Moving America Forward

How Can a Mayor Enact Change Once He’s Left Office?

October 28, 2014
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How Can a Mayor Enact Change Once He’s Left Office?
After leading Minneapolis for 12 years, Mayor R.T. Rybak stepped aside and took up new challenges. Scott Olson/Getty Images
This former politician is teaching the next generation of leaders.

One of the most common complaints about politicians is their lack of connectivity with the constituents that they serve. But you certainly can’t say that about R.T. Ryback, the former mayor of Minneapolis.

That’s because he’s teaching a new course at the University of Michigan called “Mayor 101.” Within the classroom walls, students are learning from Rybeck about all of the different components that encompass being a mayor — including how to be a public leader.

Elected mayor back in 2002 R.T. Rybeck served three terms, finishing his last term in January 2014. During his tenure, he handled budget crises, worked to increase interfaith dialogue following Sept. 11 and in 2009, oversaw the opening of a new college football stadium. While his background is in architecture and journalism (having degrees and work experience in both fields), he now using his knowledge and time as mayor to teach students about urban physical development and city policy.

And although he only has political experience in Minneapolis, he encourages all his students to look at the cities around them like Rochester, Duluth and St. Paul. For Rybeck, you can learn just as much, if not more, from another city as you can from your own.

“You most often get the best ideas by getting lost in cities,” Rybeck tells City Lab. “I’ve always studied other cities and I really think that’s the best way to understand these things.”

The class has no midterms or finals, but throughout the course, students are encouraged to go out into the city and practice what they are taught. At the end of the course, students will present their own urban-development proposal.

“I’d like all the energy they would have spent cramming on a final to be spent trying to develop something that can have an impact on a current place being designed,” Rybeck explains to City Lab. “I very much want these students to use the work they’re doing to go out into the workplace. Because we need their perspective now. Not just when they graduate.”

If that change can start now, just imagine what can happen when these students reach public office.

MORE: Why Are America’s Innovations in Education Spreading Worldwide But Not Here?

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