Children, transportation, and arts and culture are among my priorities.
On the day I first took the oath of office as mayor, in January 2006, I invited children to come into my new office and sit in the mayor’s chair. My inspiration for this came from a time when my grandmother marched her great-grandson into then-Mayor George Latimer’s office to sit in the chair “just to see how it fit.”
The children that tested out the chair back in 2006 are now in middle school, high school or even college. Hopefully, one or more of those children were inspired to grow up to be mayor of their hometown, just as I have been honored to be for these past eight years. Or perhaps they were motivated to serve their community in some other way.
As I prepare to be sworn in for my third term, it is time to reflect not only on what we have accomplished but on the work that lies ahead. There is much to be proud of. The light-rail system’s Green Line is soon to open and has already inspired more than a billion dollars of investment along its corridor. Downtown has a renewed vibrancy brought on by new housing, bars and restaurants, and other businesses. We have focused on strengthening all our neighborhoods. And, most important, the city has taken on a major role in supporting our schools as they fight to close the achievement gap. But much work remains. So, as we head into 2014 and my new term as mayor, here are some goals and resolutions for all of us to consider:
• Focus on children: Providing quality, cradle-to-career learning opportunities for all our children, regardless of race or family income, is the moral challenge of this generation and the economic challenge of this decade. Everything we do in the next four years will be done to ensure that our children live in a community that is better tomorrow than it is today.
• Build a dynamic east metro transit network: When we began work on the Green Line, we knew the project would offer an unprecedented opportunity to showcase smart, community-focused development. Moving forward, we will strive to build multimodal transportation networks that connect neighborhoods with economic development opportunities. There will be a particular focus on young people, many of whom are driving less and deciding that cities with dynamic transportation systems are where they want to live.
• Strengthen St. Paul’s arts and culture scene: In Lowertown, “Music in Mears,” “Concrete and Grass,” “JazzFest” and a number of other music festivals, coupled with the highest concentration of affordable artist housing in America, have helped create one of our country’s most unique and vibrant neighborhoods. I have similar aspirations for the Palace Theatre project’s potential to transform the Wabasha corridor. It’s my hope the Palace project will begin in earnest this year and will complement the completion of the Ordway expansion, which will serve as a new home for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Arts and culture create cool neighborhoods where people want to live and businesses want to invest. Thus, they will continue to be a centerpiece of my economic development strategy.
• Keep it regional: It may have taken us a while to realize, but Minneapolis is no longer St. Paul’s competition (or vice versa). In a 21st-century economy, coordination, a shared vision and a comprehensive regional approach to economic development that transcends municipal boundaries is what will set us apart from Dallas, Denver or even Sao Paulo. I look forward to working with Minneapolis Mayor-Elect Betsy Hodges to continue the work started with her predecessor, R.T. Rybak, to make sure we are maximizing all that the Twin Cities have to offer. When we mobilize our collective assets, we can compete with any region in the world.
• Innovate, collaborate and create: Finding new ways to deliver core services at a better price is something governments haven’t always done well. We must move from rigid, formulaic problem-solving to become more inventive and thoughtful in how we address problems. In the coming months and years, we will study best practices, recruit innovative thinkers and implement new technologies with a singular goal — making the city of St. Paul the most accessible, productive and responsive city in the country.
The next year will be a big one in St. Paul. Residents will be able to buy a bag of groceries at a Lunds store downtown. There will be thousands of daily riders on the new light-rail line. The music of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will fill the new concert hall at the Ordway. Kids will be able to check out books at the new $16 million Arlington Hills community center and library on the East Side. There is much to be proud of, and by following these resolutions, St. Paul will continue to be the most livable city in America.
Chris Coleman is mayor of St. Paul.
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