Editor’s note: Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst in June attended the 86th Annual United States Conference of Mayors in Boston, along with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and mayors from 250 cities from around the nation. The Reporter Newspapers asked Ernst to share what he learned.
Ideas! Problem solving! Solutions! These were my takeaways from the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston, a city with a legacy for revolutionary concepts and progressive thinking.
After sharing issues and suggestions with leaders from America’s top cities, I returned to Brookhaven energized and prepared to put these new notions and solutions into action.
With other local leaders, such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, we focused on listening and sharing our problems and successes. Through this gratifying exchange, we concluded that, in the end, our shared issues had much in common and the answers were indeed “out there” waiting for us to find and resolve.
The overall theme of the conference was built around infrastructure, innovation and inclusion. But it was so much more … other sessions were focused on immigration, community development and housing, criminal and social justice, energy environment, jobs education, tourism and parks.
While there were a number of important topics discussed with leaders from New York and Los Angeles to Santa Fe and Little Rock, there were two particular topics of importance to me in relation to Brookhaven’s future: transportation and small cell technology; i.e., “mini” cell towers, which have recently come into favor with providers.
Recent local discussions on small cell technology left lingering questions as to whether we were coming up with adequate plans that protect the city on issues such as proper compensation and use of our right of ways and adequate placement of cell towers that were aesthetically pleasing to residents, yet fair to both the city and the small cell industry. As we discussed shared experiences, I confirmed that we were moving in the right direction, doing many things properly, and noted areas where we could improve our planning. Best of all, we received positive feedback on our local efforts and useful suggestions from mayors of other cities with similar issues.
With an eye to the future, I attended a transportation session featuring officials from Waymo, a company that began in 2009 as the Google self-driving car project. Today, they’re an independent self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for everyone to get around. This is a potential technology that we have discussed locally and realize we need to keep in mind when planning our future parking restrictions, charging station placement, traffic improvements, land development, etc.
We know these technologies are coming, and we want to be proactive, making improvements today that will not be obsolete a decade from now. We have to meet current needs, yet plan for those in the future. Well-paved roads, thoughtful traffic grids and other traffic improvements are examples of forward thinking that new businesses and residents look for that can determine whether or not they choose to locate in Brookhaven.
Throughout the conference, I had great discussions with mayors from cities of all sizes. Of particular interest was talking with leaders from satellite communities like ours on the edge of larger cities, such as Culver City’s proximity to Los Angeles. They experience many of the same types of problems we do. Sometimes larger cities utilize pilot programs or measures that just aren’t feasible for cities like Brookhaven. We discussed ways to take this knowledge, however, and right-size it to utilize here.
We also looked at how problems can be solved or improvements made at the local level, without enacting or seeking state or federal legislation to solve a problem.
Other conference highlights included speakers such as Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, who discussed ways to get the best communication and use of social media to get information to and input from residents. Frank Luntz, the well-known American political consultant, pollster and public opinion guru, spoke about his findings on what typical American residents are expecting from their local governments. I found his findings interesting (and rewarding!) that city government leaders were the ones people trusted most these days, over state and federal leaders.
Reinforcing our local efforts to acquire green space and develop projects like the Peachtree Creek Greenway, one speaker from Reno, Nevada, disputed the old claim that the standard for park size and use was not particularly so many acres per person, but the more positive notion that the best park was a park within 10 minutes’ walk from home.