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Transcript

0:04
Well welcome everybody to this week's LeaderGov podcast. Hope everyone's doing well in the middle of the continuing Coronavirus pandemic, and staying safe and doing things in a healthy way. And we're excited about our guest today. Brooks rainwater from the National League of Cities. And before we get into what we want to talk about today with Brooks, just want to remind everybody, you know, our purpose for doing this is really to serve local government is to act as a way to encourage, equip and inspire local government leaders and managers and directors around cities all around the country, cities and counties. And so we hope that you benefit from this. And if you want to reach back out and give us any comments, we'd love to hear from you. So without further ado, want to introduce our guests, Brooks rainwater and Brooks is with us now. He's the senior executive director at the Center for city solutions at the National League of Cities. Brooks, welcome. Great to join you today. Yeah, so happy that you could participate and be a part of this. As I mentioned, we, we, our main focus is equipping and serving and really helping local government leaders be their best at what they do. We focus on things around leadership, primarily. But we'd like to interview and have folks on the podcast that have a specialty area, as you do in city planning. And so look forward to getting into hearing a little bit about like economic development, for instance. And then we have some questions for you around this whole topic of how do we lead a group of people in our office in a way that is, I think, really very respectful, and it has to do with their personalities, you know, we each have a unique personality. And the people that we work with have different personalities. And to the extent that we can modify or approach people or lead and equip people, the way that they see the world is just an awesome topic that we we love to train on it. And having your input today on that is was really super. So tell us a little bit about what you do at National League of Cities. And a little bit about your background, maybe prior to joining them. Sure, absolutely

2:26
set the National League of Cities. I oversee the Center for city solutions, which is NLCS research, best practices, technical assistance and leadership education part of the organization. And so the work that I do when we think about the space that we're in, is we focus on economic development and finance, housing and community development, infrastructure and transportation, climate and land use urban innovation and technology in cities. And we also do a bit of international engagement at times. And so through all of these lenses, we think about our work first at the national level. So how can we influence the ongoing conversation around cities, we do macro level research reports looking at things like city finances, we look at Metro State of the City addresses every year to look at what are the key issues cities are focused on. And then we do a great deal of best practice and action guides that we create for cities really giving them the resources that they need to do their job better. And then finally, through our NLC University, we equip leaders, mayors and council members with the tools that they need and educate them and an ongoing basis so they can do their jobs better. So throughout all of this really what drives me and drives the organization is that we want to help city leaders lead. And so what brought me here was for many, many years, I've been focused on trying to do what I can to help the urban environment thrive. And so early on when I was in an undergrad, actually at the University of North Carolina, I worked with a group called the North Carolina Smart Growth Alliance. And that's where I really started to find the interest in this space. From there, I had a chance to spend some time in Europe for about six weeks and see how cities were built before cars. And that was really illuminating to understand what it was that kind of drives urban planning in a space that is really people centered. So fast forward. From there, I came up to Washington DC to go to grad school, and continued the interest in this space was able to get a job right out of grad school at the American Institute of Architects. So really bringing together my love of politics policy and the built environment. And so spent almost a decade there, doing a number of different jobs. But what again, really drove me was thinking about how we could impact urban environment how we could help make cities better. While I was there, a lot of that was thinking about it through the design lens. But then I saw this wonderful position open at the National League of Cities about seven years ago. which gave me the opportunity to move beyond just the design lens and to think more holistically about how I could make change in cities. So came over and had a great team there already. And over the intervening seven years, we've been able to build that team from seven to 25. People expand the scope of work, we do work with a number of extraordinary partners out there in the philanthropy, philanthropic space, as well as other nonprofits. And I really feel like every day, what myself and my team are trying to do, is just make an impact and really be able to help city leaders, you know, do their job in a better way. And I think right now, with COVID-19, it's such a critical time for cities that we have the leaders on the ground, doing their best every day, and we're there to support them.

5:45
Yeah, you know, thinking about quality of life and cities doing their part to create an environment where people can have community and share their lives with other people, and interact and grow and thrive and have bike trails. And downtown city centers is just you know, the impact is just so wide. It's so significant. And I really appreciate the work that you all do, in really helping equip cities with best practices and leadership in the areas that you do. Before we jump into the kind of details and all that I have a kind of a trick question for you. Or more of a personal question, which is, tell us a little bit about you just quickly tell us like maybe a favorite hobby? Or where did you grow up something like that, so we can get to know Brooks?

6:37
Sure. So I'll tell you both. So I grew up in a small beach town in Florida, near Cape Canaveral, and it was called Indy Atlantic, so a town of about 4000. And growing up near Cape Canaveral, I saw a special it'll go up my entire, you know, growing up from a very young child until I left the area to go to college. And that I think, really informed my worldview in so many ways. I mean, I love the space program, I love the idea of exploration, and I love the beach. And so that really was a great community grew up and my family is still down there and that town, as well as other folks throughout the state of Florida. So try to make it down whenever I can. And then a favorite hobby of mine, I would say taking unplanned walks and cities. I just love it. I mean, I travel a great deal, both domestically and across the world for my job. And one of the things I love to do when I have time is just walk out the hotel door, just start wandering, you know, I've got my phone in my pocket, I can always find my way back. But when you just start walking down streets and seeing what there is, you just get a very different feel of the city, you can find a great little bistro or restaurant and you know, maybe find a coffee shop, run into people that you might not have run into otherwise. And so I've done that for many years. And I plan to continue to do so after COVID When I won't traveling again.

8:04
Yeah, I love that hobby. That's awesome. You know, it's sort of this exploratory this exploration idea that you mentioned with the space shuttle, and being able to go out and just discover what's in different cities and how they're designed and how they're laid out. And all the nooks and crannies. I love that I was at a wedding down in Cocoa Beach, Florida, a year or two ago and really loved visiting down there. When we talked earlier you had mentioned and one of the things that you get involved in, there's a number of things housing, transportation, economic development. And I just thought maybe just for a moment, if you could just share maybe some trends that you're seeing or thoughts that you have around economic development, or housing. You know, again, the cities that we serve are typically a little smaller. Many of them, as you I'm sure are aware are helping create city centers with new city halls that haven't been rebuilt or designed in many years. And so we're beginning to see a lot of really thriving downtown's, a lot of walkability and so forth. And that's propelled a lot of economic development for a lot of our customers. So could you just speak to maybe economic development with cities or housing, either one, just kind of a flyover of some things that you're seeing going on across the United States? Sure.

9:22
I think you hit on one with economic development that has been an ongoing trend for many years now, which is this idea of walkability, in cities of all scales, from the smallest community to the largest thinking about ways that we can have street level retail space for people, co working spaces, you know, different kinds of housing, particularly in smaller communities that might have just had single family housing before bringing in multifamily. You know, I think that that is an ongoing trend that will continue. One of the challenges I would say from an economic development standpoint right now, is what we were seeing In the retail environment writ large, even before COVID was a number of store closures, which creates some challenges as we're seeing kind of the the walkability increase more downtown space rising. But right now, particularly with many stores closed for some time, a lot of restaurants really hurting. What is really needed more than anything else is federal support. And I know that we at National League of Cities are working together with small communities throughout the country, as well as medium and larger cities to make a strong case to the federal government to bring that support. Because we need hundreds of billions of dollars in order to have cities be able to thrive and do what they were doing incredibly well before a few months ago. So I think another trend I would mention kind of going along that same vein is mobility and thinking about the part of the way that you can build those walkable communities is to have options for biking, having something like scooters, which have popped up in cities, small and large, and just really thinking about what and how can people get around beyond just driving. And so that's been a welcomed trend is I've seen some smaller communities that have created pedestrian zones or, you know, closed a certain part of the city to cars, and, you know, create a new parkways and trails and other ways to just make their communities more livable, because ultimately, that's what everybody's looking for. They're looking for a livable place where they can thrive with their family and grow businesses and just have a great time and enjoy the space around them. And so I think we're gonna continue to see that happening. I do want to mention on housing, though, that so many cities and towns throughout the country have been challenged on affordable housing in recent years, you know, that housing costs have just gone higher and higher. And so we've worked quite deliberately, with mayors, particularly mayors and medium and smaller communities, as well as those in larger cities to think about what are some of the strategies that we can do to bring housing costs down? Right now, I would say that one thing we're finding is that some of the higher cost City's housing prices actually are coming down at the moment. But I don't think we're seeing the same thing happen in some of our smaller communities that we're seeing the challenges with housing affordability. So we need to continue to be focused on that. Think about creative new ways of adding housing, you know, that missing middle housing that might be something like an apartment or condo or townhouse that didn't already exist in those communities. And ultimately, that'll allow people of all income levels to live in our communities, which is what we're trying to do.

12:47
Yeah, yeah, I love that the diversity is pretty cool. When it happens. You get a diversity of ideas and thoughts and perspectives and a community. I liked that. I appreciate that personally. On economic development, just kind of a follow up question for you. Before we talk about the whole personality topic. What are some of the characteristics or qualities that you would encourage the city to pay attention to when they're trying to build on economic development? Is it a strong Downtown Development Association? Is it collaboration with different and when and what what are some of the traits? Or what are some of the principles that sort of play into a successful revitalization? Let's say,

13:33
Yeah, I think some of the principles that we've seen over the years that still just hold quite well, are those partnerships and partnerships with anchor institutions, whether they're within the community or regional anchors. So I'm thinking about community colleges, I'm thinking about your municipally owned electrical utility. You know, I'm thinking about the libraries, all of these places where people congregate, where people work, or people are learning, utilizing them in the best possible sense to make sure if you have students at their local university or community college, they're staying in your community and building businesses and helping the community thrive. Basically, what I've done a bit of work on is cities that have been focused on building innovation districts, so thinking about bringing technology companies in or thinking about biotech and other industries. And so I think where they've been successful is to link those groups together. Think about how you can link the university together with the library, how you bring in and maybe supplement and support things like coffee shops and bars to make sure that you have a vibrant place that people want to work, play and live in. All of these pieces come together, but But ultimately, partnerships are what makes cities of all sizes thrive. Yeah, yeah, I

14:53
like that. We've got a community that we serve here in the Atlanta suburban area, and they very wisely leveraged A FILM STUDIO marketplace that they had in their back in their back door, as well as healthcare and reached out to those anchor sponsors, if you will, and really did a good job of surrounding those industries with supporting industries, with also an eye to how do we connect that to our downtown area, our downtown district and housing. So when it when it all comes together, it's pretty cool.

15:27
I think I may be familiar with that city as a Union City

15:31
flows. Union City would be one, actually, Noonan is one, but Fayetteville is what I was thinking of the pinewood studio facilities down there. And you think of all the ancillary companies data animation that are required to support that industry or even healthcare. And when it comes together, it's pretty cool. They really is. I really love what y'all are doing. On this topic of personalities, I wanted to ask you, you know, we, as I mentioned earlier, we train local government leaders. In disc primarily, that's our, what we use, and it helps the leader understand who they are, and the strengths and weaknesses of of their personality, we've got a little bit of both usually, and also how to, then knowing the personality style of the employee, it allows me to interact with them in a way that that sort of meets them where they are. And so this is the topic that we wanted to ask you about, you know, your your your approach around that topic, how has it worked for you in the past? Because tailoring and modifying your approach to really suit who they are? Is we found it to be a very productive way to lead. And so could you just speak to have you? Have you been able to use that sort of approach in your work? And how's it gone for you?

16:56
Absolutely. So I'm going to actually stretch back to the very beginning of my work when I was in graduate school, I took a class within our public administration program where we all had to take Myers Briggs and then the professor placed us into groups where we were all different personality types, and basically said, Alright, go learn how to work with one another and complete this. And so I think that kind of gave me a window into understanding how what you need to do in that type of situation is play to people's strengths and, you know, help uplift the weaknesses, they might have to work together to accomplish something that's so much bigger than what you could accomplish on your own. And so that was a nice foray into this topic. And ever since, as I've built teams, you know, starting out, I had a team of just a few people, and I was at the Americans of architects. And at that point, it was really thinking about who can I bring together in a team situation in order to accomplish what we need to do on these couple of projects. And so at that time, it was just really focusing in on getting the work accomplished. What changed as I moved into my role to National League of Cities is just scale, when all of a sudden you're working with a team where directors are reporting to you, and then they have teams underneath them, you need to think conceptually of how you bring the whole puzzle together, how you're not only making sure that the people that report to you are doing the work that they need to do, but how they're also leading other teammates. And so what I've ultimately been able to do is get to know people's personality as well thinking about, you know, what motivates one person over another, engaging with them and helping them with challenges they have, but also looking at the opportunities that they bring to the table, and thinking about how we can grow those opportunities. So ultimately, you know, when I work with any given member on my team, it's gonna look different than it looks with others. And that's by design. And it actually works incredibly well. And I, I feel as we've done this, what I've tried to focus on is creating a co leadership style, where it's not just myself that's running the center, but I want to think about the directors that work for me as also leading the senator together. And so what we've done is ultimately think about ways where you know, somebody may be over entrepreneurship and economic development, but they understand the full scope of the work we're doing. So if they're put on stage, they can talk about it, they can engage with others, and really think about how they can draw those connections. Because ultimately, when you're doing work on cities and urban policy, you don't want to think about something like housing and isolation. You want to think about housing and how it interrelates with economic development, how it interrelates with transportation, how it interrelates with equity, all of these issues come together in a certain way. And so when I'm leading my team and when I'm working together with those other leaders on my team is thinking about those personalities is somebody an introvert you know, I run a research institute. So by nature, we have quite a few it reached, you know, researchers that are introverts. And so you want to figure out how you give them the space to do the research. But then you also want to help them grow and understand ways that they can speak in public, and do a better job at it. So they can get their thoughts out there into the world, so they can have the conversations with city leaders, helping them do their jobs better. And so that's really what I see my role as is to help other people learn how to kind of take their own leadership journey, and to be there to help support them.

20:33
Well, I love that, you know, it's yeah, let's let's put people let's allow people to thrive in an area that's, that's predominant for them where they can really excel yet. Let's also encourage them to stretch a little bit out of that, and serve in different ways. So question for you, kind of as we wrap up here, Brooks, you know, how, and I really appreciate your intentionality in what you're saying, because it takes a leader to, you know, take that seriously, and really do something with it. And so I appreciate your you're modeling that and for leaders that are listening, you know, and encourage them to be intentional about that. But the sort of last question is, how have you seen that approach of yours pay off? In other words, how do the employees respond, when you encourage them in one area, allow them to stay in one area yet yet, yet? We asked them to grow in other years, how's it been in terms of the the employee,

21:33
I think it's worked out wonderfully. And I'm not going to name him. But I have one employee who's worked with me from the very beginning back at the American Sif architects. And he's actually the director on our team now that almost serves in a deputy director role with me. So I hired him as an intern 15 years ago to do the first research project I've ever worked on. And so over that timeframe, I've been able to see him grow, he was in a few roles where he didn't work directly with me. And then I hired him back when I came to NLC and kind of just poached him from the last place, because I saw that growth potential on him. And I saw his work progress in such a way over the years that I was just totally impressed with what he was able to do. And then when he came over, one of the things that he had an expertise in a certain area as many people in these fields to do. And rather than just saying, I'm going to just be an expert in that area, he was open to growth, and he was open to being able to be coached and thinking about ways to expand his portfolio, and just do work in a wide array of areas, because that's something I learned early on, you know, I have expertise in policy areas, but if you just work in that area, and don't think about all these other pieces, and kind of the wider picture of the organization you're in, you're gonna be stunted from a growth potential perspective. And so working with him, you know, he's got the biggest team on my team, you know, reporting into me, and I don't feel like I could succeed in the same way that I'm able to, with how what he brings to the table, you know, kind of scoping that out to the wider team, I see that with so many of the people on my team that, that what they bring to the table allows us to succeed, you know, we've raised over $15 million dollars to support the work we do, I haven't done that we've done it. And really what it is, is you're able to have these experts in a room together. And you work through ideas, and you ideate and you think about what we have right here could be made better by X, Y, and Z. And somebody else brings those ideas, and then another person builds off of those. And ultimately, we're able to create what it is, which is a valuable resource for cities. And that's what we're trying to really do here. Because at the end of the day, I want mayors and council members throughout this country to know that NLC in the center for city solutions is there to help them do their job better. Because I may be, you know, a little bit biased here. But I think the best ideas start in cities and grow upwards. That's cool.

24:07
Yeah, the word diversity comes to mind. You know, we talked about the city landscape of diverse housing and different types of retail and commercial establishments that make a city really awesome is diversity. And the same thing applies here with people, you know, all the different personality styles coming together, the diversity of differences, being able to leverage those strengths and work on some of the weaknesses, that diversity makes a team just explode and really love. Love that story. Because it's true. And I think is city managers, county managers, engage their teams in that way and leverage those strengths and then again, encourage people to grow. It just makes the team better it makes the work output better and it makes the the way they interface with citizens better and have city council meetings better. So that's awesome. Thank you. Hey, question for you as we close up here. How would I know that every city in the United States is not a member? Many of them are through state organizations. But how could a city you know, learn more about National League of Cities sign up, become a member, that sort of thing?

25:14
Absolutely, I would direct them to go to www and I'll see.org. And also feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] And I'd be happy to connect any city with our membership department, because we'd love to have them as members if they're not already. Yeah, yeah. That's awesome.

25:31
Well, thank you for spending some time today. It's been really cool to get to know you a little bit. And here's some of your passion for local government. And I want to tell you, thank you, you know, for the work that you do, I I know that it's made an impact on a lot of lives and a lot of cities and mayors and councils around the country. And I just want to tell you, thank you and really appreciate you being with us today.

25:55
Great. Thanks for having me.

25:56
You bet. Have a wonderful day.