Innovative Ideas for New Mayors

Achievements of recent winners of Harvard's Innovations in American Government Award were recognized, in part, because they are readily transferable to other jurisdictions.
February 11, 2008 AT 3:00 AM
By Stephen Goldsmith  |  Contributor
Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program

Today we feature the achievements of recent winners of Harvard's Innovations in American Government Award. These programs were recognized, in part, because they are readily transferable to other jurisdictions. Future columns in this series will focus on the ideas of individual mayors.

Digital Crime-Fighting: Using Technology to Increase Police Efficiency and Citizen Support

Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting: Crime fighting depends on quality, real-time, information and citizen participation. The CLEAR enterprise information system for the Chicago Police Department facilitates both. It provides the digital foundation for all police activity reports -- including detailed field incident reports and the entire arrest and booking process. CLEAR enables interactive query capabilities through an extensive data warehouse, and promotes community participation by providing searchable information through a public Web site.

Disrupting the Drug Market through Community Confrontation of Dealers

Overt Drug Market Strategy: For many cities, arresting drug dealers often proves easier then working to reform these criminals and reduce recidivism. The city of High Point, N.C., developed the Overt Drug Market Strategy specifically to address these challenges. While the most violent offenders are still aggressively prosecuted, other dealers are personally approached and then educated about the predictable consequences of continued dealing. Drug dealers and their families are called into meetings with local and federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors, ministers, service providers and neighborhood residents. The dealers are given an ultimatum: Either stop selling drugs and reap the benefits of employment, affordable housing, and educational programming, or face arrest. The Overt Drug Market Strategy has reduced violent crime in High Point by an average of 51 percent.

Transforming Abandoned Land into Neighborhood Revitalization: Creative Land Disposition

Urban Land Reform Initiative: Foreclosures of distressed properties are bad enough for a community, but the potential neglect or misuse of property sold through forced sales often leads to problems that are just as bad, or worse. Genesee County, Mich., reengineered tax collection, tax foreclosure and land disposition to create a citizen-driven sustainable process that removes abandoned property from speculation. The Genesee County Land Bank acquires land through foreclosure and determines the best use of land -- with input from neighbors and community groups -- to support redevelopment opportunities for affordable owner-occupied housing. The result has been revitalized neighborhoods, more affordable housing and a slowing of urban sprawl.

Saving the Climate, One City at a Time: Mobilizing Green

Seattle Climate Protection Initiative: The Climate Protection Initiative confronts global warming at the local level, beginning with a reduction of Seattle's pollution through the reform of provision of public services. For example, Seattle City Light, a municipal electric utility, is now the only utility in the country to produce electricity with zero net emissions of greenhouse gases. Building on its success in reducing climate pollution, the Climate Protection Initiative created a coalition of American mayors who are taking similar action in their own jurisdictions, promoting stronger national policy and inspiring grassroots efforts throughout the country.

Urban Education: An Intractable Problem or a Mayor's Opportunity?

Mayor's Charter Schools Initiative: The Mayor's Charter Schools Initiative in Indianapolis leverages the power of the mayor of Indianapolis' office -- and former Mayor Bart Peterson's accountability as a highly visible, elected individual -- to make Peterson the only mayor in the United States authorized to create and oversee charter schools designed to meet needs not currently met by the city's school districts. Mayor Peterson developed an accountability system through which he established high expectations, monitored progress and reported findings to the public. Today, 18 schools chartered by the mayor are operational, educating nearly 6,700 students.

Teachers for the Underserved: A Community Solution to a Community Problem

Urban Academies Program: The Urban Academies Program in Broward County, Fla., tackles the costly and debilitating problem of hiring and retaining teachers in predominantly poor and minority schools. The program recruits and trains local high school students who are considering a career in education, provides specialized training for college students already committed to becoming educators, and supports practicing teachers. Over the past five years, the Urban Academies Program has prepared and placed 360 teachers in Broward schools and retained 91 percent of those who have completed the program for at least three years (compared to a national three-year retention rate of 67 percent).

Setting Policy by Listening: Can Youth Participation Really Help?

Youth Civic Engagement: The Youth Civic Engagement program of Hampton, Va., is a comprehensive strategy that gives young people the authority to have a real voice in city decisions. Youth play an active role in directing city services, schools and neighborhood projects. The YCE model allows youth to work directly as advisers within a Neighborhood Youth Advisory Board, Teen Advisory Groups for Parks and Recreation, the Superintendent's Advisory Group and secondary-school advisory teams. As of fall 2005, youth commissioners had allocated over $175,000 to more than 90 youth-led projects addressing community needs. The input of the youth commissioners into the policies and planning of the local transit authority also resulted in increased youth use of busses by approximately 11,000 rides a month.

Housing Safety and Affordability: Using Sticks to Create Carrots

Systematic Code Enforcement Program: In Los Angeles, the Systematic Code Enforcement Program inspects all rental properties with two or more units for habitability and to enforce state health and safety codes. Developed in consultation with advocates for tenants and property owners and funded by billing property owners around $35 per unit per year, SCEP conducts both regularly scheduled inspections and responds quickly to tenant complaints. Owners are required to address life-safety threats immediately and other repairs within 30 days, or risk prosecution. Multilingual materials for tenants and owners are available, and nonprofit advocacy groups foster outreach and education to neighborhoods in greatest need of building inspections.

I welcome your suggestions and feedback throughout the series. E-mail me at

Series introduction: Lessons from Our Best