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Sharing Discussion, Discoveries at Citistates Convergence

Maria Saporta / Jul 26 2013

For Release Friday, July 26, 2013
Originally Posted at

Maria SaportaThe offer was too good to refuse. Come spend a couple of days by a beautiful lake in cool New Hampshire during the hottest days of summer to talk about the future of cities and regions in North America and the world, with some of the most engaged experts in the country.

The offer came from Neal Peirce, a respected veteran journalist who’s been writing about metro areas for decades.

Every couple of years, Peirce and a core group of “Citistates associates” have been getting together for a Citistates Convergence – a casual yet in-depth exchange of ideas and observations on what is happening in urbanism and regionalism.

A couple dozen of us gathered in mid-July in an idyllic setting – just as Peirce had promised, with the exception of temperature, as New England sweltered in a heat wave, significantly warmer than Atlanta.

Peirce had invited a variety of his associates with the newsletter – a resource of columns about political and economic issues affecting regions and urban trends.

Monday morning, Peirce opened the conversation by stating that metro areas are the economic engines for nations and states, yet there often are several barriers to regionalism. Immediately he was challenged by Alex Marshall, a journalist and author of The Surprising Design of Market Economies.

Neal Peirce, (right) with journalist and author Alex Marshall. Source: Maria Saporta of

Marshall told Peirce he does “not believe that cities and metro areas are where the action is.” Instead, he said, it is the nation states such as Korea and China that are “growing very, very quickly.” And they are doing it as nations. “You can argue that it’s national policies that are having the major impact, and that the nation-state is still extremely important,” Marshall said.

So he reframed Peirce’s question: “How do metropolitan areas function within the notion of a nation-state?”

And so it went – the Citistates Convergence was off and running.

As I listened to more back-and-forth, I felt lucky to have been on the invite list.

Among the attendees were Don Borut, who retired six months ago as director of the National League of Cities; Tom Downs, former president of AMTRAK who is now chairs the board of Metro, Washington’s public transit system; Dick Fleming, recently retired president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce; Bill Hudnut, former four-term mayor of Indianapolis; Dave Cieslewicz, former mayor of Madison, Wis.; Carol Kachadoorian, senior planner with Toole Design Group; and Bill Dodge, former executive director of the National Association of Regional Councils.

A few core team members are Farley Peters, who described herself as the Citistates “den mother,” Citistates President Curtis Johnson; and Mary Newsom, who edits, a former newspaper journalist now at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.

Inevitably the conversation turned to differences among generations and how that might affect metro regions in the future. Sam “Joe Urban” Newberg, the youngest Citistates associate attending, introduced me to the concept of tactical urbanism.

David Crockett of Chattanooga, former director of Chattanooga Office of Sustainability, with Farley Peters, manager of Citistates Group. Source: Maria Saporta of

As the older attendees worried that Millennials are not entering the normal political channels to effect change, Newberg talked about ways young people are temporarily transforming their environments – with the ultimate hope of creating lasting change.

He pointed me to the website. The evidence is overwhelming: Change is in the air; it’s just taking place in different ways and in different venues than we are used to. But what else should we expect in an era in which we’re connected with mobile communications and accustomed to instant gratification? Inevitably that will change how we invest our civic time and energy.

I found a kindred spirit in Jay Walljasper, who described himself as having misspent his youth as a journalist. Walljasper has just produced an e-book, How to Design Our World for Happiness: A Commons Guide to Placemaking, Public Space and Enjoying a Convivial Life. He has been exploring “On the Commons” – the part of our surroundings that belongs to all of us – or, as Walljasper said, “refers to what we share together, including public places, as well as the rich web of human relationships that makes this sharing possible.”

In short, that’s what Citistates Convergence meant to me – being able to share ideas with people who care about the future of our cities and regions.
Thanks to Neal Peirce and his team for living up to the mission of

Our mission… to reflect a new narrative for 21st century cities and regions. Leaving behind the 20th-century pattern of cheap energy, endless automobility, burgeoning suburbs, threatened inner cities. To a challenge-packed 21st century; energy prices headed north, perilous carbon emissions, deepening have-have not divisions, excruciating social problems and deep challenges in education. But a time of exciting promise, too: for example, rejuvenated downtowns, revival of classic walkable neighborhood form, new citistate-wide consciousness, more protected lands, upgrading rather than bulldozing developing world slums.’s quest: to chronicle struggles, illuminate pathways to more vibrant, equitable, sustainable choices for grassroots America and urban regions worldwide.

Maria Saporta is a long-time business and civic journalist in Atlanta. She is founder and editor of and a weekly contributor to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit and send an electronic copy of usage to


  1. Darrell Marcy
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Very nicely written blog Maria, I loved your tone. Great ideas for reading material. Thanks.

  2. Lenneal Henderson
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Well done Neal, Maria and all I met and heard at the Convergence. My one day there was well worth it given the wisdom and thoughtfulness of the comments and the immense qualities of soul and mind exhibited around issues of our metropolitan present and future. We almost perfectly balanced divergence and “convergence.” That Newfound Lake is in many ways the antithesis of the most reprehensible urban experience only made it all the more worthwhile to work on urban issues! The bankruptcy of Detroit is less appalling than the bankruptcy of the Congress on any issues that imply “urban.” That they have all but subtracted this word from our discourse is cause enough for a lingual policy Occupy movement (smile). May our group go forward and, as we do, may we cultivate a generation or two behind us! LJH