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Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

Nerd Mayors Report

January 25, 2011 10:46 AM

Every January I attend a meeting of the Mayors Innovation Project, a small group of mayors that I organized several years ago. We joke that we're the mayors who didn't get invited to the prom, a bunch of policy wonks who would rather discuss the intricacies of storm water management than go to a cocktail party.

And we actually did discuss storm water management, along with regional transportation, more energy efficient building stock, and place-based economic development. It was policy nerd heaven.

I learned a lot more than I can fit in a brief blog and you can too by visiting the MIP website at

But I would like to touch on just two ideas, one modest and the other profound. The small idea is permeable surface basketball courts. Now, stay with me on this. The basic strategy in storm water management is to keep rain on site, that is have it filter down to the aquifer where it falls, rather than manage its flow with lots of concrete and retaining ponds as it heads for the nearest body of surface water. One way of accomplishing that is to make pavement permeable. We got an idea from Philadelphia where they used permeable pavement for, among lots of other things, basketball courts. It makes the game easier to play after a rain shower because the court is instantly dry, and it deadens the sound of the bouncing ball, which makes the courts more neighbor friendly. Cool.

The other idea, in the profound category, comes from Cleveland, where they're developing a system of "place-based" economic development initiatives. The idea is to root jobs in a community. What they're doing is using colleges' and hospitals' (institutions that need to stay in place) procurement as an economic engine that purchases some of their products from co-ops formed in the community. So far they've developed worker-owned co-ops to supply dry cleaning, vegetables, and solar installations. The co-ops are overseen by an umbrella organization that provides guidance and technical business knowhow. It's an idea I want to explore here in Madison.

MIP is run and partially financed by the Center On Wisconsin Strategy led by Prof. Joel Rogers and staffed by Satya Rhodes-Conway, who also serves as a Madison Alder. Its work is getting national notice for innovation in municipal governance.


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