This ‘Big Town’ Has Solutions for Cities Everywhere

Leaders from Lexington, Kentucky share lessons about what’s working as they foster collaboration and nonpartisanship in a city that’s solving problems like community engagement and closing the racial wealth gap.

Lexington, Kentucky

(Photo by Warren LeMay / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

In this episode, we dive deep into success stories emerging from Lexington, Kentucky, a “big town” taking on big challenges – breaking down partisanship, reinventing the ways the community engages with its leaders, creating new ways to close the racial wealth gap – by actively cultivating collaboration and experimentation.

“Our politics set the tone for the city,” says Christian Motley, the Vice President of Partnerships and Community Impact at the nonprofit Results for America. “If you look at our council, our mayor, you might see a different coalition on one day than you do on the next. There's something about not having permanent enemies that I think is really important, and it flows into community. I might be upset with you about housing on Monday, but by Wednesday we might be able to connect on parks.”

That's helped by the city's governance structure as a nonpartisan, unified city-county government that cuts out excess bureacracy and political tribalism. And over the past decade, local leaders explain, the city has seen a generational shift in its local power structures, breaking down “old-boy networks” while maintaining the relational proximity that characterizes many midsized cities.

“We have a second-term Republican mayor in a very blue city, because people didn't vote for an R or a D, they voted for a person,” says Dan Wu, Vice Mayor of Lexington. And while the city council is largely left-leaning at the moment, he adds, “I would challenge people in Lexington to guess the party affiliation of all 15 of us. I guarantee you'll get a few of them wrong, and I love that.”

The conversation is based on Next City's recent panel at Big Towns, a summit celebrating mid-sized American cities, and offers a taste of the urban solutions we'll be exploring at Vanguard, our annual experiential gathering for rising urban leaders, held in Lexington this fall. Apply now to join us from Sept. 23-26 and become part of a network of more than 600 urban leaders working to improve cities across sectors. 

Listen to the episode below or subscribe to the Next City podcast on AppleSpotify, or Goodpods.

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