Don't Forget Philanthropists

Corporate leadership of cities is at an all-time low. Business consolidations swallowed many of the local banks and newspapers that once called the shots in cities, and globalization has broadened the horizons of surviving companies. But as CEOs step back, others are stepping forward, including philanthropists.
by | May 2005

Corporate leadership of cities is at an all-time low. Business consolidations swallowed many of the local banks and newspapers that once called the shots in cities, and globalization has broadened the horizons of surviving companies. But as CEOs step back, others are stepping forward, including philanthropists. For example, in Covington, Georgia, about 35 miles east of Atlanta, a local foundation is almost single-handedly turning the town into a showplace for new urbanism. In a big city, the $19 million Arnold Fund wouldn't carry much weight, but in a town of 13,000, it's a giant. It wants to preserve Covington's small-town flavor even as the town is drawn into the Atlanta suburbs. The Arnold Fund has been promoting new-urbanist thinking by bringing in planning gurus such as Andres Duany and underwriting a local preservation center, as well as developing its own new-urbanist subdivision. "We want to create a place that survives us," explained the foundation's chairman. The fund's money comes from the estate of Robert O. and Florence Turner Arnold, who grew up in Covington, made a fortune from their investments and textile mills and died without heirs.

GOVERNMENT YOU CAN DANCE TO

Louisville, Kentucky, recently launched a tax-amnesty program, telling businesses that if they pay overdue taxes by May 31, the city will waive penalties and interest. Lots of places have done this. But Louisville added a couple of twists to its initiative: It has billboards around town warning people to pay up, a digital countdown clock that tells them the days and hours left until amnesty expires-- and Louisville's amnesty program comes with its own rock anthem by a local group called the Accountants. Their song is a hard-driving number that warns people owing occupational license fees and business profit taxes, "You laid low and you've not paid, But don't be afraid, Your only chance to improve your finance, If you come clean you'll save some green. " It's no Lennon and McCartney, but giving a government program a beat has accomplished what city officials hoped: It attracted attention to what would otherwise be a short article on a back page in the newspaper. And because of the attention, officials hope to collect more than $4 million in overdue taxes. As for the Accountants, they are, apparently, really accountants who write their own songs and play gigs in their suits.

THE STRAY-POWER PROBLEM

Early last year, a woman walking her dogs in New York City's East Village reached down to quiet them and made a connection with a faulty utility box under the sidewalk. In seconds, she was dead, electrocuted by "stray power." As it turns out, cities are prime locations for bad wiring that can turn manhole covers, street lights and utility boxes into electrical conduits. Although the vast majority of subterranean electrical cable is safe, if a contractor doesn't insulate or cap the cable correctly, it can electrify metal objects nearby. Sometimes, the stray power is equivalent to a carpet shock, 10 volts or so. But there are higher voltages under the streets and the shocks that are delivered depend on other factors, such as what you're standing on. As a result, dozens of dogs have been killed or seriously injured by stray power in recent years, in incidents from Las Vegas to Baltimore. Prompted by the woman's death, New York's state legislature ordered utilities to do annual tests for stray power on equipment at or near street level. Of 250,000 service box lids and manhole covers, Con Edison found that 120 had some kind of stray-power problem; of 350,000 lamp poles, 500 were electrified. The problems were fixed promptly, officials said.

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