Public-Private Partnerships: Improving Urban Life

By Perry Davis | Go to book overview

Why Partnerships? Why Now?

PERRY DAVIS

Public-private partnerships are not a new phenomenon. One hundred and fifty years ago Alexis de Tocqueville, as noted elsewhere in this volume, cited extragovernmental associations as America's legacy to democracy. Donald Haider points out in his essay on partnerships in Chicago that the very look of that city reflects a plan designed by a public-private partnership in 1909. The Commercial Club of Chicago, comprising the city's most prominent business leaders, asked Daniel Burnham to draft the Chicago Plan, which guided the city's economic and physical growth for decades thereafter. In the 1940s the Allegheny Conference for Community Development was formed in Pittsburgh. It continues to function today as one of the most vibrant examples of public-private partnerships dedicated to improved education and economic development in this country. In St. Louis, Southwestern Bell has been an active supporter of school-business partnerships for more than twenty years. Then why the current flurry of interest in public-private partnerships?

Before that question is addressed, it will be useful to describe some of the elements that are inherent in partnerships and to consider the nature of the heightened interest in these institutions.

First, public-private partnerships often begin as partnerships between businesses or business leaders. Their collaboration precedes the more formal stage of partnership when the private, nonprofit, and public sectors actively engage in shared projects and programs designed to marshal maximum resources and to share risks for the benefit of the community. At the start, business leaders come together in the belief that their support of some civic need requires extraordinary action; that it is no longer sufficient for businesses to display good citizenship by merely paying taxes, employing local residents, and sometimes engaging in philanthropic behavior. An urban crisis, the near bankruptcy of New York City, the Chicago riots, the deterioration of waterfront Baltimore: these situations mobilized visionary business leaders like David Rockefeller and James Rouse to lead a private-sector collaborative for the common good of their city.

Of course, such efforts yield successes insofar as they engage the supportive

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