Published on Sustainable Cities

Snakes and Dragons in the Year of the Mayor

This page in:

Year of the Snake graphicFirst the good news: Earlier this month, Mayor Iñaki Azkuna of Bilbao, Spain was awarded the prestigious World Mayor Prize for 2012. Mayor Azkuna was in good company. Other finalists included the mayors of: Perth, Australia; Surakarta, Indonesia; El Paso, USA; Changwon City, Korea; Auckland, NZ; Angeles City, Philippines; Zeralda, Algeria; Matamoras, Mexico; and somewhat surprisingly, Mayor Regis Lebeaume of Quebec City, Canada.

The bad news for 2012 and mayors was best seen in Canada. The World Mayor Prize shortlisting of Mayor Lebeaume came amidst a spate of problems for other mayors in the Province of Quebec. At least four mayors resigned over corruption allegations in Quebec, including Montreal’s Mayor Gerald Tremblay.

Canada’s embattled mayors were not limited to Quebec. Mayor Ford of Toronto was found guilty of conflict of interest and now fights to keep his job. Controversy also swirled about the mayors of London and Mississauga, ON; Winnipeg, MB; Halifax, NS; and Tofino, BC.

The woes of mayors were so bad that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation declared 2012 as ‘The Year of the Mayor’. And the hard luck year for mayors wasn’t restricted to Canada. City Halls in Buenos Aires; Fortuna, Spain; Beijing; and some ten US cities, were all occupied with challenges to the mayors.

As 2012 and ‘The Year of the Dragon’ closes and we head into ‘The Year of the Snake’, maybe it’s timely to think about the people who preside at the head of our cities. Becoming a mayor is difficult. Personal contacts, promises, and ‘something for me’ count for more than with other types of political leaders. Leading Council is arguably more challenging than leading a Cabinet. The battles are more local; more visceral; more in the streets.

Mayors often have those characteristics attributed to people born in the year of the dragon: flamboyant, ambitious, confident, and often thinking in big ideas and not always bound to the rules. We saw some of that in 2012 for better and worse.

As 2013 unfolds, maybe mayors can display some of the attributes associated with those born in the year of the snake: aware, intuitive, refined, introspective, protective.

The beauty of a city is it brings everyone together. Left, right, center, gay, straight, men, women, young, old, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and those born in the year of the dragon, snake, ox, horse, rooster, and so on – a good city values them all.

Ancient Chinese wisdom says that a snake in the house is a good omen. For our cities' sake, here’s hoping.


Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000