Curtis W. Johnson

Curtis Johnson Curtis Johnson’s career plays on a split-screen – half devoted to being a leader in the public sector and the other half as analyst and commentator.  His public service culminated with four years in the mid-1990s as chairman of the Metropolitan Council, which coordinates growth management and operates the transit and wastewater systems for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region of Minnesota.Following ten years as a  college president in the 1970s, Johnson for eleven years led the Citizens League, a well known public affairs research organization in the Twin Cities; and then three years as policy adviser to then-Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, including a period as chief of staff.

He is the co-author of Disrupting Class, written with Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School, published in the spring of 2008, explaining why even the best managed schools will be disrupted by changing learning models and how both school districts and the chartered sector can respond.  He works with a national network known as Education | Evolving to assist policymakers, as well as educators, in rethinking strategies for schooling the next generation of youth.

With columnist Neal Peirce, Johnson has authored “Citistates Reports” published in leading newspapers in 26 American regions since 1987.  Covering locally significant challenges ranging from regional collaboration to land use and growth practices, these reports have consistently shown an agenda-setting impact.  He co-authored with Peirce the 1993 book Citistates: How Urban America Can Prosper in a Competitive World, and the 1997 book Boundary Crossers: Community Leadership for a Global Age, showcasing the top ten characteristics of places where citizens had made a measurable impact on public policy.

Peirce and Johnson most recently authored Century of the City, to be released in the fall of 2008, a book based on the major themes of a 2007 Global Urban Summit sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation.

Speech Topics

Disrupting Class As a co-author of the book by this name (McGraw Hill 2008), Johnson presents a compelling explanation for the persistent gap between what we expect from schools and what we get. This book makes a surprisingly optimistic case for change, laying out strategy forged from two decades of research across multiple industries – showing how learning can be customized, and the status of educators improved, and more young people succeed, all within an environment of increasingly constrained resources.

Paradigm Lost Americans hear about the rise of Asian nations, about books coming out with titles such as The Post American Century, see their assumptions about the price of materials and fuel and food overturned by dramatic cost increases. What’s happening? Americans are adjusting to the end of an era of effortless superiority. It’s looking like the nation is challenged on many fronts at once – from the economy to energy, from basic infrastructure to better education – to shift from the low efficient corporate practices and personal lifestyles of the past half century to patterns that make more efficient use of resources and leave a lighter imprint on the environment.  Is this a blip or something permanent?  What changes are already under way?

Take Me to Your LeaderEven with wide agreement that regions are the new “city,” the active platforms for economic competition and building better communities, a noisy debate endures over why and how some regions surge ahead while others seem stuck on the sidelines. Pundits from Richard Florida to Joel Kotkin to Bill Bishop weigh in with competing explanations. Pick any formula for success and the key still turns out to be leadership – people stepping up to the challenge, assuming risks, building coalitions around strategies. In regions that are making progress, where does this kind of leadership come from?

Century of the City At the request of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Citistates editorial team ( covered an historic Global Urban Summit, covering acute issues of world metropolises in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, in Bellagio, Italy, during July 2007.  Neal Peirce and Curt Johnson, with assistance from Associate Lenneal Henderson and Farley Peters, audited the sessions, involving urban experts from across the world.  The report has blossomed into a book, Century of the City: No Time to Lose, which the Rockefeller Foundation will publish in October 2008 with broad distribution to global policymakers and media.

Last updated August 10, 2008