On Monday, former mayor of Nashville Bill Purcell gave a lecture entitled "American Cities are Back: Now What Do We Do?" in the Howard H. Baker Center. In the lecture, which is to be the first in the Ashe Lecture Series, he discussed his views on the future of American cities and the need for public policy to support them.
Purcell's lecture outlined various important factors in the process of building and maintaining a successful city, including the importance of public safety, quality of life and, above the rest, education.
"It's the one thing that touches everything else. It's the most important thing that we do," Purcell said. "Our cities would not succeed unless our schools succeeded."
He shared a humorous anecdote about his experience with education during his tenure as mayor. As a candidate for mayor, he promised to visit every school in Nashville.
"(When) I was elected, I realized it was a pretty clear promise, easily interpreted and remembered. I said to my staff member, 'Please find out how many schools we have.' He went, he called, he came back, he said 'They want to know how you would count them.' I said, 'I don't know, I'm just a new mayor, but I was thinking, 1, 2, 3 ... and when you get to the last one, then you'd know.' He went back, he called them back, he came back, he said, 'They say, if you count them that way, there are 129.' I said to him, 'We'd better start out.' I said to myself, 'I wonder how else would you count them?'"
Mayor Purcell's basic premise on the topic of public safety relies on common sense.
"If a place is not safe, people will not come, and they certainly will not stay," he said. Specifically, Purcell advised against believing the idea that confined crime is a viable safety measure, citing an instance that occurred in Boston during the 1960s.
"They created what was then called the 'combat zone.' As long as the crime and the vice could be in some way contained within that zone, then all would be safe, or safer at least, in the rest of the city," Purcell said. "The ultimate notion that somehow or another, if the crime occurred over there, it won't affect me over here today, or tomorrow, or sometime soon, was wrong."
Marianela D'Aprile, senior in architecture, attended the lecture and was intrigued by its application to her major.
"I thought it was interesting," said D'Aprile, "especially from an architectural point of view, to start to look at things from more of a policy point of view and start to understand how we can implement strategies that help everyone."
"I've actually heard this speech before," admitted Dimi Venkov, senior in theater who also attended the lecture. "Mayor Purcell is one of the most insightful and smartest people I've ever met, and he's a great student of policy in cities."
The Ashe Lecture Series is named after Victor Ashe, a former mayor of Knoxville and former United States Ambassador to Poland.