“At times it seems that Latin American leaders cannot get enough
On behalf of the Manhattan Institute, I welcome you to the Inter-American Policy Exchange, a new Institute initiative that is working to share ideas for urban renewal with leaders in Latin America. For those of you who are unfamiliar with us, the Manhattan Institute is a think tank, based in New York City, that develops ideas to improve the quality of life in cities.
When the Manhattan Institute first started working on urban issues over ten years ago, the conventional wisdom was that American cities were dying. Urban neighborhoods were crippled by crime, scarred by racism, and bruised by economic change. Public schools, once a gateway to the middle class, had become holding pens for hopeless youth. Many cities seemed ungovernable; mayors were bewildered by “forces beyond their own control.” The only solution was, basically, to seek more money from the federal government. “If the mayors don’t get financial relief from legislators,” warned Pittsburgh Mayor Joseph M. Barr, “God help them.”
The Manhattan Institute rejected this prophecy of doom. The problem, we knew, wasn’t a lack of money. The problem was that policymakers weren’t thinking about cities in the right way.
We decided to challenge the conventional wisdom, and developed a new set of proactive policing ideas based on Senior Fellow George Kelling’s “broken windows” theory. By focusing on “small” issues of public order, we believed, you could have a big impact on crime.
In education, we strove to create quality schools for the poor. We sought to empower parents, students, and teachers, by giving them more educational options. We believed that where there was choice, there was hope.
To spur economic growth, we knew that government must be the ally of business, not its enemy. We recommended that taxes be cut, and regulations repealed. And we said that by creating “business improvement districts,” mayors could revitalize cities that had lost their pulse.
We were fortunate, as we developed these ideas, that a new cadre of urban leadership was emerging. New mayors were willing to challenge conventional wisdom, and to adapt our ideas. As a result, there has been an extraordinary transformation in the life of our cities.
The change has been most dramatic in our own backyard of New York City. The “broken windows” idea was first applied by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton. Consequently, serious crime in New York has dropped sixty-five percent, and continues to decline.
The school choice idea was applied by visionary reformers like Sy Fliegel and, the Director of our Latin American program, Carlos Medina. They created theme-based learning academies in New York’s poorest neighborhoods. New schools, such as Amalia Betanzos’ successful Wildcat Academy, paved the way for the charter school movement, which is now challenging the educational establishment throughout the United States.
Finally, our idea for “business improvement districts” also became reality. Economic growth was encouraged, instead of being choked. Downtown areas revived, and New York City is now enjoying an enormous tourism boom. Opportunities, undreamed of ten years ago, have opened to people of all classes and ethnic backgrounds. There’s a new feeling of confidence.
These new ideas, enacted by new leaders, changed not only the physical landscape. They changed the intellectual landscape as well. Now nobody can say our cities aren’t governable, or that they don’t control their own destinies. In this respect, the Manhattan Institute has truly transformed the conventional wisdom.
Inspired by these changes in our own country, we’re cheered by the prospect of similar changes in Latin America. Democratization and decentralization have created opportunities for a new generation of leaders who can champion these ideas, and lead the way to national renaissance. We are very pleased to play a role in that change.
The mission of the Inter-American Policy Exchange at the Manhattan Institute is to foster increased contact, collaboration, and cooperation among institutions and individuals in the Americas that will result in benefits for both hemispheres. Through this new effort, the Manhattan Institute plans to expand on its already substantial work in Latin America by: 1) creating networks for change through conferences and seminars, 2) building successful models on the ground, and 3) disseminating the ideas through written documents and materials. The Inter-American Policy Exchange will build on the Manhattan Institute’s previous work in the countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile and includes an expansion of our work to Mexico and Venezuela.
The Manhattan Institute has been working in Latin America for over five years. Supported by grants from the Tinker and Hewlett Foundations, the Institute’s work in Latin America initially focused on holding conferences and seminars. Our goal has always been to use these forums to establish relationships between urban innovators on both continents that will lead to practical, beneficial change. The Institute has already seen the fruits of such relationships develop in the following areas:
Probably our greatest success story is that of El Colegio La Puerta, a school for troubled teenagers we helped create in Santiago, Chile that is based on Amalia Betanzos’ successful Wildcat Academy in New York. In 1995, we brought Amalia Betanzos to Santiago, Chile as part of a conference on how to create innovative schools in urban settings and discussed methods of dealing with disruptive students. Shortly after the conference Joaquin Lavin, then the Mayor of Las Condes, Santiago, decided to bring a small delegation of education officials to New York to visit the Wildcat Academy. They were duly impressed and asked us to work with them to establish a new school in Santiago based on the Wildcat model. Representatives from the Manhattan Institute traveled to Santiago to design the facility, train teachers, and develop a governance structure for the school, and in the Spring of 1997 the new school, called El Colegio La Puerta, opened its doors. Today, La Puerta is successfully educating 100 at-risk teenagers whom the Chilean school system had previously given up on. The Inter-American Policy Exchange is currently working with three other Santiago municipalities to create Wildcat-like schools and also plans to begin work in Argentina and Venezuela to help set up similar, community-based schools.
Another tangible outcome of our work in Latin America has been in the area of crime reduction and police reform. On numerous occasions we have brought Institute Senior Fellow George Kelling and former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton to Latin America to discuss the reforms they helped institute in New York City that have resulted in a 65% reduction in serious crimes over the past eight years. The response to their appearances has been tremendous with overflowing crowds expressing their concern over skyrocketing Latin American crime rates. In addition to large conferences attended by hundreds—sometimes thousands—of people, these trips always include working meetings with police chiefs and top government officials in each country. These meetings have now led to formal consulting arrangements with governments in such places as Buenos Aires, Argentina, Caracas, Venezuela and Fortaleza, Brazil to help reform the way policing is done in Latin America.
“Mayors have become Latin America’s new movers and shakers” noted the Wall Street Journal in an article discussing the devolution of power and resources that is taking place throughout Latin America. As in the United States, in Latin America it is mayors who are generating and implementing new ideas on how best to govern in the 21st century. We have been pleased to bring some of the mayors the Institute works with in the United States such as Jersey City’s Mayor Bret Schundler and Indianapolis’ Mayor Stephen Goldsmith to meet and share ideas with their counterparts in Latin America. Particularly active in our Latin American work is Stephen Goldsmith, who also serves as Chairman of the Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation, Director of the Institute for Government Innovation program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, and as a Special Advisor to the White House’s new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The Inter-American Policy Exchange continues to bring Steve Goldsmith and other reformers to Latin America to consult with mayors and advise them on various issues related to municipal innovation.
The urban innovators we work with—people like Amalia Betanzos, Bill Bratton, and Stephen Goldsmith—have helped bring life back to New York and other American cities not by passing new legislation, but by focusing on simple, pragmatic, and achievable reforms. This is exactly what the Manhattan Institute seeks to accomplish with our Inter-American Policy Exchange. First, through our conference series we create interest and find the “connectors” in each country—the individuals or public officials who want change and can spread ideas quickly. Then, through the provision of technical assistance, we work to build successful models on the ground in these countries. Finally, through our communication efforts we work to spread these successful innovations throughout the country.