As Trump Administration Begins, NYU Wagner Panel Looks at Prospects for Continued Policy Innovation by City Governments

Symposium panel
Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaks at the forum. Photo by Matt Chaban / Center for an Urban Future

About 100 policy makers and thought leaders who work within and across the boundaries of the public and private sectors gathered at NYU Wagner on February 13 to discuss cities’ emerging role as drivers of innovation, both in America and around the world, and to reflect on how cities may fare in the Trump years.

The event was “Driving Innovation: Cities as Models for Urban Policy Change,” a symposium featuring Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter; New York City Office of Operations Director Mindy Tarlow; Citi Foundation’s Global Public Affairs Director Josh Moskowitz; and National League of Cities’ Research Director Christiana McFarland.

Leading the discussion was Neil Kleiman, Director of NYU Wagner Innovation Labs. The nonprofit Center for an Urban Future co-sponsored the forum, which was framed by the findings in “Innovation and the City,” a recent report profiling 15 bold urban government innovations in cities around the globe.

Though voicing wariness and trepidation about what’s to come, the panelists cautioned that it’s still too early to predict effects that the change in leadership in Washington will have on cities’ growing penchant for designing, implementing, and managing new initiatives and policies, both on their own and in collaboration with the nonprofit and private sectors and other levels of government.

At the same time, many panelists were far from optimistic about the new administration’s possible willingness to collaborate with and support cities in addressing such issues as poverty, housing, and infrastructure in new  ways.

“A lot of us are seriously concerned about what the next four years will bring our cities,” said Jonathan Bowles, Director of the Center for an Urban Future, in opening remarks. But he said that cities for decades have had to come up with ways to solve their problems in response to cuts in federal aid and economic shifts, giving them resilience and experience that, panelists said, could prove important to issues around immigrants, housing and homelessness, poverty, education, and the climate.

Kleiman asked, “How do we proactively present to the Trump administration the progress that has been taking place in cities?”  

Speakers, in response, pointed to cities’ increasing use of data to build evidence for the impact of their measures and to gain federal funds. A concern, however, is access to federal data to develop new policies could perhaps be curtailed.

In dealing with the Trump administration, “take a business approach,” suggested Nutter, noting “mutual dependence” between the feds and cities when it comes to positive results at ground level.

McFarland of the National League of Cities summed things up during the audience Q&A portion of the program. “There may be roadblocks,” she said, “but cities are going to do what needs to be done.”