Better Progress: With Positive Political Will

Cities & States Make It Happen at the Local Level.

Since the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President, several sources have reported that the change and progress many of us seek will not take place on a national stage, but rather on a local level in cities, states, and communities. There is a way to bypass bipartisanship and stagnation at the national level and get things done on a smaller, yet impactful, scale.

In this TED Radio hour, “Building Better Cities,” host Guy Raz talks with Benjamin Barber who studies cities and champions city leaders as change agents. He believes progress happens on a local level, because mayors are pragmatists and problem solvers who simply have to make cities work for their citizens. In his view, Barber believes that: “Cities still function with some resemblance to democracy in a way that no other political institutions do.” Thus, “… [cities] will do what sovereign nations can’t.”

Raz also features Kasim Reed, mayor of Atlanta, and his TED talk in which he speaks about how mayors need to see a city as its people see it to identify real needs. In his words, “Cities are where hope meets the street.” And, cities are where action can happen. According to Reed, he can get past bipartisanship, because he only needs eight votes on a city council to make change. He can address the big issues and institute new policies faster than what can be done on a national scale, not having to wade through the quagmire of Congress.

Former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, shares these points of view. These days he’s demonstrating his impact as a leader focused on climate change, specifically focused at the city level. Fast Company reported on the book, Climate of Hope, that the mayor wrote with Carl Pope, former executive director of the Sierra Club, on promoting actions that can be and must be taken on the local level to make progress against climate change. Bloomberg is hopeful we can make a difference despite what happens on a national scale.

In this interview with Bloomberg by Dan Schawbel and reported on in Forbes, Bloomberg states:

“Instead of focusing on top-down solutions from the federal government that are unlikely to happen, we should focus on how to accelerate bottom up solutions that are already underway.”

“Mayors especially tend to be pragmatic problem-solvers. They recognize the benefits to taking action and they are. In New York City, we cut our carbon footprint by 19 percent while also far outpacing the nation in job growth.”

Jerry Brown, California’s current governor (and past governor 1975-1983 and past Oakland city mayor 1999-2007) also speaks to this point of being able to work on a personal, localized level vs. in abstract at the state and national level. It gets real in a city, knowing a specific school or specific people will be impacted by decisions. In a May interview on the Axe Files with David Alexrod, Brown says of being a mayor vs. a governor:

“Mayor is totally different than being a governor…. Governors deal with more general situations. You deal with laws…. But when you are mayor, you talk about this school, you talk about this corner…. It’s concrete. It’s real. It’s in your face…. It wasn’t abstract. It was visible, it was real.”

Like Bloomberg, as governor past and present Brown focuses on climate change and leading the charge to make progress at the state level. In early June, Brown was in China for a one-on-one meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, just a week following President Trump’s announcement to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. According to Brown, progress was made in his conversation: “I believe that [President Xi Jinping] definitely gave the green light for more collaboration between China and California, and I would say other states, through this subnational arrangement.” This is clear evidence of work being done on the local level, bypassing the national. China is recognizing California as a player and working partner. According to Politico, Brown has also been trying for some time to line up additional “sub-national” support for a climate agreement with other states and local governments in the U.S.

To the point of states and local governments being powerful, at the beginning of the year, The New York Times reported on how California can wield influence as the 6th largest economy in the world. The state, having different values than those of the current administration, sees its role as one to push its agenda regardless of what may be propagated by the U.S. national government.

In turn, Monocle reported in its April 2017 issue that California and its capital, Sacramento, is thus becoming the new liberal city championing those values and focusing on Better Progress, as the state has done for decades. Knowing that progress will be thwarted on the national stage, California legislators have focused their energy on ensuring that progress is made in the state and elsewhere.

From an interview with Oregon governor Kate Brown, the magazine also reported her belief that states and cities can make progress where the national government can’t. She said:

“I see liberal states as the Petri dishes of progressive policy. We’re innovating. I like to say we can ‘GSD’ – get stuff done – at the state level where obviously Congress and the federal government have struggled to act.”

As an example, she went on to say how Oregon is also committed to making progress for climate change:

“Oregon is committed to reducing greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050.”

The Lesson: When the top can’t get it done, take on the responsibility and make progress at your level.

Have a good example of Better Progress? Share it with us. Use our contact form.


Dundas, Zach. “Q&A, Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon,” Monocle, June 2017, Issue 104, p. 57.

Hernandez, Javier C. and Buckley. “As Trump Steps Back, Jerry Brown Talks Climate Change in China,” The New York Times, June 6, 2017.

Issenberg, Sasha.“America’s Alt-Capital,” Monocle, May 2017.

Meyers, Jessica. “China is now looking to California – not Trump – to help lead the fight against climate change,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2017.

Nagourney, Adam. “California Strikes a Bold Pose as Vanguard of the Resistance,” The New York Times, January 18, 2017.

Schawbel, Dan. “Michael Bloomberg: From Billionaire Businessman To Climate Change Activist,” Forbes, May 30, 2017.

Schiller, Ben. “Michael Bloomberg Says Cities Must Now Lead The Way on Climate Change,” Fast Company, April 18, 2017.

Siders, David. “Jerry Brown defies Trump on world stage,” Politico, June 1, 2017.

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