Lessons for Charter Cities From Decades as a City Manager in the US

Mark Levin offers lessons for charter cities from his four decades of experience in city management.

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This paper presents lessons from several decades as a City Manager in the United States. Why are lessons about city administration sorely needed in this historical moment? Currently, there are more than 120 new city developments being built around the world in response to the rapid urbanization set to occur across the Global South over the next several decades. It would be a tragic missed opportunity if these new cities end up with the same urban governance issues that plague many existing cities. Instead, these new city projects should aim to kill two birds with one stone–helping solve both rapid urbanization and poor governance, and by doing so setting the enabling conditions for long-run economic growth. To help solve poor governance issues, charter city administrations and new city developers can take inspiration from the history of municipal governance in the United States. In particular, the Council-Manager form of governance that began in the early 20th century, and is now the predominant form of local governance (outnumbering Mayor-led cities), can provide many hard-won insights. As someone who worked in city management within this Council-Manager form for forty years, I believe I am well placed to present some of these insights.

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