donate the most per capita, we are always in the Top 5. All of these opportunities can be leveraged.

What are one or two projects you are currently working that you are most excited about?
Leadership Memphis is a hub for our CEOs for Cities Cluster. They are taking on unbelievably difficult situations and helping to improve the city. Leadership Memphis is working on getting more volunteers in the city, helping more students get to college and helping others get back to college. Also, Leadership Memphis is currently working to train and teach people about what is going on in Memphis.

What’s your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
There are two parts to this…

First, care about something! You don’t have to care about everything, but whatever you feel passionate about, get to work on it and don’t quit. Even after you get movement and energy, don’t quit and then keep moving to work on something else. People check out and get frustrated, but you can make a difference and we need people who won’t give up.

Second, there are always going to be dragons and trolls. Dragons are the ones who fly and burn everything down and when you try to rebuild, they are not around. Trolls are the people who nitpick and complain about everything. They constantly tear apart good ideas and have a problem with everything but don’t help find solutions. You have to shut down the dragons and trolls in the world, or else they will take over. You can’t have people who just complain. People need to fight the dragons and trolls everyday and push back!

What should we know about your work that you haven’t yet mentioned because I didn’t ask the right question?
The Memphis Cluster is working diligently on making sure we pass along all the great info we learned to whoever needs it. We make a cognitive effort to inform others. For example, if we learned about planning, but not everyone could attend, we make sure to share the information so they can still learn about the topic and then, we start connecting additional people. This helps us create a “micro cluster” or a web of people in the community. We are hoping to push this effort more and use this web to navigate change.

March Changemaker — Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson

March Changemaker — Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson

Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson of Toledo, Ohio // 

What inspires you?
I am inspired by the future and work at making each tomorrow better than today.

What do you see as the greatest strengths and challenges of Toledo, Ohio?
The citizens of Toledo are our greatest strength. They are hardworking, resilient, and compassionate.  One of our greatest challenges is filling the funding gap left by multi-million dollar reductions in revenue sharing from the state and federal government.  The loss of these dollars has put pressure on our ability to provide higher levels of public service for our citizens.

In your opinion, what are the top 3 issues facing your city today? 

  1. Protecting Our Water
  2. Maintaining Clean, Safe, Livable Neighborhoods
  3. Supporting Economic Development for Job Growth

What are one or two projects on which you are currently working that you are most excited?
We have really turned the corner with being able to capture, manage, assign work, and communicate back to citizens regarding their requests for city services through the Engage Toledo program.  We generated more than 47,000 work orders through Engage Toledo in 2016 in response to our citizens.

The Toledo Youth Commission has developed an interactive map of resources which uses technology to help connect and engage our youth and their parents with resources throughout the city.  Communicating so many positive choices for youth in the arts, sports, health, recreation and transportation will have long-term favorable impact in our community.

What’s your advice for the next generation of city changemakers?
I’m a fan of Dr. Suess, who wrote, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  Celebrate your differences. It is our differences that lead to innovative thinking and collaborative success.

What should we know about the work that you haven’t yet mentioned because I didn’t ask the right question?
I think about the long-term impact that every decision I make, partnership I form, and agreement I enter into will have on the citizens I was elected to serve.  I care about Toledo’s legacy and the effect my work will have on our children and grandchildren and so work hard to uphold a high standard of conduct befitting the City and the Office of the Mayor.

Finally, could you tell us something about yourself than most of your colleagues don’t know about you?
By now many have heard that I play the piano; however, they do not know that I am also a singer and when I retire I want to become a baby holder at the local hospital.

Cities That Listen

Cities That Listen

by Lee Fisher, Senior Advisor to CEOs for Cities // 

“There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right when everybody’s wrong.”
– Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”

 As we reflect on the recent presidential election and a new President, many enter this new year with mixed feelings of hope and anxiety. I want to share some thoughts about where we go from here.

Most of us live in a bubble. We engage in what is called “confirmation bias.” That is, we search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our own preconceptions. We actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms our views, and ignore or under weigh evidence that contradicts our views. This tendency to look for people and information that confirm our own views has been accelerated and enhanced by Google, Facebook, and other internet platforms who use the personal data they collect about us to tailor our online experiences.

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Biodiversity and Public Health

Biodiversity and Public Health

by Grace Cameron, Research Assistant, Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, CEOs for Cities //

Why we need biodiversity for more reasons than just beauty

Photo from Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/BNhBrBWBv9o/As an environmental studies major, I am always looking for ways to connect the social to the scientific. Environmental studies is a broader version of environmental science, because it also includes elements of humanities, law, policies, and social science. In addition to appealing to my inner climate warrior, the study of the environment allows me to make those crafty social-scientific connections.

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February Change Maker — Ginny Seyferth

February Change Maker — Ginny Seyferth

How did you get involved in public relations? 
I started in Public Relations after college at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, moved to the oil industry with Amoco, then joined Amway Corporation’s media relations team before I opened my own firm 32 years ago. Today, our  firm is well recognized for our client support to manage issues, brand awareness and new product launches and we have a unique practice working with many Michigan companies on talent recruitment and retention. This is our work that ties to working with our City branding, and helping the City understand the attributes of a great brand.

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January Change Maker: Javier A. Soto

January Change Maker: Javier A. Soto

Javier A. Soto, President & CEO, The Miami Foundation // 

What do you see as the greatest policy issues that Miami must address in 2017?
In 2017, significant attention will be paid to transit issues. Explosive growth has impacted the ability to move in the city.

Equally important, but a longer-term issue that Miami is facing is the effect of sea level rise. We have already begun to see issues with this along the coast. We will need massive infrastructure changes in order to address the impact of climate change on the city.

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Big City Problems in Ohio’s Small Towns

Big City Problems in Ohio’s Small Towns

By John A. Begala //

Begala Photo 1
Small Hub Towns + Cities

For all the forces that conspire to separate and divide “big city” and “small town,” and all that is written about Ohio as a microcosm of the nation’s “culture wars,” Ohio’s small hub towns share many of the same characteristics and challenges as the state’s eight major cities.  In a recent report for The Center for Community Solutions, Big City Problems in Ohio’s Small Towns, I analyzed economic, social and health data for 47 of these communities, which are located in about half of Ohio’s 88 counties – towns that are centers of civic, social, and economic life for areas extending beyond their borders.

With a combined population of 1,170,570, or 10 percent of the state as a whole, communities included in the study have one or more major institutions that establish or contribute to its “hub” status.   Most are seats of county government (34 of 47); 20 are home to a four-year public or private college or university campus (five public and 15 private); and most (35) have at least one general hospital.

Here are some of the findings in the report:

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Improving City Engagement With Gamification

Improving City Engagement With Gamification

Your city has started making progress to become smarter, but now what? Making the strides to move your city forward is already a large task but once that is done, the next challenge begins — finding ways to engage businesses and your citizens.

Gamification is a relatively new term. Per the always trusted Merriam-Webster dictionary, gamification is “the process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (as a task) so as to encourage participation.”

Now, everyone from companies running trade-shows to large cities are looking towards gamification to present information in a new way.

Incorporating gamification in your city may seem to be a daunting task, but it can be an easy addition for you and can have benefits for your city’s businesses and citizens as well.

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