Apr 18, 2023 - Politics & Policy

First on Axios: A home for Bloomberg's "Center for Cities" at Harvard

A view of seats and seating areas at the new Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard's Kennedy School

In keeping with Bloomberg traditions, the new space for the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University has open-plan seating. Photo courtesy of Bloomberg Philanthropies

The Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University is getting its own 12,000-square-foot office space at the Harvard Kennedy School, lending new heft to an important educational locus for mayors and public servants.

Why it matters: Cities are on the front lines of problems as diverse as gun violence, homelessness and climate change, and the two-year-old Bloomberg Center is one of the few places that's training mayors and their teams to address such problems.

Driving the news: At a ceremony today, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will cut a ribbon for the center's new workspace — which, in keeping with Bloomberg traditions, has an open-seating floor plan.

  • New academic initiatives will include executive education programs for city officials who work in human resources and economic development.
  • Another new program will teach best practices in civic engagement to city officials who work with the public.
  • There'll also be a new conference series called CityAmbition and a doubling of the Bloomberg Harvard City Hall Fellows program, which places Harvard graduates in public service jobs in city governments.

Zoom in: The current crop of City Hall Fellows are working on issues such as flood mitigation in Charleston, South Carolina; police oversight in Grand Rapids, Michigan; and sustainable transportation in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The big picture: Michael Bloomberg, the former three-term mayor of New York City — who founded Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies — has made a priority of uplifting city life and boosting mayors' skill sets.

  • 465 mayors have attended the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, founded in 2017 with a $32 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
  • Another training center for public servants, the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University — Mr. Bloomberg's alma mater — was established with $43 million in 2021.
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies operates a nonprofit consulting arm to help cities figure out problems and sponsors competitions for cities to earn grant money.

What they're saying: The Harvard Center for Cities "draws on resources across all of the university's colleges," says Jim Anderson, who leads government innovation programs at the organization.

  • "Last week when I was there, the former mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, suddenly tapped me on the shoulder," he said. "She was speaking about her experiences in a classroom that afternoon."

Of note: 33% of America's cities are led by a participant in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

  • Alumni include Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation; Eric Adams, the mayor of New York; Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta; and Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, D.C.

The bottom line: "We're at a moment when ambitions for cities are so significant — every problem rolls downhill toward city leaders," Anderson said.

  • "Our expectations of city halls are very high, but we know that the capacity to deliver is not always there."
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