Jeff Hornstein sits on the steps of his great aunt and uncle’s synagogue — now a Baptist church — in Strawberry Mansion, one of the 100 neighborhoods he loves in Philadelphia. “It’s both sad and maddening the way the economy has just left all these folks out,” says Hornstein as he looks around.

Now as the executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, he says,

“We believe that high quality analysis combined with collaborative leadership is really the crucial driver of prosperity in this region.”

And so last week, the Economy League took 150 diverse leaders from Philadelphia to Seattle to build those relationships, arm the leaders with policy information and data, and equip them to tackle the public problems facing the city and region they all love.

The Economy League’s strategy could become a national model for urban — and rural — areas.

Thinking about the future

David Boardman, the former editor of the Seattle Times and now the Dean of the School of Journalism at Temple University, along with Skip Berger, a columnist for Crosscut, and Michele Matassa Flores, the managing editor of the Seattle Times, interviewed Jenny Durkan, the mayor of Seattle.

Understanding the issues

The leadership exchange exposes leaders to a deep dive on issues through panels as well as regional explorations.

The panels included building support for transportation investments, driving inclusive growth and shared prosperity, criminal justice reform, and philanthropy.

Shefali Ranganathan, the deputy mayor of Seattle who oversees transit, says their motto is “If you serve them, they will ride.” They have riders across the income spectrum, she says, because they provide high-quality service.

During a session on transportation, the leaders learned how a coalition of public and private actors in Seattle made the case for a $54 billion 10-year levy to fund a massive upgrading of transit infrastructure, winning 56 percent of the vote.

The regional explorations on Tuesday included the economic and social impacts of the global health sector, food waste innovations, and arts and community preservation.

A group of us had the privilege of meeting Rahul Gupta with the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and walking around Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.

Gupta says when we say we are a nation of immigrants, “we disappear huge portions of the American people.” He says marginalization is the reason our cities look the way they do — segregated.

Our tour with Gupta concluded with a panel on equity and the forces of displacement, including Mari Horita, the president and CEO of ArtsFund; James Miles, the executive director of Arts Corps; Eve Sanford, the education and public programs director of the Northwest African American Museum; and Thaddeus Squire, the chief commons officer for CultureWorks Commons Management.

Making a scene for our future

This leadership exchange prepares leaders to tackle our toughest public problems together both now and in the future. The question is don’t other towns and cities, regions and states need similar change incubation strategies?

Michael Mittleman, the president of Salus University, says,

“I came away from GPLEX with a whole new network of friends, greater insights and a better understanding and appreciation of our own Philadelphia issues and challenges, as well as a clearer picture of the Seattle ecosystem.

From the very first presentations on transportation, to the discussions surrounding affordable housing, homelessness, the “Amazon Effect,” philanthropy, civic engagement with business, business to business relationships, the legal systems and finally, coordination within sectors of health care, it struck me that the cultures of our two cities are significantly different. Our east coast culture tends to be more insular, intolerant, and generally not as motivated to be inclusive. What I observed in Seattle, was more of a spirit of inclusiveness and a willingness to communicate and compromise.

So, I’ve walked away energized and determined to see how I can be part of the solutions that may enable us to apply some of the lessons observed into lessons learned and acted upon.”

Arun Prabhakaran is the chief of staff for Philadelphia’s Office of the District Attorney. Ahead of our trip to Seattle, he shared a story about a friend who loved the West Philly “scene.” When Prabhakaran asked his friend to define scene, he said, “It is when people create a space or place that makes new ideas permissible.” Prabhakaren says he has been intentionally joining and creating scenes ever since.

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Leadership exchanges create spaces and places that make new relationships, new ideas possible. Prabhakaran says the exposure to new perspectives allows leaders to examine current practices and create momentum for change.

He urges leaders to ask themselves:

Have we tested our assumptions about the nature of our problems?

Are we creating learning environments that are both safe and challenging in our organizations?

Are we building relationships that breed trust and collaboration?

Are we examining problems from a range of diverse and inclusive perspectives as a team?

Are we using empirical data and creativity to cultivate and drive innovation?

Seattle has incredible wealth and a political system and culture conducive to collaborating to address big challenges, says Hornstein. The “Seattle process” involves inclusive, consensus-based decision-making, leading to maximum buy-in for tough policy choices like the citywide $15 an hour minimum wage or the transit levy.

Hornstein writes, “Seattle’s problem-solving culture will be an asset going forward since the city still faces some vexing issues. Gentrification is a problem with median housing prices hovering close to $700,000 and a dearth of affordable housing for both low-income and working-class Seattleites. And Seattle’s homelessness problems are well-known and particularly acute. The one-day count in 2017 was over 8,500 in the City of Seattle, a per capita rate 3.5 times greater than in Philadelphia.”

All of our communities in all of our regions and states need leaders equipped to tackle public problems, to build economic prosperity, to make a scene. Hornstein and the Economy League are leading the way.

Thank you, Seattle, for teaching us how you work, move, live, and thrive.