Thursday, April 22, 2010

Millennials Will Lead an LA Renaissance

Surprisingly, despite the real challenges Los Angeles faces today, the city is out in front of many of its urban competitors in transforming its capacity to provide a safe place to raise and properly educate children, exactly the criteria Millennials use in deciding where to settle down and start a family. It is the kind of challenge that cities around the country must meet if they wish to thrive in the coming decade.

LA’s biggest win in this respect derives from the political courage of former Mayor James Hahn. It was Hahn who appointed Bill Bratton as police chief, who then deployed his COMPSTAT process for continuously reducing crime. During his tenure as the city’s Police Commissioner under both Mayor Hahn and his successor, Antonio Villaraigosa, Bratton achieved the same improvement in LA as he did previously in New York,– in a city with many of the same societal problems but about one-fourth the police resources and a much larger area to patrol. Even as unemployment soared in 2009 during the Great Recession to 12.3 percent in Los Angeles County, the city saw a 17 percent drop in homicides, an 8 percent reduction in property crime and a 10 percent drop in violent crime. This is a first great step in restoring Los Angeles, once the destination for families, back to its historic promise. Today, Angelinos feel safer than they have in decades.

COMPSTAT is above all a vehicle for changing bureaucratic cultures. In his initial dialogue with the brass of the New York Police Department (NYPD) Bratton told his management team that he planned on holding them accountable for the crime reductions he had promised Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Citing the FBI’s national crime reports, they responded by telling Bratton that since crime “is largely a societal problem which is beyond the control of the police,” it was completely unfair to hold them accountable for reducing it. Since the police department was not responsible for the city’s economic vitality, its housing stock, its school system, and certainly not its racial and ethnic tensions, all of which were the root causes of crime, the managers felt it was unreasonable to expect them to actually reduce crime.

When Bratton asked them what they could be held accountable for, the leadership replied that they were prepared to accept responsibility for the “perception of crime in New York City” and that their existing tactics of high profile drug busts, neighborhood sweeps, and the like were effective ways to manage that perception. Bratton adamantly refused to accept this definition of accountability from his team and went about creating a system that placed accountability for crime reduction on the NYPD’s leadership, something that also worked its way down through the ranks of every precinct in the city and into the fabric of the department’s culture.

This fully captures the type of cultural change that every part of any city’s bureaucracy must undergo to become a Millennial city.

During Mayor Hahn’s tenure in Los Angeles, for example, he expanded the COMPSTAT process to all departments in order to hold General Managers accountable for their performance under a program called “CITISTATS.” Some departments, such as Street Services, Sanitation, and Street Lighting, are still using the lessons learned in that experience to continuously improve the cost and quality of their services.

But Los Angeles’s recovery has often been blocked by the City Council which has proven reluctant to cede its traditional right to intervene in department operations and to direct resources to specific projects or programs in their Councilmanic districts regardless of the overall city’s needs. When Villaraigosa ascended to the Mayor’s office he removed the potential irritant to his relationship with the Council by disbanding CITISTATS. That decision has deprived Los Angeles of key insights that could have been used to help deal with its current budget challenges.

It also removed one of the more promising vehicles for Neighborhood Councils to hold city bureaucrats accountable for the services they deliver. The Councils, although far from perfect, remain one of the city’s best hopes for fulfilling Millennials’ desire for direct, locally-oriented involvement.

In contrast, Mayor Villaraigosa’s determination to hold the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) accountable for the performance of its students has begun to pay dividends. Recently the board voted 6-1 to adopt a policy mandating competitive bids eventually be issued for the management of all 250 “demonstrably failing schools” as defined by federal education law. The parent revolution that spurred this new approach would not have been successful without the support of LAUSD board members that the Mayor had helped to elect.

Including parents armed with new information on student performance in the process of reforming LAUSD’s schools promises to produce schools that deliver superior results at lower costs and to create a new, decentralized, parent-controlled, educational decision-making system that will be especially attractive to Millennials and their parents.

Now that the Great Recession has brought single family housing back to affordable levels in many parts of Los Angeles, the building blocks of safer streets and better schools give the metropolitan area an opportunity to establish an environment that can attract large numbers of Millennials just as they enter young adulthood. To take advantage of this opportunity, however, all members of the city’s leadership will need to learn one more Millennial lesson.

Unlike the Baby Boomers running the Los Angeles City Hall today, Millennials aren’t interested in confrontation and debilitating debates focused on making sure one side wins and the other loses. They want what business people term “win-win” solutions that take into account everyone’s needs and produce outcomes that benefit the group or community as a whole. Los Angeles, a city built on the expectations of the last civic GI Generation that came to LA in the 1940s, must realign itself to the tastes of the emerging next civic generation, the Millennials.

Finding such solutions, given the many challenges LA faces, will not be easy. LA continues to be run by Boomer politicians, like those in Congress, who know how to play up divisive issues, but haven’t demonstrated an ability to get results.

But if today’s leaders in cities like Los Angeles aren’t up to the task, it won’t be long before a new generation of leaders who have grown up believing in such an approach will emerge to take their place. As Ryan Munoz, a politically active high school senior put it, “With all the technology at our disposal, our approach is different. We can be less partisan, less confrontational and work better together.”

Rachel Lester, who at 15 years old just won election as the youngest member of any Los Angeles Neighborhood Council by campaigning with her Facebook friends, captured the potential power of the generation. “When a few teenagers do something, a lot of teenagers do something.” When cities develop leaders as great as America’s newest civic generation, the Millennials, those cities will once again take their rightful place in the pantheon of America’s most desired places to live. Los Angeles would be an ideal place to start that movement.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

honoring millennial's service

One year ago today President Obama signed the Kennedy Serve America Act fulfilling one of his most important campaign promises to the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003). The legislation represented the biggest expansion of national service since FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Among other provisions, the bill
• established programs to involve middle and high school students in community service, including its innovative Summer of Service programs;
• expanded AmeriCorps openings over 8 years, allowing for up to 250,000 AmeriCorps volunteers by fiscal year 2017;
• expanded the National Civilian Community Corps’ mission to include projects on energy conservation, environmental stewardship or conservation, infrastructure improvement, urban and rural development, or disaster preparedness needs; and
• established new volunteer Corps to engage Millennial’s enthusiasm for such efforts including the Education Corps to improve schools, the Healthy Futures Corps to serve unmet health needs within communities, the Clean Energy Corps to work on energy projects, the Opportunity Corps to work with the economically disadvantaged, and the Veterans Corps to work with veterans and their families.

In return for participating in these service initiatives, the legislation raised the value of the full-time national service educational award that goes to participants in the Corporation for National Community Service’s programs to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant. This will enable those who volunteer, to return to school after serving their country, just as members of the GI generation did after WWII.

In just one year the spirit of the legislation has inspired countless new initiatives among Millennials, America’s most civic-minded generation. Now Millennial led initiatives, such as and are building social network sites to link their generational cohort's desire to improve the world with opportunities for doing so.
One effort that deserves special mention is the recently concluded “Beyond the Welcome Home” Veteran’s Summit hosted by one of the leading Millennial service organizations,, in Carson, California. More than five dozen veterans of the Iraqi or Afghanistan wars, representing Millennial veterans from all branches of the armed services gathered for three days to identify the major problems facing returning veterans and develop service solutions to address their issues. Joined by civilian Millennials and interested non-profits, the group used the latest in interactive technologies to prioritize the issues they wanted to address.

The four most important issues facing returning veterans that the group identified did not sound very different than those facing veterans returning from earlier wars:

1. Reintegrating veterans into civilian life so they can productively interact with civilians and society again.
2. A lack of knowledge about programs and benefits post-separation for the armed forces that could help veterans with their return to civilian life.
3. Suicide prevention to deal with feelings of lack of self-worth post-deployment and post-military that many veterans experience.
4. Delays in receiving the health care and other benefits that they are entitled to due to poor communication between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

But the solutions that received the most support from the participants had a distinctly Millennial flavor. Many emphasized the group solidarity that Millennials feel so intensely. As one participant put it, “The way to deal with these issues is with veterans taking care of each other, just as we did in Iraq.” Or as another participant said, “We need to do things ourselves, not have DoD do it. We always do better ourselves.”

Millennial’s determination to overhaul the institutions their elders built or, failing that, to start new ones was also evident in the suggestions offered at the conference. “We should use the established Veteran Service Organizations, but if they don’t work, we should create new ones.” One popular way to start new institutions was to create a “Facebook for Vets” site that could link all the sites Millennial vets are using into a single place to get all the information they need.

Nor were the participants daunted by the challenge of taking on two of the federal government’s biggest bureaucracies—DoD and the VA—through their generation’s penchant for political engagement. Two comments capture the larger sentiment of the group. “We need to become active and aware of political issues that involve veterans and encourage our fellow Millennials to vote for legislators who support veterans’ issues.” “By sharing information and becoming advocates we can get DoD and VA to respond.”

Of the approximately 2 million service men and women who have served our country so far in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 60%, almost 1.26 million, are members of the Millennial Generation, so these sentiments are certain to find their way into this year’s political campaigns. Unlike the shunned and often reviled veterans of the Vietnam War, Millennials are returning to a society that respects their service. According to NDN’s latest survey on America’s 21st Century electorate, 64% of Millennials, as well as 78% of older generations, have a positive view of the nation’s military. But more than one in five veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 can’t find work when they return home.

The country’s appreciation needs to be translated into programs for veterans that are worthy of the honor this generation has brought to our country. Three years ago, established its Democracy 2.0 declaration
which states that it is time “to act. . . to upgrade America’s unfinished project of democracy.” The organization has taken an important step along that path by hosting the summit and providing $25,000 to support the best ideas that flowed from the conference. But as the nation observes National Volunteer Week, each of us should take a moment to commit to doing whatever is needed to honor the most important volunteers this country has—the members of the United States Armed Forces.

One way to do so would be to connect to any of the groups that earned support from for the work they were doing with Millennial veterans at the Summit, or to some of the other groups dedicated to helping America’s next great generation contribute as much in their civilian life as they have already done in the military. This list is a great place to start honoring our Millennial veteran’s service:

Athena Bridge

The Mission Continues

Veteran’s Green Jobs

Team Rubicon


Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Democrats on Roll since Health Care Reform vote

This year, the GOP has been affixing itself ever more closely to the Tea Party movement, even as that movement’s public appeal weakens. Meanwhile, the position of the Democratic Party has actually strengthened since the passage of health care reform in late March. Democrats have a lead in the generic Congressional ballot for the first time in 2010; the “enthusiasm gap” between Democratic and Republican voters is narrowing; and Obama leads all potential 2012 Republican opponents by about the margin of his 2008 victory.
A mid-April CNN Opinion Research poll ) indicated that favorable evaluations of President Barack Obama continue to hold steady at 57 percent and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have risen in popularity by eight and six percentage points respectively from what they had been about two months previously. By contrast, favorable ratings of Sarah Palin, the Republican perhaps most strongly identified with the Tea Party movement, dropped from 46 percent in December 2009 and 43 percent in January 2010 to 39 percent in April. Her unfavorable evaluations rose by nine points (from 46% to 55%) over the same period. In addition, while positive opinions of the Tea Party movement increased by five points (from 33% to 38%) since January, negative attitudes rose by 10 points (from 26% to 36%).
Also, according to the CNN survey, President Obama holds a clear lead among registered voters over four potential Republican challengers to his 2012 reelection bid—Mitt Romney (53% vs. 45%); Mike Huckabee (54% vs. 45%); Sarah Palin (55% vs. 42%); and, Newt Gingrich (55% vs. 43%). His margin against each Republican actually slightly exceeds his 2008 popular vote lead over John McCain (53% vs. 46%), indicating that in spite of all the turmoil and rancor of the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama retains as strong a position with the electorate as when he won the White House.
But, the president’s reelection campaign is still more than two years away. Of more immediate relevance, the Democratic Party leads among registered voters on the 2010 CNN/Opinion Research generic congressional ballot for the first time this year.

April 9-1150%46%4%1%
March 25-2845%49%4%2%
March 19-2145%48%5%2%
February 12-1545%47%6%2%
January 8-1045%48%6%1%

Even more important, after languishing for months,
the political enthusiasm and intensity of Democratic identifiers and the groups that together comprise the emerging 21st Century Democratic coalition rose sharply in the wake of the enactment of health care and student loan reform legislation.

Likely to vote
March 8-11
Likely to vote
April 5-8
Democratic identifiers40%61%21%
18-29 year olds34%46%12%
Residents of Northeast41%60%19%
Residents of West42%62%20%

In early March, Republican identifiers were far more likely to vote than Democrats (51% vs. 40%). One month later, what had been an 11-percentage point “enthusiasm gap” separating Republican from Democratic identifiers had narrowed to four points (63% vs. 59%). In the most recent Daily Kos poll it widened again to eight points (69% vs. 61%). Still, the increased intensity of Democratic voters coupled with the Democratic Party’s party identification advantage over the Republicans (47% vs. 34% in the NDN survey) puts the Democrats in better position to compete effectively this November than they were just a month ago.
The lesson from this is clear. Like any majority political party, the Democratic Party will be rewarded by those who identify with and vote for it when it governs like the majority party that it is. The next step for congressional Democrats is to adopt financial regulatory reform over the persistent opposition of the GOP leadership and its Tea Party base. By so doing, the Democrats will prove that, “If you use it, you won’t lose it.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Millennial Metropolis

Back in the 1950s and 60s when Baby Boomers were young, places like Los Angeles led the nation’s explosive growth in suburban living that has defined the American Dream ever since. As Kevin Roderick observed, the San Fernando Valley became, by extension, “America’s suburb” – a model which would be repeated in virtually every community across the country.

These suburbs – perfectly suited to the sun-washed car culture of Southern California – have remained the ideal for most Americans. And they remain so for the children of Boomer and Generation X parents, Millennials,(born 1982-2003), who express the same strong interest in raising their families in suburban settings.

According to the most recent generational survey research, done for Washington-based think tank, NDN, by Frank N. Magid Associates, 43 percent of Millennials describe suburbs as their “ideal place to live,” compared to just 31 percent of older generations. In the same survey, a majority of older generations (56%) expressed a preference for either small town or rural living. This may reflect the roots of many older Americans, who are more likely to have grown up outside of a major metropolis, or it may indicate a desire of older people for a presumably simpler lifestyle.

By contrast, these locations were cited by only 34 percent of Millennials as their
preferred place to live. A majority (54%) of Millennials live in suburban America and most of those who do express a preference for raising their own families in similar settings. Even though big cities are often thought of as the place where young people prefer to live and work, only 17 percent of Millennials say they want to live in one, less than a third of those expressing a preference for suburban living. Nor are they particularly anxious to spend their lives as renters in dense, urban locations. A full 64 percent of Millennials surveyed, said it was “very important” to have an opportunity to own their own home. Twenty percent of adult Millennials named owning a home as one of their most important priorities in life, right behind being a good parent and having a successful marriage.

This suggests that some of the greatest opportunities in housing will be in those metropolitan areas that can provide the same amenities of suburban life that Los Angeles did sixty years ago. In this Millennials are just like their parents who moved to the suburbs in order to buy their own home, with a front and back yard, however small, in a safe neighborhood with good schools.

Given the fact that nearly four in five Millennials express a desire to have children, cities that wish to attract Millennials for the long-term will have to offer these same benefits. These Millennial metropolises also will need to be built with the active participation of their citizens, using the most modern communication technologies, to create a community that reflects this generation’s community-oriented values and beliefs. Metropolises that wish to attract Millennials, will also need to include them in their governing institutions. Such cities will have a leg up on those run by closed, good old boy networks that don’t reflect the tolerance and transparency Millennials believe in.

The passion of Millennials for social networking and smart phones reflects their need to stay in touch with their wide circle of friends every moment of the day and night. In fact, 83 percent of this generation say that they go to sleep with their cell phone. This group-oriented behavior is reflected in the efforts of Millennials to find win-win solutions to any problem and their strong desire to strengthen civic institutions. Seventy percent of college age Millennials have performed some sort of community service and virtually every member of the generation (94%) considers volunteer service as an effective way to deal with challenges in their local community.

The other key characteristic of the Millenial metropolis will be how it carves out a safe place for children. The Boomer parents of Millennials took intense interest in every aspect of their children’s lives, earning them the sobriquet “helicopter parents” because of their constant hovering. Now the Generation X “stealth fighter parents” of younger Millennials are turning the Boomer desire to hover and talk into a push for action and better bottom line results.

This can already be seen in cities like Los Angeles where a parent revolution is successfully challenging the entrenched interests in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

The idea began with a website,, that offered a bargain to parents willing to participate in a grass roots effort to improve individual schools. The organizers, led by Ben Austin, a long time advocate on behalf of Los Angeles’s kids, promised that if half of the parents in a school attendance district signed an online petition indicating their willingness to participate in improving their local school, they would “give you a great school for your child to attend.”

This process has worked both in working class areas like East Los Angeles’ Garfield High School and the Mark Twain Middle School in affluent West LA. With the backing of the parents, Austin went to the Los Angeles school district and demanded that they either put the management of the school “out to bid,” or his organization would be forced to respond to the parent’s demands by starting a charter school in competition with the LAUSD school. Since each child has seven thousand dollars of potential state funding in their back pack, a newly enlightened LAUSD agreed to these demands. When 3000 parents showed up to demonstrate their support of the concept, the school district voted 6-1 to adopt a policy mandating competitive bids eventually be issued for the management of all 250 “demonstrably failing schools” as defined by federal education law.

The key to building the Millenial metropolis will be to accommodate such changes. Places like Dallas, Houston, Austin, or Raleigh-Durham that have survived the Great Recession reasonably well now are focusing on producing open, accessible communities with good schools and safe streets. These communities appear best positioned to take advantage of the next bloom of urban growth. Of course the ability to provide America’s next great generation with good jobs and a growing economy will also be required if any metropolis wants to attract Millennials. But with the right leadership and a sustained effort to focus on the basics of family living, almost any city has the opportunity to become a leader in the rebirth of America’s Millennial Era metropolises.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shop and Make the World a Better Place

Having totally disrupted American politics with the election of President Barack Obama, America’s youngest and largest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), are about to overturn the rules of retailing with equally dramatic implications for the country’s economy. Underpinning this shift is the deployment of broadband speed mobile services that take full advantage of the capabilities of America’s favorite new toy-- smart phones. But just as Millennials transformed the Internet from a libertarian tool for individual action to one that provides a new capability for connecting everyone through social networks, these new broadband services will be put to work in ways that reflect the values and beliefs of Millennials, especially their fondness for doing good while doing well.

Even though the FCC’s recent announcement of a national broadband plan was followed quickly by a court decision that might undermine the Commission's ability to implement it, the goals in the plan for the deployment of a faster broadband infrastructure for the country are likely to become the focus of any policies the country adopts either by administrative fiat or Congressional action. The plan’s first goal is to provide at least 100 million U.S. homes with affordable access to broadband download speeds of 100 megabits per second by 2020. But the plan’s second goal is even more ambitious, suggesting that the United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the “fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.” This will be accomplished by freeing up vast swaths of spectrum currently owned by older media that these new broad band speed mobile networks will need to operate. Here, the Commission clearly has the authority to regulate since spectrum allocation was the original reason for its creation in the 1930s.

As NDN fellow Rob Shapiro recently pointed out,the economic benefits of this kind of infrastructure deployment can lead to the direct creation of 500,000 new jobs over the next five years. But many times more jobs will be created by the way “that a basic infrastructure such as broadband stimulates additional economic activity, much as highways and railroads once did. Building out these networks creates a platform for the development of thousands of new applications,” and that’s where Millennials’ behavior and use of technology come into play.

A recent Nielsen study of generational shopping habits found that Millennials make the fewest trips of any generation to any and all retail settings-- from big box stores to the local drugstore-- but really enjoy in-person shopping on those relatively fewer occasions when they engage in it. “On a typical mission, they know how to find what they need and are less likely to shop the entire store,” the report concluded, reflecting the generation’s penchant for going online to research their purchases before they take offline action. But once they have a smart phone in their hands, and about one out of every three Millennials already owns one, this distinction between virtual and physical buying behaviors will blur almost to the point of extinction.

About half of all mobile phones in the US today are smart phones. The iPhone alone now has eight times the number of users as AOL and is enjoying the fastest adoption rate of any Internet service, eclipsing the record set by the Netscape browser in the mid-90s by a factor of five. Almost every smart phone comes with a camera and a GPS or location identification application that, unlike PC Internet access, enables the network to know where you are at any moment in time. This combination of capabilities enables new “location-based services” or applications that takes the information about where you are and provides you with information you might find helpful based on your location. So, for instance, you will soon be able to use your phone’s camera to take a snapshot of a more square shaped looking bar code on a particular piece of merchandise and send that information to a service provider who will tell you where you could find that item for less money at a store nearby or perhaps even where to find it in the color or size you need.That rather mundane use of the technology may make the retailing industry even more efficient than it is today, but that’s not what will soon transform this key engine of economic growth.

The real dramatic changes will occur when retailers link the Millennial Generation’s constant use of its mobile phones with its equally large penchant for helping causes. Already, Millennial entrepreneurs are building social network sites to link their generational cohort’s desire to improve the world with opportunities for doing so. Chris Golden and Nick Triano’s website recently won $25,000 in the PepsiRefresh challenge to help them expand their beta site that connects service volunteers with each other and with local opportunities to help. Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook, and the creator of, just announced plans for his site that will do similar things for those wanting to make a more global impact. With Facebook and YouTube becoming the preferred destinations of mobile users accessing the Net, it is only a matter of time before sites like these will attract Millennials on their cell phones in record numbers as well. This same type of connection between where you shop and what cause you want to support has just become a newly popular app on smart phones.

The capability is being accessed today by each of the three-hundred thousand iPhone users who downloaded the “CauseWorld” application in its first two months of availability. Users earn “Karma points” by visiting retailers who have registered with the service in order to get Millennials to “check in” to their store. By letting the iPhone’s GPS service know you are physically in the store, each visit generates more points that can ultimately be traded in for a contribution to one of seventeen selected charities, paid for by the service’s corporate sponsors. “Scanning for Karma” becomes a great way to multi-task for Millennials with more time than money. And for retailers it moves the decision on where someone shops away from price comparison models of services such as “ShopSavvy
toward a more powerful generational motivation to shop at companies that support causes Millennials believe in. The application’s popularity is just the latest demonstration that, in a Millennial era, the brand is political.

The technological brilliance of the Obama presidential campaign was the way it focused its “Hope Factory” organizational efforts on moving online interest to offline action.Now that same strategy will be deployed to change shopping to an activity that helps make the world a better place. Those retailers and carriers that take advantage of the opportunity broadband internet mobile computing provides will soon be rewarded with victory in their sales campaigns by a generation committed to creating change it can believe in.