Book Review Number 34

The Nation City – Why Mayors are now Running the World – Rahm Emanuel

As the name implies the author makes the case that nation states have generally failed to meet the needs of citizens, and that cities under good mayoral leadership are filling the void. He uses Chicago during his two terms as one example.

In the first chapter the author discusses his education initiatives, how when he became mayor Chicago had the shortest school day and year of any large city in the country, with the result being some of the poorest student and school performance as well. He discusses in some detail how Chicago dramatically improved its education system and student performance. This part of the book is worth the time even if you read no other chapter.

The central theme of the book, however, is how cities rather than the federal government have become the center of innovation, public trust and effective governance. The author calls attention not only to Chicago but to what other mayors across the country and around the world are doing to improve the lives of their constituents. He shares examples of how mayors are dealing with urban development issues, the climate challenge, and pollution mitigation and clean up. He dwells some on how cities are creating positive and healthy environments for residents to live, work, and play. Green spaces, water front and riverwalk projects, as well as environmentally friendly economic and commercial development are all critical parts of that equation.

Emanuel proves through multiple examples how local government makes significant change for the better. Using evidence from cities large and small with Republican and Democratic mayors he demonstrates how cities are filling the vacuum left by a dysfunctional federal government. He argues that cities are the most ancient political institutions, dating back thousands of years, and they have reemerged as the nation-states of our time. He says that is specifically because mayors are held more accountable to their own constituents than any other elected officials.

I have not been a particular fan of Rahm Emanuel, so I was initially skeptical of his story. However upon my own investigation, most of what he say appears to actually be true. I whole heartedly recommend his book.


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