Cities, Towns and Counties Honored for Let’s Move! Achievements

At a celebratory event at NLC’s Congress of Cities in Austin, NLC honored cities and counties for their leadership and dedication to ending childhood obesity and improving the health of their residents.

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Local elected officials have a key role to play in ensuring children in their communities reach their full potential and live healthy lives. Through their participation in Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC), local leaders across the country can adopt policies that improve access to healthy affordable food and opportunities for physical activity, and be recognized for their efforts.

To date, nearly 460 mayors, city council members, county commissioners and other local elected officials are participating in LMCTC, and more than 60 million Americans are now living in communities that are dedicated to helping young people eat healthy foods and be physically active.

As a part of LMCTC, communities can earn bronze, silver and gold medals in each of the initiative’s five goals, which are aimed at helping young people eat healthy and be physically active. Since July 2012, NLC has awarded 2,056 medals to participating local elected officials.

Today, at a celebratory event at NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition in Austin, Texas, NLC honored 23 cities and counties who earned gold medals in all five LMCTC goal areas. This is the highest distinction a community can receive from the LMCTC initiative. Those being recognized for achieving five gold medals include:

Annapolis, Md.; Avondale, Ariz.; Beaumont, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Burleson, Texas; Chester, Pa.; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Fontana, Calif.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Greenbelt, Md.; Jersey City, N.J.; Kenmore, Wash.; Knox County, Tenn.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Lincoln, Neb.; Linn County, Iowa; Orlando, Fla.; Palm Springs, Calif.; Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; Richton Park, Ill.; Rockville, Md.; and Somerville, Mass.

Additionally, six city leaders and two cities were honored for their leadership and dedication to ending childhood obesity and improving the health of their residents. David Baker, mayor, Kenmore, Wash., and Alan Coleman, councilmember, Beaumont, Texas received the Legacy Award for their commitment to not only ensuring kids have a healthy place to live, learn and thrive in their hometowns, but for their contributions in working with mayors in their regions to commit to LMCTC.

Receiving the Most Innovative City Award, the City of Pryor Creek, Okla., and the City of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. were recognized for their innovative work to build healthy communities. Pryor Creek is transforming their rural community using active transportation approaches, policy changes and taskforces to increase physical activity. Rancho Cucamonga prioritizes health and wellness as an integral part of the city government’s decision-making across all major departments, where concepts are routinely incorporated in their work plans, budgets and daily activities..

Annise Parker, mayor, Houston, Texas and T.J. Thomson, councilmember, Boise, Idaho, received the Most Dedicated Official Award. Mayor Parker created, the Go Healthy Houston initiative, which created key obesity prevention objectives for the city, including fostering a culture of healthy living and developing the Go Healthy Houston Task Force to carry out concrete actions. Councilmember Thomson worked diligently with experts, the community and the city council on the Healthy Initiatives Child Care Ordinance, which improves physical activity and nutrition in childcare settings in Boise.

Rosetta Carter, director of community health education, Chester, Pa., and Diane Mortenson, recreation superintendent, Mercer Island, Wash., received the Most Dedicated City Staff Award. Ms. Carter leads the city’s efforts on Let’s Move! Chester and has implemented creative programs around health with limited resources by soliciting partners and sponsors. Ms. Mortenson led the charge to unite Mercer Island on Let’s Move! and reached out to a wide array of community partners to advance a culture change in Mercer Island around healthy eating and physical activity.

Those recognized today are just a few of the many local elected officials and city and county staff members who work tirelessly to advance change in their community to create environments that support healthy eating and physical activity. City and county leaders are building new partnerships with their health and human services agencies, parks and recreation departments, community- and faith-based organizations, and parents and educational providers to foster a healthy start for children. There is a lot to celebrate in communities across the country!

For more information about the LMCTC initiative, its accomplishments, and how local elected officials can sign up, visit: www.HealthyCommunitiesHealthyFuture.org.

About the Author: Elena Hoffnagle is the Program Associate for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Supreme Court Opinions? Already?!

Despite being early in the term, the Supreme Court has already issued two opinions involving state and local government.

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As the Supreme Court’s term only began on October 6 it is a little early for the Court to be issuing opinions except in the instance of per curiam (unauthored) opinions where the Court didn’t hear oral argument.  The Court did just that this week.  Both of the cases involve state and local government.

In Carroll v. Carman the Court held that the Third Circuit improperly denied qualified immunity to a police officer who “knocked and talked” to a homeowner at his back door, rather than his front door, without a warrant.

The “knock and talk” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement allows police officers to knock on a resident’s door and speak to its inhabitants as any other person would.  Officer Carroll knocked on the Carmans’ back door, which he described as looking like a customary entryway, in search of a man who had stolen a car and two loaded guns.

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional or federal statutory rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

The Court concluded that it wasn’t clearly established that the “knock and talk” exception only applied to knocks at the front door.  The only circuit precedent the Third Circuit pointed to didn’t hold that knocking on the front door is required before officers go onto other parts of the property open to visitors.  And other federal and state courts rejected the Third Circuit’s approach.

Notably the Court declined to decide the underlying legal issue in this case of whether police can “knock and talk” at any entrance open to visitors rather than only the front door.

In Johnson v. City of Shelby, Mississippi the Court held that police officers did not have to invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in their constitutional claim against Shelby.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 is a vehicle for private parties to sue state and local governments for constitutional violations.  In this case police officers alleged in their complaint that the city’s board of aldermen fired them for bringing to light the criminal activities of one alderman in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights.

The Fifth Circuit dismissed the officers’ complaint because they didn’t invoke § 1983 reasoning that “[c]ertain consequences flow from claims under § 1983, such as the unavailability of respondeat superior [employer] liability, which bears on the qualified immunity analysis.”  The Supreme Court pointed out that the Fifth Circuit was confused in its perception of the officers’ suit which was against the city; unlike a municipal officer, a city cannot invoke qualified immunity.  More generally, the Court stated that federal pleading rules don’t require a complaint to be dismissed because it imperfectly states the legal theory supporting it.

Soronen_Pic (2)About the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Eight Ways Cities and Stakeholders are Encouraging Youth Employment

As the economic recovery continues at a modest pace, young people remain one of the last groups to benefit from slowly expanding job opportunities.

102343030Young people attend a job fair in Chicago. Getty images.

Statistics show that only one-third of U.S. teens work regular jobs, a level half that of 30 years ago and the lowest percentage recorded since recordkeeping began after World War II.

In the face of this trend, mayors and their business and workforce development partners continue to innovate at the local level. Despite continuing economic woes, there are many promising practices being implemented in cities, such as:

  • Philadelphia has enlisted a nonprofit intermediary organization to manage jobs programs and to blend and braid financial resources from a variety of sources.
  • Dubuque, Reno, and Omaha have partnered with local school districts and others to establish dropout reengagement centers. to ensure that young people have basic educational credentials as they enter the workforce.
  • With the support of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Board, Providence, R.I., and several other pilot sites have built financial literacy into job programs by educating young workers on how to manage their new income and save for their future.
  • Baltimore provides a one-stop, youth friendly point of access for referrals and training.
  • Cities across California are blending work and internship experience into secondary school designs.

Policymakers and funders are increasingly engaged in focused solution-seeking around youth employment. Three recent events demonstrate this renewed focus:

  • GenJoblessThe recent Generation Jobless conference sponsored by International House in New York City underscored the global nature of the youth employment challenge. Speakers including youth, representatives of cities and businesses, and journalists such as Fareed Zakaria outlined the causes and consequences of youth unemployment, and offered a number of possible responses.
  • The second annual gathering of teams from 21 Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund sites in the cold, clear air of Aspen, Colo. fostered a lively conversation about prospective roles of major employers in hiring youth. Check out the storify of the convening.
  • The Enough is Known for Action conference arranged by the Heller School-Center for Youth and Communities and co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor featured a call-to-action, problem-solving format as well as testimony about recent progress in multiple cities.

Andrew Moore
About the Author:
Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

How Mayors Engage & Empower Citizens to Make an Impact

This is a guest post by Myung Lee, Executive Director at Cities of Service.

Nashville-BNashville, Tenn. is one of several cities participating in Cities of Service. iStock images.

Regardless of whether you are celebrating or frustrated with the results of the election, it is clear that people want our leaders to work together to get things done.  But working together with our citizens is already showing results in cities across the country, where well-organized volunteerism is making a difference.

In fact, cities are a model for what is possible.  Mayors, non-profits and citizens are combining to make a real and measurable impact for their communities. Just a few examples:

Albuquerque, New Mexico: Through Mayor Berry’s “Homework Diner” initiative, Albuquerque has provided hundreds of students with access to homework assistance, one-on-one time with educators, and healthy meals cooked by volunteers from the local community college’s culinary school. The program also provides parents with an opportunity to acquire their GED. The schools reported an increase in academic performance, and the success of Homework Diner in two pilot schools has prompted city officials to open six more Homework Diner locations.

Birmingham, Alabama: In one year, Mayor Bell mobilized thousands of citizen volunteers to clean more than 26,000 square feet of graffiti, dispose of more than 70,000 pounds of trash, and plant 500 trees. Neighborhood revitalization can start small and scale: Birmingham has already revitalized 40 blocks.

Flint, Michigan: Mayor Walling engaged volunteers to get rid of 1.8 million pounds of waste, clean-up 122 abandoned properties and create 57 green spaces.

Nashville, Tennessee: Through Mayor Dean’s “Change for Chestnut” initiative, volunteers provided energy-efficient upgrades in more than 100 homes of low-income residents in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood, reducing annual energy costs by an average of $450 per home.

Working together with organizations such the Corporation for National and Community Service and AmeriCorps, HandsOn, local parks departments and other city agencies, mayors are engaging and empowering their citizens to make real change in their own communities. Mayors are also working together  to learn from one another by sharing lessons learned.

When it comes to bringing about change that touches people’s lives, members of the newly-elected Congress need look no further than their own cities. Leaders using their power to bring people together is the best way to make our entire country a safer, cleaner, stronger place to live.

Myung-J-Lee-BlogAbout the author: Myung J. Lee serves as the executive director of Cities of Service, a coalition of approximately 200 mayors from across the United States and around the world that have committed to using citizen volunteers to tackle pressing local challenges.

Progress Being Made on Veteran Homelessness, But More to Be Done

 Veteran homelessness has dropped 33% since 2010 and 10% in the last year alone.

Navy-Vet-HomelessnessHomeless U.S. Navy veteran looks for his size while collecting free clothing in Denver. Getty Images.

As part of NLC’s on-going State of the Cities series, Veterans Day offers an opportunity to look closely at how cities are following through on their commitment to veterans.

Commanding the headlines in recent days are the promises of VA Secretary Robert McDonald to shake-up VA personnel.

Getting less attention is the dramatic progress being made to end veteran homelessness. Veteran homelessness has dropped 33% since 2010 and 10% in the last year alone. For the 5,846 veterans placed into housing in the last 12 months, ending their homelessness is the most definitive “thank you for your service” that could ever be delivered.

Coordination Unlocks Innovation

In reviewing State of the City addresses from 100 cities across the nation, local leaders are highlighting their support of existing and expanding partnerships. As cities improve how unprecedented levels of resources are coordinated on the ground, they are showing that the issue of homelessness – once thought to be intractable – can actually be solved. By making progress on homelessness, cities are also addressing other important issues and laying the groundwork for dealing with future challenges.

Homelessness InfographicIn San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee has made housing a centerpiece of his economic development plans. His leadership has placed the city at the forefront of national efforts to address homelessness. In support of a 7-point plan to build or rehabilitate at least 30,000 homes by 2020, he has signed an executive order giving priority-status to permits for affordable housing developments.

The Mayor’s plan comes as the city joins the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ 25 Cities Initiative. The city’s program, Homes for Heroes, is a collaborative effort between the city’s Housing Department, the police department, the San Francisco Housing Authority, the local VA medical center, veteran service organizations, non-profits and local businesses to improve how local systems identify and house homeless and at-risk veterans and the chronically homeless. The result has been a more than 20% reduction in veteran homelessness from 2011-2013, according to HUD’s Point in Time count.

Across the bay, Oakland is also integrating a renewed focus on ending homelessness with the development of affordable housing and housing counseling. In her State of the City address, Mayor Jean Quan highlighted the opening of the city’s Housing Assistance Center. In only a few months, the city has served thousands of residents as a one-stop portal for housing issues and services. This city-led coordination comes as two former hotels have been redeveloped into 101 studio apartments to house low-income individuals and the recently homeless. The Savoy project’s success led Gizmodo, a leading technology and design blog, to name it one of the 7 Smart New Affordable Housing Projects Making Cities Stronger.

Miami, Fla. is another city that is part of the VA’s 25 Cities Initiative. During his State of the City address, Mayor Tomás Regalado noted that meeting the needs of homeless veterans and the city’s ever expanding senior population required partnerships with philanthropies. “The city has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation to help rehabilitate the homes of our elderly and disabled veterans. In the next few weeks the first home belonging to a Vietnam era disabled veteran will be rehabilitated, ensuring that our commitment to taking care of elderly and disabled veterans is a reality.”

In Miami alone, The Home Depot Foundation has invested more than $660,000 and provided volunteer support for 22 projects benefiting veterans. These investments are part of more than $83.7 million spent in support of 3,780 projects which have built or preserved more than 13,000 units of housing.

Away from the coasts, the past year has shown historic accomplishments in Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Both cities have cracked the code of chronic homelessness. Thanks to bold leadership from Mayors Becker and Stanton, these communities have no more chronically homeless veterans.

This important milestone has shown that cities can end seemingly unsolvable problems by bringing all partners together, identifying their strengths and remaining community gaps. The implications of the successes in Salt Lake City and Phoenix have resonated with elected officials across the country. Mayors from Eugene, Ore., Saint Paul, Minn., Columbus, Ga. and Norfolk, Va., each noted this accomplishment when discussing veterans issues and homelessness as a part of their annual addresses.

The state of our cities is best when all who have served our country have a place to call home. To help bring the progress on veteran homelessness to other cities, NLC is supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness and the more than 250 local officials who have already joined.

We have the resources, the know-how and the leadership to end veteran homelessness in the next 415 days for the remaining 49,933 veterans without a home. What remains is figuring out how we bring these elements together.

For more information about how NLC can support your city’s efforts to end veteran homelessness, contact harig-blaine@nlc.org.

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Cities Focus on Talent, Quality of Life to Grow Local Economies

Instead of focusing singularly on business attraction or workforce development, mayors across the country are taking a more holistic lens to economic development.

Denver-Downtown-ActivityPeople wandering around shops and restaurants in downtown Denver. Getty Images.

In his State of the City speech earlier this year, Mayor Greg Fischer from Louisville shared his mantra for economic development: “In today’s world, companies can’t locate just anywhere – their workforce is not interchangeable. They want to locate where they can find a pool of skilled workers – and a place with the quality of life to attract and retain them, no matter where they are from. So the jobs follow the people.”

Our analysis of annual State of the City speeches finds that many mayors across the country are thinking about economic development in a similar way, taking a more holistic lens instead of focusing singularly on business attraction or workforce development.

The quality of life in a city is an important deciding factor in where residents and businesses locate. Making a city a place where people want to live, then, will also make it a place where people will want to work or start a business.

Demographic trends indicate that this shift in approach to economic development is coming at just the right time. The Kauffman Foundation points to data showing there will be more “thirty-somethings” in the U.S. over the next 20 years than ever before. As Kauffman researchers have suggested, this is an exciting opportunity for cities because the “peak age” for entrepreneurship is late thirties to early forties.

No Time Like the Present

Based on this data there is, quite literally, no time like the present to support small business growth and entrepreneurs. Our analysis of State of the City speeches demonstrates that cities are starting to prepare themselves for this new entrepreneurial environment. Larger cities are seemingly leading the way in developing city initiatives to support start-up growth, but smaller cities are a player in this game too.

Small business is the common business-related topic mentioned by all cities, with 37% of mayors discussing it during their addresses. This does not come as a surprise since small businesses are a key economic driver in a lot of cities, regardless of their size.

Overall, 19% of mayors discuss entrepreneurship in their speeches, with the majority (36%) coming from large cities. However, in cities with 100,000 or less in population, 10% of mayors discuss entrepreneurship, which means this topic isn’t completely off the radar among smaller communities.

Two widespread strategies for supporting entrepreneurship, accelerators and incubators, are not mentioned at all in cities under 50,000 in population, but are discussed somewhat frequently by big city mayors (4% and 18% respectively).

Cities Spearhead Economic Growth

Across regions and population sizes, the cities we analyzed are spearheading some interesting initiatives to support economic growth in their communities.

Providing support to business owners is a theme throughout many mayors’ state of the city addresses. Mayor Bill Lambert in Moscow, Idaho, discussed how he helps support the Palouse Knowledge Corridor, a partnership between two area research universities, economic development agencies, the business community and city government that strives to create economic opportunities in the region.

As part of these ongoing efforts, the city will help host an event called, “Be the Entrepreneur Bootcamp” designed to help entrepreneurs develop business plans and connect with mentors and investors.

Mayors are also pledging to cut red tape at city hall and make it easier for local companies to comply with the city’s regulatory requirements. “The spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in Seattle, and we need to make sure the city is contributing to – and not inhibiting – that energy and enthusiasm,” said Seattle Mayor Edward Murray. “This year, the Office of Economic Development will launch a new online restaurant resource guide to help new restaurant owners navigate the local and state regulatory process.”

Workforce development approaches were also highlighted in the city’s speeches. Recognizing that “unemployment is unacceptably high in communities of color, particularly among young men,” Jersey City’s Mayor Steven Fulop will be connecting students to construction apprenticeship programs offered in partnership with local unions and developers as part of the city’s overall goal to increase job placement by 33%. Similarly, in Providence, the city is investing in construction apprenticeship programs through Building Futures and YouthBuild Providence.

The Role of Mayors

A mayor’s role in growing a city’s local economy takes on many forms, from creating well-paying jobs to training a skilled workforce to developing an environment that attracts families and business owners alike.

Economic development was the most frequently-cited topic in our analysis of state of the city speeches, with 98% of mayors mentioning it and 67% dedicating a significant portion of their remarks to the topic. NLC will be releasing more information about this and more topics when we publish our State of the Cities report later this month at the Congress of Cities Conference.

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC  and the author of a new report on entrepreneurship and small business growth. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

Local Action, State Support Needed for Muni Broadband Expansion

This is a guest post by Angela Siefer.

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According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, over 400 communities in the United States have a publicly owned broadband network. But how did they get there? How did they access the poles? Where did they find existing assets? Are those assets available for anyone to use? How was the network paid for?  In some cases, these projects were made possible with support from state partners. Since our past blog posts in this series provided a basic overview of municipal networks, this post will focus on how local officials can work with state policymakers. As you may have guessed, it can get complicated.

Projects that increase broadband availability, affordability and adoption tend to occur at the local level but they need state level support. That support can come in the form of access to open networks, state rights of way, dig once policies and facilitating coordination. To date, 19 states have legislated barriers that discourage community broadband projects. Since broadband deployment tends to occur at the local level, states that avoid placing restrictions on who can own and operate a broadband network leave more options open for local entities to implement innovative solutions.

If you think of the Internet as a highway system, the middle mile is the highway and the on/exit ramps and the streets are the last mile. Government funded broadband build-out (by the National Telecommunications Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture) tends to focus on middle mile construction. Owners of middle mile networks choose whether or not to make their fiber open to use by competitors. State governments that mandate their fiber be open to use by anyone (at reasonable cost based rates) can help decrease the cost of build-out, whether by for-profit companies, non-profits or governmental entities.

Here are several examples of state level policies supporting local work to build out community broadband networks:

State Level Policies That Expand State Rights of Way

Arizona SB 1402, the Digital Arizona Highways Bill was passed and signed in 2012. The bill expanded the Arizona Department of Transportation’s state rights-of-way to include transportation of information, in addition to vehicles. Whenever funding is available, the Arizona Department of Transportation may install broadband conduit and lease the conduit to providers at a cost-based rate. In Gigabit Communities: Technical Strategies for Facilitating Public or Private Broadband Construction in Your Community, CTC Technology and Energy declares, “state officials estimate that the incremental cost of placing the conduit during other construction processes is comparable to the cost of painting stripes on the highway.” It is a low cost investment that benefits everyone.

State Use of Federal Policies

The FTTH (Fiber To the Home Council) encourages states to utilize the federal pole attachments statute (Section 224 of the Communications Act 5), through which “states are able to assert jurisdiction and require all owners of poles, ducts, and conduits to make those facilities available to new entrants on a non-discriminatory basis and at reasonable (cost-based) rates, terms, and conditions.” The FTTH Council position paper “State and Local Government Role in Facilitating Access to Poles, Ducts, and Conduits in Public Rights-of-Way” lists Vermont, Massachusetts and Oregon as examples of states that have mandated access to poles, ducts and/or conduits.

State Coordination Efforts

States can help facilitate coordination of broadband infrastructure projects among interested partners. With coordination from the State of Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel, an initial five municipalities issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to Develop Gigabit Internet Networks in Connecticut. This RFQ has three goals:

  1. Create a world-leading gigabit-capable network in targeted commercial corridors – as well as in residential areas with demonstrated demand – in order to foster innovation, drive job creation and stimulate economic growth;
  2. Provide free or heavily discounted 10-100 MB (minimum) Internet service over a wired or wireless network to underserved and disadvantaged residential areas across the territories and diverse demographics; and
  3. Deliver gigabit Internet service at prices comparable to other gigabit fiber communities across the nation.

This effort reinforces an extensive state fiber network, streamlined processes governing rights-of-way, and a single administrative point of contact for building broadband infrastructure.

State partners can play a critical role in the build-out of municipal networks. Most importantly, they can support innovation and progress with smart policies and carefully executed support to local projects. The outcome is increased opportunity for local governments to improve broadband availability, affordability and adoption.

Angela-Siefer-HeadshotAbout the Author: Angela Siefer is a digital inclusion consultant and an adjunct fellow at the Pell Center, Salve Regina University. She is currently finishing up the Pell Center State-Level Broadband Policy Primer. You can find more of her work at http://angelasiefer.com.

Comparing Cities’ Performance: A Global Breakthrough

This is a guest post by Neal Peirce.

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How to compare the performance of cities across the world?  What’s the particulate matter in a city’s air?  Debt service as a percent of a city’s own revenue?  Green area per 100,000 population?  Number of firefighters by the same per 100,000 gauge?

Now, for the first time ever, a clear, internationally agreed on set of indicators has been announced.  And it has the seal of approval of the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization — “ISO” –the globally recognized arbiter of standards in every area from electrical engineering to financial management.

The story of how the ISO standard was put together over several years, the effort spearheaded by Patricia McCarney of the University of Toronto’s Global Cities Indicators Facility, was reported in an article on the new Citiscope.org website.

The genesis of the effort was a challenge by World Bank officials in 2008.  Nine pilot cities, including Bogota, Toronto, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte put together an initial list of some 115 indicators.  But through a series of technical committee meetings around the world, the proposed indicators were examined and revised repeatedly for quality and relevance.  The list was finally winnowed down to 46 validated by the ISO as its official “ISO 37120″ standard and announced last spring.

The new open standards are for cities to learn and compare — but will also place pressure on them to perform well.  Friends, political opponents, the media will all be checking.  What’s the share of the city population that lives in slums– especially in comparison to similar cities, at home or abroad?  Energy consumption of public buildings per year?  Percentage of a city’s solid waste that is recycled?  Annual number of public transportation trips per capita?  Green acres per 100,000 population?

Supporters also claim the ISO will be a significant game changer, encouraging higher levels of city service delivery.   The verified data could improve cities’ credit and bond ratings, appealing to investment decision-makers.  Cities with strong ratings may also be strengthened in appealing for national government assistance and tax sharing.

Cities won’t be obliged to share their data and join the system.  But they may well find themselves under pressure from citizen, business, academic and the media insisting they use the ISO standards so that their performance can be benchmarked clearly against peer cities, both in-country and — in today’s increasingly globalized economy — across the globe.

“It’s a potential game changer for world cities and everyone who works for cities, for journalists evaluating city performance, for the World Bank in determining grants and more,” notes Dan Hoornweg, former World Bank official, now a professor at the University of Toronto and an early proponent of world city standard setting.

A new “World Council on City Data” has been formed to verify data cities submit and guide the process.  The council’s member cities include London, Rotterdam, Shanghai, Dubai, Chicago, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires and others.

But there’s little doubt: not every city, not every urban expert, will agree on the indicators and processes.  But discussion is welcome.

Next week (November 11), in a webinar jointly sponsored by Citiscope and Meeting of the Minds, there’ll be an opportunity to hear more about the new ISO and its processes from key city players, plus a chance to debate its methods.  Speakers will include McCarney as well as Alvaro Lima (Boston Redevelopment Authority), Andrew Collinge (Greater London Authority, and Maria Belen Perez Chada (city of Buenos Aires).  For details and the event password, check this website: http://cityminded.org/cal/new-urban-indicators-city-services-quality-life/.

Neal-Peirce-CSAbout the Author: Neal Peirce is the editor-in-chief of Citiscope

Cities Succeed Where Feds Have Fallen Short on Transportation

Cities across the country are taking a holistic, long-term approach to developing their transportation systems.

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“One big pothole.” This is how former Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has frequently described the state of America’s transportation infrastructure. If you’ve been out at all on the highways, railways or other transit systems that comprise our nation’s transportation network—this analogy likely resonates with you. And for good reason.

The United States has not made a significant strategic investment in the national transportation network since finishing the Interstate Highway System – that’s more than a half century without any vision or plan on a national scale to update critical freight or passenger transportation systems in our country.

In the wake of the economic downturn, there is no doubt that transportation projects have only continued to be neglected and left in dire need of attention. The pending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund has perpetuated this problem, putting more of the onus on state and local policy makers to find the cash for these projects in already challenging times.

Road improvements have been delayed, bridges in need of maintenance have been ignored and transit systems have been forced to cut service and routes. Subsequently people have experienced the adverse consequences. Lest we forget that, at its root, transportation comes down to one basic notion: people.

Though seemingly harsh, the underlying message in LaHood’s analogy is that transportation is important to our everyday lives. It should be a priority. It is the means by which we move goods, reach jobs, connect with family and explore nature. It drives our national and global economies and simultaneously reinforces social equity ideals through a promise to move people and goods to their destinations via our highways, railways, waterways and public-transit systems.

Unfortunately, because transportation has not received the attention it deserves, our lack of investment is catching up to us.

Cities Step Up

A consistent theme across our State of the Cities blog series this year has been cities taking the lead on critical issues neglected at the federal level. Transportation is no exception. City leaders are stepping up to the plate and placing this issue among their top priorities.

Transpo-SOTC-StatsOur analysis of State of the City addresses shows that three-quarters (75%) of the leaders sampled mentioned transportation, and nearly one-third covered the topic in depth.

Local leaders are addressing the laundry list of maintenance and expansion projects that have the most direct impacts on individual users. Nearly one quarter of the speeches in our sample (24 out of 100) addressed highway and road improvement projects, and 22 speeches announced other types of related infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalk repairs and gutter replacements.

Projects like these do not generate a lot of excitement or public support, but their importance cannot be underestimated. All it takes is one falter, one accident, one disaster to remind us of how difficult life is without well-managed, well-maintained, functional transportation infrastructure.

Cities are also focusing on enhancing their streets and arterials to accommodate all modes of transportation, as one fifth of the speeches sampled referenced Complete Streets initiatives. They are once again expanding and building new systems. The streetcar has seen a revolution in the last decade, with cities recognizing this mode’s potential to both improve mobility for residents and also serve as an economic development driver. Streetcar systems are being planned and constructed in Riverside, Calif., Miami, Fla., and Seattle, Wash.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has emerged onto the scene as an affordable and functional mobility option. Chula Vista, Calif. will see a new BRT system in 2015, which will link residents in the eastern part of the city with downtown San Diego and Otay Mesa. Grand Rapids, Mich. transit authority, The Rapid, has effectively rallied the region around the Interurban Transit Partnership BRT project – known locally as the Silver Line. Mayor Jack Poll in Wyoming, Mich., took pride in announcing this regional engagement, and ongoing construction of a segment that will connect the southern portion of Wyoming with jobs, amenities and entertainment in downtown Grand Rapids.

Taking a Long-term Approach

In addition to resuming investments on individual transportation projects, a number of cities are taking a holistic, long-term approach to developing their transportation systems.

In Providence, R.I., leaders are embarking on a major road improvement project (which has created a notable number of jobs), while simultaneously developing a new Bicycling Master Plan to improve accommodations for both bicyclists and pedestrians. There is also work underway to update the city’s zoning ordinances, so as to better support future public transit and smart growth goals.

Fayetteville, Ark. used a road resurfacing project as an opportunity to install new drainage infrastructure, retaining walls, curbs and gutters and 11,000 feet of sidewalk. This was part of their ongoing attempt to facilitate walkability in the city. Residents saw the replacement of one bridge and the renovation of another, along with the addition of over 5 miles of new trails. The city also installed 41 new bike racks and an electric vehicle charging station as part of its Clean Energy District.

The city of Helena, Mont. recently finalized a five year transportation plan, and is now working toward a regional 10 year plan with other state and local stakeholders.

One of the fastest growing communities in the nation, Raleigh, N.C., has also committed to investing in a multi-modal transportation system. The city aims not only to mitigate traffic congestion, but to provide its growing resident base with “equal access to food, healthcare, jobs, childcare, all of those things that are needed for healthy communities.” Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane acknowledged that a multi-modal transportation system offers something less quantifiable, that most residents want: options beyond a car-dependent lifestyle. Raleigh has committed to providing those options.

Transportation Investment Matters

In taking this more inclusive, big picture approach, these cities have acknowledged that investment in a coordinated, multi-modal transportation system matters, and also that it is impossible to deny the strong link between mobility and equity. Transportation matters, simply put, because it impacts people. Kirk Caldwell, mayor of Honolulu, Hawaii drove this point home, when he declared that “Public transportation is about social equity. It is the great equalizer for the people of our community, helping them get to their jobs, their shopping, and their medical appointments. It means giving people a way to get around town that is safe, affordable, and efficient.”

His statement speaks volumes about the importance of investing in a transportation network that serves everyone, and reminds us of how significantly transportation infrastructure impacts individuals on a daily basis. As city leaders invest more significantly in our transportation systems,  that idea — that transportation is about people and service — will continue to undergird future decisions.

ND headshotAbout the Author: Nicole DuPuis is the Senior Associate for Infrastructure in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.

Achievement Gaps, Racial Equity and the Challenges of Family Engagement

Communities can succeed in ensuring that all students achieve their full potential when parents and families are fully engaged as partners and allies.

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Earlier this month, I had the chance to spend two days in Madison, Wisconsin with Mayor Paul Soglin, his senior staff and a variety of key community partners who are working to close opportunity gaps and expand out-of-school time learning across the city.

An early afternoon meeting in Mayor Soglin’s office was half tutorial, half search for answers to vexing questions. Bar graphs flashed across a large, wall-mounted screen, the starting point for a probing discussion of how both white and African American households have fared in Madison and the surrounding county after the Great Recession, and the role that the city’s Neighborhood Resource Teams may have played in recent economic gains. A line graph sparked an energetic conversation about the role that the closure of a local community health center may have played in a sharp upturn in infant mortality among African Americans.

A common thread in the discussion was the attention to racial disparities. Madison has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation between white and African American, Latino and Asian students, a crisis that weighs heavily on the conscience and self-image of this progressive community. Race to Equity, a local effort dedicated to closing these gaps, helps keep the issue and key data at the forefront of city deliberations.

 One key part of the city’s strategy to address its achievement gap, and the critical opportunity gaps that fuel its persistence, was on display the next day in a community conversation hosted by the City of Madison in partnership with NLC and the U.S. Department of Education. The Saturday event, sponsored by the Madison Out-of-School Time (MOST) initiative and held at a local Boys and Girls Club, drew a crowd of more than 100 participants, including Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, Dane County Human Services Director Lynn Green, representatives of community-based organizations and a diverse group of parents and other neighborhood residents.

I greatly appreciated the chance to speak to the group, underscoring the important role that Mayor Soglin has played in NLC’s Mayor’s Education Reform Task Force and the potential for mayoral leadership in expanding learning opportunities for all children. Eddie Martin, Special Assistant for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, emphasized Secretary Arne Duncan’s commitment to supporting city-school collaborations that seek to improve public schools and close achievement gaps.

The central message of the day, however, was that Madison can succeed in its efforts to ensure that all students achieve their full potential only if all segments of the community – and most importantly parents and families – are fully engaged as partners and allies. The community conversation organized by Mayor Soglin represented a key first step in that direction.

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About the Author: Clifford M. Johnson is the Executive Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.