Mayors: The Dream Catchers

by Glen


london-ontario copy

THIS BRINGS TO A CONCLUSION THESE POSTS on the importance of mayors around the world. There is a such a diversity among them, but it’s clear that the ones we have focused on have some clear things in common, namely a desire to make cities more central in the political universe, and the distinct belief that in order to achieve success they must share the power with the citizens of their respective communities.

And we as voters have learned something as well: to put aside our past belief that one political individual, or even a grouping of them, are capable of providing the kind of collective and meaningful life we are seeking. The claims of some political aspirants that they will clean up a city or even run it like a business are surely empty, as recent history would suggest over and over again. You might as well say that you think you’re smarter than everyone else, or that you run your family like a corporation. Time to put such pretenses to bed.

A city council is supposed to derive its powers from the consensus of the governed, and it’s supposed to exist to serve them. That has always been the historic model, even if in recent years we have gotten away from it. But now it’s more. We have reached the place where a council must, in part at least, derive its policy and expertise from the governed as well – a significant change from past eras.

Unlike business, government has to serve everyone. Any public trust it might enjoy comes at the behest of the people. Yet it’s no longer enough to rest on such laurels. The failure of the political order has introduced a new element into democracy – an engaged citizenry – that has filled up the spaces vacated by government and won’t take kindly to being tossed aside following the next election. They not only wish to stay; they want to share power in a way that is equitable. This is the new democracy and any person running for mayor who ignores this reality doesn’t deserve to win anyway. Governments abandoned much of the ethical, environmental, fiscal, and quality of life issues and citizens won’t forget that. They have come forward to help; should you toss them aside, you might as well toss you city as well.

And here’s another truth that successive mayors have learned: culture is more important than vision. It is the way of life, the expectations the people feel toward one another, that form the building blocks of a better future. Vision is one thing. But the culture a mayor builds creates inroads into creativity, prosperity, and human relations that no one woman or man can hope to replicate.

Put more simply: the best mayors are a community’s dream catchers. From our First Nations culture we learn that these remarkable symbols form a way in which a community not only protects itself, but enhances its dreams. Yes, they were suspended above the beds of children to keep out the negative forces, but their ultimate purpose was to let through the good dreams and permit them to slide down the feathers to those sleeping.

The most successful mayors are those who not only protect their communities through legislation, law and enforcement; they also build them according to the capacity of their citizens. The vision of the one is simply incapable of outperforming the dreams of the many. And there will come that time when a community dedicated to its shared future will wake up one day to discover that its reality is greater than its dreams.

But all that will take leadership. It will take mayors who use their offices to unlock the potential of their citizens. It was so many years ago now that Eleanor Roosevelt observed: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” That us, and we’ll need good mayors to get us there. They will link us to other cities, other dreamers and builders, and they will demonstrate by their very acts that a dream shared is better than a vision monopolized.  In that sense, I trust these posts have been of assistance.