July 22, 2013 at 8:00 am CDT

Clout in Chicago can be summed up with this saying: “I gotta guy.” Anyone who’s gotta guy has got some clout. Chicago, despite its size, is often hyper-connected in the way a small town is. There are fewer than six degrees of separation. Most problems – needing a plumber, or help getting some red tape cleared or tickets to the Sox game – can be solved quickly within your network. If you don’t gotta guy, ask your friends. Chances are they gotta guy. Master networkers use the extension of this, “I gotta guy, knows a guy.”*

Last week, I attended an event centered around a new book called The Metropolitan Revolution . Its authors, Brookings Institutions’ Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley were joined by the Vice President of the MacArthur Foundation and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. If Mayor Emanuel is your guy, then you got Da Guy and he’s got all the other guys you’d ever need. But not everyone gots Da Mayor. So, he’s a networker. If there’s a big company with a problem it can’t solve, he’ll hook them up with some startups that can give fresh perspective. He’s building a collection of hacker-types in a growing number of incubators around town such as 1871. It’s not a new thing here. When civic leaders wanted to host the World’s Fair Columbian Exposition in 1893, they gotta guy in Daniel Burnham, and he put together a blue ribbon all-star panel of guys. And they got it done, and you got new inventions like Pabst beer, Quaker Oats and the Ferris Wheel.

We’ll talk more about the book in a later post featuring a full Q&A with its authors. But one premise of The Metropolitan Revolution is that cities need to work together within their regions to help elevate the region as a whole. As the authors point out, there’s enough fighting in Washington. If the Feds can’t get it done, cities need to step up. Another point is that people need to work together within cities because we’re living in a “post-hero” economy where cities can’t wait for a lone-wolf caped crusader to bail them out.

“Sometimes places spend so much time yearning or hoping or searching or thinking everything will change when they get a hero rather than working to make things better with the resources they have,” Ms. Bradley told me. “If you have one, great, you have a huge leg up.”

What I’m seeing in a lot of cities, however, is a need for a hybrid. Cities can benefit from what I’d call networked heroes .

Look at Las Vegas. Tony Hsieh , Zappos CEO, has put together a coalition called the Downtown Project to revitalize the central city. Look at Grand Rapids, where the DeVos family created an international art festival/competition that overnight put the city on the global cultural map . Look at Detroit, where several business leaders (among them Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert, Little Caesar’s Mike Ilitch and Compuware’s Pete Karmanos Jr.) are driving a turn-around even as the city itself declares bankruptcy. On a smaller scale, look Boylan Heights and its most famous son, Black Eyed Pea will.i.am. He’s helping connect high schoolers with technology that will help them map out new careers.

These guys aren’t just writing checks. This isn’t about spending old family money to put old family names on new museums. These guys are on the ground, leading the charge. They’re being heroes by putting their connections to work as well as their cash. They’re working to move their cities forward and bridge gaps, where funding or politics or red tape might otherwise stand in the way. They’re also typically working with the government leaders as part of their networks.

In an earlier post, we talked to Emily Talen who said that strong personalities can lead the way for change at the city level. She wasn’t speaking of billionaires. She was speaking of architects, academics, and even the occasional gadfly and pundit. They can be heroes, too. But the problems facing cities are complicated. They take many minds to solve. One hero isn’t enough any more.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a network to raise a village.

It takes a guy who’s gotta guy, who knows a guy. So what can you and your guys do in your city?

* guys don’t necessarily have to be men, of course, but “I gotta guy and/or a gal” doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.

This was originally posted on Livability.com, home of the Top 100 Best Places to Live rankings. Copyright Journal Communications Inc. Reprinted with permission.