Gifford Pinchot: If I Were Mayor

The Bainbridge Graduate Institute president's top priorities for a smarter, greener emerald city.
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Gifford Pinchot III

The Bainbridge Graduate Institute president's top priorities for a smarter, greener emerald city.

As mayor of Seattle, I would have three priorities: education, entrepreneurship and the environment.

Education, after a century of only modest change, is going through a revolution that will provide more fun, and a better education at a fraction of the cost. The grim news on education is changing. Blended learning (using online content as an instruction source), gamification (turning a lesson into a game, with incentives and rewards) and flipping the classroom (using online instruction as the primary source of instruction, while teachers serve as tutors) promise radically better and cheaper education.

Seattle is already a mover in this new world. We are at the forefront of an exploding new industry that will create many thousands of new jobs. I would structure our educational system to embrace innovation and change so that students can benefit from the emerging possibilities for faster, better, more fun education.

Seattle is a diverse city and our education system should prepare students to be good citizens. As mayor, I would facilitate multicultural dialogues that help students develop their own viewpoints on the major ethical challenges of our times, including civilizational challenges like growing inequality and climate change.

Entrepreneurship: We need good jobs in Seattle, but our traditional approach has been to pay companies like Boeing not to leave. This often costs over $100,000 per job. We are getting a better deal by encouraging entrepreneurship. StartZone, which fosters entrepreneurship among women, immigrants, minorities and the handicapped in South Seattle, conservatively estimates its cost per job to be less than $10,000.

Following the successful example of using entrepreneurship within government pioneered by the U.S. Forest Service, we can bring down the cost and increase the quality of government services. The Forest Service empowers teams of employees to sell their services to any national forest and to use the receipts to pay their government salaries and expenses. They are 1.8 times as productive as regular Forest Service employees with high customer an employee satisfaction. 

I would use the power of internal entrepreneurship (intrapreneurship) to reduce bureaucracy and empower employees to innovate. By doing so, we can bring down the cost and increase the quality of government services.

Environment: Climate change threatens our water and food supplies, our recreation and all low-lying areas of town. While we cannot singlehandedly stop global warming, Seattle has continuously set a good example in addressing climate change since well before the current administration. We continue to advance the standard and provide a good example for other cities.

Still, there are many smaller environmental issues left to tackle in Seattle. Like the ships that burn dirty bunker fuel in port; fuel that contains more than 10,000 times the benzene allowed in diesel fuel. Benzene causes cancer and neurological disease, which is why it is regulated in motor fuels for use on land. We should set a date, after which we provide shore power to docked ships and turn off the last of those dirty engines.

How do we afford all this progress? We are proving that government can be an effective provider of service when employees are liberated from bureaucracy and the right structure and rules are in place to create swift and effective feedback. The cost savings will follow.


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