Carol Coletta Leaves CEOs For Cities For A New Mission


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

Carol Coletta, the high-energy leader of CEOs for Cities for the past six years, has resigned to run a new initiative with a somewhat different urban aim.

“Carol was wooed away by a consortium of foundations working with the National Endowment for the Arts on creating great urban places, emphasizing the arts,” said Paul Grogan, founder of CEOs for Cities.

“Indefatigable, tireless, and passionate,” Coletta turned CEOs for Cities into “an idea factory for cities,” Grogan said. Her successor as president and chief executive officer of the Chicago-based group is Lee Fisher, a longtime elected official who served as Ohio’s lieutenant governor until last January.

Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation and chairing the CEO group’s board, started CEOs for Cities in 2001 — drawing its membership from big-city mayors, business leaders, university presidents, and foundation executives. One of its purposes was to get people to appreciate the strengths and potential of cities, reversing the situation in the 1990s, when “the national urban conversation was about cities as problems,” Grogan explained.

Coletta infused the small, Chicago-based organization with new vigor. She worked at generating partnerships with local people so that the group would influence national thinking and stir up activity in individual cities.

Coletta told New Urban Network she considers these to be among her principal achievements at CEOs for Cities:

• Establishing “metrics” that help people understand their cities’ progress, as reflected in the urban core’s talent, connections, innovation, distinctiveness, and vitality.

• Starting the Talent Dividend, a program supported by the Lumina Foundation and the Kresge Foundation that pushes cities to increase the number of residents obtaining a college education. The Talent Dividend will award a $1 million prize in September 2014 to the city that exhibits the most significant increase in the number of post-secondary degrees granted per 1,000 population over four years. Registration closes on May 1, 2011, followed by a launch for registered cities on May 10.

• Paying close attention to land use and transportation, “laying the groundwork for new arguments on how people live today and what they value — houses not so far from the core and the number of job opportunities you have there.”

• Explaining the movement of young people into cities and the changing understanding of “quality of place.”

A Startup

Coletta said her new organization “will offer financial support to organizations and communities across the country that want to do creative placemaking involving art and culture.” But, she added, “We hope to get the first investments made by mid-year.”

Declining to identify the foundations involved, she explained that some specifics are yet to be nailed down: “We’re flying the plane while trying to build the plane.” She can be reached through Coletta & Company in Memphis.

Coletta has hosted the syndicated public radio show ‘Smart City” and previously was executive director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design.

Lee Fisher

As the Number 2 official in Ohio, under Gov. Ted Strickland, Fisher served as director of the Ohio Department of Development and chaired both the Economic Growth Council and the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, a $2.3 billion initiative aimed at helping new technology-based products, companies, and industries in the Buckeye State. A Democratic former attorney general and state legislator, Fisher lost a race for the US Senate last year.

“Lee has great networks of people across sectors — mayors, nonprofits, business leaders — and can get the attention of mayors and governors,” said Grogan.

Fisher led the establishment of Ohio’s first-ever Strategic Plan for Economic Development. The plan is best known for an idea known as “Ohio Hubs of Innovation and Opportunity,” designed to foster urban-based collaborations among businesses, colleges, universities, and research institutions.

He served the Cleveland area in the State House of Representatives and the State Senate before becoming attorney general in 1991-95. Fisher was president and CEO of the Center for Families and Children in Cleveland before being lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2011.