A Look Back at Columbia, SC

News: 9, February 2019
Mayor Eric Garcetti, Mayor Steve Benjamin, and AFA CEO Rick Jacobs at the Richland Library in Columbia, SC

The Accelerator For America Advisory Council just held its second meeting in Columbia, South Carolina. Over the course of two days, we convened some of the nation’s leading thinkers to discuss how cities are innovating, were inspired by Columbia’s own achievements, and mapped out the next phase of our ambitious project to expand American opportunity.

We’re particularly grateful to Mayor Steve Benjamin for welcoming us to his beautiful city and guiding us on a personal tour of everything his community has accomplished. Columbia has transformed disused historic buildings that once contained cotton presses and psychiatric patients into museums, housing, and even a world-class baseball stadium that serves double duty as a public park. Highlighting a theme that emerged from the trip, Mayor Benjamin emphasized the importance of the entire community being able to share in the benefits of these and other developments.

That shared progress was on full display at the main branch of the Richland County Library, which hosted our meeting. The building, which is beautiful to begin with, was even more impressive inside, where it maximizes its ability to benefit the community. In addition to traditional library services, the library offers job training, social services, meeting rooms, audio/visual equipment, a makers’ workshop— all to help people move up the socio-economic ladder. A Farmers’ Market is held there weekly, too, to help the community access fresh and healthy foods. It was a first-hand example of efficiency and effectiveness too-often lacking in government.

Throughout our time in Columbia, we learned a tremendous amount from leaders in government, philanthropy, and academia. Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, authors of “The New Localism,” detailed how Copenhagen and Indianapolis leveraged their physical assets and created a purposeful structure to guide their economic development. Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker discussed the future of work in America and Dr. Raj Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, spoke powerfully about opportunity. Public opinion researcher Fred Yang shared insight into advanced polling models and how they might impact our work. And Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation President Steve Leeper walked us through the extraordinary transformation of one of America’s most blighted neighborhoods into a thriving, inclusive city center that gives any in North America a run for its money.

The Accelerator’s Advisory Council heard and voted on proposals to expand our ambitious agenda, and did so with Dr. Shah’s words still echoing in our heads: “The central issue in our country is opportunity—or the lack thereof.”

Despite a culture of futility in Washington, the leaders of American cities are working to create jobs and expand opportunity. In many places, like Cincinnati and Columbia, they are succeeding. As LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “Accelerator for America can show that there is one America. In a toxic, polluted environment, we can add oxygen back.”

The next meeting of the Accelerator For America Advisory Council will be June 25-26 at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters' International Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.