Blog: Sharon Carney

From Sharon Carney's perspective we're all in this together. A Special Project Director at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, Sharon has been both politically and civically involved in Metro Detroit. She will be writing about her latest effort, the Millennial Mayors Congress and how SE Michigan can achieve greater regional collaboration.

Sharon Carney - Post 4

And here, it begins: well over 100 people came out to the Renaissance Club in Detroit last night to discuss the Millennial Mayors Congress and the role that our region’s future leaders will play in it. They came from Oakland, Macomb, the Grosse Pointes, Detroit and Downriver. Some were familiar faces, but most were new to the conversation. They’d come with the prospect of learning how they could get involved and connect with others who, like them, want to do something to improve this place.

So far, I’ve written about the concepts underlying the Millennial Mayors Congress. But if you’re like me, you’re probably curious about how it will take shape. What will the Millennial Mayors Congress look like? How will it function, and what can it accomplish?

Let’s envision the Congress in action.

Say, for example, the Congress delegates decide at their first session to focus on greening our cities as a way to enable more sustainable lifestyles, create green jobs, decrease our carbon footprint and shed our rustbelt image. Crucial improvements can be made in local communities that, when done with regional coordination through the Congress, will exponentially increase the positive impact of any one city.

After discussing what representatives want to accomplish and possible strategies, the Congress might draft a task force to dig deep into how to make it happen in southeast Michigan communities. The task force—made up of issue experts, city staff and other innovative doers and thinkers—could assess existing regional resources, capabilities and best practices, develop shared goals for the communities to strive toward and commission research where appropriate.

While this process moves forward, Congress representatives (as well as council members, city staff, interested young people and other community members) will build their knowledge of “green” strategies and ways to encourage sustainability through periodic hearings and presentations. They’d also keep their partners in city leadership and their local peer networks informed.

Eventually, task force findings and research will coalesce into actionable goals and recommended policies that will be reviewed, discussed and adopted by the Congress by consensus decision. Thoroughly informed by the best knowledge available on the subject at hand and by the realities in southeast Michigan cities, the Congress protocol will be feasible and specific, with plenty of room for local customization.

A protocol on greening our cities might include, among other items:

  • Reducing municipal energy consumption levels by 20%;
  • Changing zoning ordinances to incentivize green buildings; and
  • Increasing the options, accessibility and convenience of non-automobile transportation to reduce rush-hour traffic by 15% in five years.

Each Congress community (25 and counting, as of today!) will then have the flexibility to determine how exactly to accomplish these goals within their own borders. They may conduct internal energy audits and make infrastructure and policy improvements based on those assessments. They could provide staff training with the support of a shared energy expert. They could alternately focus on walkability, creating bicycle lanes, improving the safety of crosswalks or upgrading or adding bus stop shelters. Resources like In the Ring, a policy publication focused on local government innovation in specific areas, could provide recommendations and effective strategies that cities could use to achieve these goals.

Where the rubber hits the road is at the city council level.  The Congress will be asking each participating community to ratify the action plan and set in place the policy and program framework necessary to implement it.  Like many programs our cities adopt right now, city-based plans will be rooted in measureable, achievable goals that are highly relevant to the citizenry of that individual community.  The difference will be that at least 25 communities will be taking action toward a common regional goal—allowing city leaders to benefit from the experience of those in other cities and magnifying the impact of every change.

As we discussed at last night’s visioning session in Detroit, Millennial representatives will be critical in moving their community to action. By tapping the skills and knowledge of their peer networks, they will build awareness in their cities for the Congress protocol. How? In the green cities example, they could work with local artists to organize a pechakucha-style exhibit of LEED certified structures. They could disseminate information about retrofitting homes. They could be as creative as they want in leveraging in the ideas and skills of the network.  The important concept to me, here, is that the governance process for improving our region becomes integrative, relying on and engaging the creative talents of our residents, leaning on the nonprofit community for vision and experience, tapping into the business community to help clarify the metrics and design the system through which change at the local level becomes a regional phenomenon. 

Making our cities leaders in sustainability is just one of many possible focus issues. Now, think of applying this process to other regional issues for new economy investment: making communities more business-friendly, encouraging entrepreneurship, increasing inclusivity and social equity, improving water quality, creating “sense of place”... any of these initiatives could be furthered through the Millennial Mayors Congress.

Stay tuned for what’s next in the Millennial Mayors Congress. It will launch in spring 2009, though we’re convening next month to discuss how we’ll nominate Millennial representatives. This is a major collaboration effort, so we’re looking for individuals and organizations to partner with! Email me at if you want to be a part of it.

Meanwhile, the interaction is already happening at Join the conversation, see what’s happening next, and sometime before the holidays, get a full recap of last night’s discussion.

I’ve been grateful to share our vision with you here at Metromode. Thanks for reading.