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.

Local Action, State Support Needed for Muni Broadband Expansion

This is a guest post by Angela Siefer.

Broadband-CafeGetty Images

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.

Global-Cities-CPGetty Images

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

A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Certify: An Interview with Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle, Wash.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, executive director of STAR Communities

Seattle-Skyline

Recently, STAR Communities announced that Seattle was awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating for national leadership in sustainability. The city recorded the highest score to date, and is only the second in the nation to achieve the 5-STAR rating for its participation in the STAR Community Rating System (STAR), which evaluates the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities.

This blog post features Seattle Mayor Ed Murray reflecting on the Emerald City’s experiences with STAR — achievements that he is especially proud of and areas that the city has targeted for future investment as a result of the assessment’s findings.

How has the STAR Community Rating System enriched Seattle’s already impressive sustainability work?

The STAR Community Rating System daylighted programs delivering sustainability benefits across several different goal areas. Understanding where our investments are leveraging sustainability impact helps inform budgeting and prioritization and that is incredibly important when a city is planning investments for the future. It allows us to reliably direct resources in a manner that will continue to benefit Seattle residents and businesses well into the future.

How will STAR help you promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and well-being for all residents, now and for future generations?

The roadmap that STAR provides to a healthy, prosperous and safe community helps us create a shared vision — with the community — of what we want Seattle to be and the best ways to get there. STAR is a great tool for fostering community engagement around Seattle’s sustainability work.

What are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected in the STAR certification?

Seattle has a goal of becoming carbon neutral — it was reassuring to receive maximum credit for our climate adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation work. It showed us that we are on the right path. We also received a high number of points for our leading edge energy efficiency programs and the Green Seattle Partnership – a unique public-private partnership working to restore and maintain Seattle’s forested parkland.

How has the STAR Community Rating System improved transparency in Seattle and helped you better message your sustainability work to constituents?

The very thorough processes of collecting, analyzing and reporting all of the data required for the assessment was big leap forward in terms of Seattle’s commitment to transparency. It’s hard to be transparent if you don’t have a clear means of communicating your work. STAR provides that clarity. I’m not interested in talking about generalities when it comes to Seattle’s sustainability work, and neither are our residents. We’re interested in specifics and that’s what we got with the STAR Community Rating System.

STAR Certification helped you identify some areas requiring additional work. How do you plan on addressing those gaps going forward?

The STAR equity measures showed we have some work to do in the area of Environmental Justice. To address that gap, we recently launched an Equity & Environment Initiative to explore who is and isn’t benefiting from Seattle’s environmental progress and how we can advance equity and provide opportunities for everyone to participate in Seattle’s environmental movement. STAR will be a great tool to help us track the outcomes and accomplishments of this initiative.

For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR is so much more than a recognition program. It is worth it to invest the time needed for a robust assessment. It’s a valuable tool that can help your city make great strides in sustainability outcomes.

Mayor-Ed-MurrayAbout the Mayor: Ed Murray has been Mayor of Seattle since January 2014. He served in the Washington State Senate from 2007-2013, and before that for 11 years in the Washington State House of Representatives.

 

H-Varnadore-BAbout the Author: As Executive Director of STAR Communities, Hilari is focused on advancing a national framework and rating system for sustainable communities. Previously, she served as Frederick County, Maryland’s first Sustainability Director in the Office of the County Manager and was a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Impact-Volunteering Improves Literacy, Youth Success and Safety

This is a guest blog post by Marcia Hope Goodwin, and the second post in a multi-part series from NLC, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Cities of Service on the national and community service movement and its impact on cities and towns nationwide.

Orlando-ChildrenOrlando Mayor Buddy Dyer reads to children.

“I believe our plan is a progressive, resourceful and collaborative approach to impact-volunteering, helping address our pressing city needs through citizen service, while expanding volunteer opportunities in Orlando and increasing the spirit of volunteerism across our Central Florida region.” -Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

In 2010, the City of Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, which enabled Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city’s first Chief Service Officer, Marcia Hope Goodwin, to coordinate a collaborative community engagement process to develop the city’s first high-impact service plan: Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Cities of Service: ORLANDO CARES.

Through stakeholder meetings and nonprofit partner feedback, Mayor Dyer and Ms. Hope Goodwin identified youth literacy, improved education, youth crime reduction, and community safety as the major challenges facing the city that could be addressed by engaging community members in impact-volunteering initiatives. More than 800 stakeholders and partners from all sectors of the community helped to create ORLANDO CARES and its initiatives. Since the plan’s launch in March 2011, Orlando has added programming based on Cities of Service Third Grade Reads  and Volunteer CPR blueprints to their initiative.

Orlando-GardenThe City of Orlando’s partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has been an integral part of ORLANDO CARES’ success. CNCS has provided AmeriCorps VISTA members that have increased outcomes, built capacity and increased sustainability in all of our programs. To date, 25 National Service members, including AmeriCorps VISTAs and Public Allies, have served in ORLANDO CARES, giving their year of national service to our country through city government and our community partner organizations. Our current Cities of Service Coordinator, Hiba George, is an AmeriCorps VISTA alumnus who, completed a year of national service with ORLANDO CARES, and was subsequently hired by the city to coordinate the program.

The six ORLANDO CARES initiatives serve many age groups, ranging from preschool students to high-school students. These programs allow for a wide range of volunteer opportunities for citizens, businesses, corporations and organizations. Volunteers who have a green thumb may enjoy mentoring upper elementary students in The Garden, a program that provides a safe and constructive opportunity for youth to connect with nature. Professionals may choose to volunteer for PathFinders as career coaches for middle school students. If a volunteer prefers a one-on-one mentorship instead of a group dynamic, 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed offers an opportunity to tutor 1st or 2nd graders in vocabulary and/or reading fluency during an academic/school year.

Providing a variety of opportunities for volunteers enables us to engage more members of the Orlando community in meaningful ways. The volunteers who have given their time and dedication to ORLANDO CARES have a fantastic time doing so, as they build their social networks and increase their skill set, while making a tremendous impact! Each year the city hosts volunteer appreciation receptions, giving the Mayor, Chief Service Officer and staff a chance to thank the valued volunteers.

Orlando-School

Since 2011, more than 6,310 youth have been served in all of the programs and over 2,200 volunteers have been engaged. Through the Mayor’s leadership, the ORLANDO CARES initiative has engaged over 35 community partners and has been offered in 29 schools and 13 community centers. Specific program details include:

  • Through the Preschool Ambassadors program, volunteers read aloud weekly to preschool students and engage families in early literacy activities. To date, more than 1,500 students and families have participated in reading more than 4,500 stories. 85% of participating families have enrolled their children in pre-kindergarten programs.
  • More than 1,800 youth have joined Mayor Buddy’s Book Club for middle school youth, committing to read one book every six weeks and complete book activities with encouragement from volunteers. 98% of participating students report that they have increased their leisure reading as a result of the program.
  • Youth participants in The Garden program have planted more than 550 container gardens. Participants also maintain outdoor garden plots, learn about healthy foods and explore careers in agriculture. 95% of the student participants report understanding the importance of fresh produce in their diets.
  • Volunteers that work in a variety of professional fields help middle school students in the PathFinders program to identify their interests, explore career options and create academic plans to support their goals. 100% of participating students have avoided school suspensions and have GPAs higher than 2.5.
  • 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed volunteers tutor first and second graders to improve their vocabulary and reading fluency. The weekly activities make reading fun and improve students’ academic performance through practice, encouragement and praise. Last school year, 100% of participating students increased their reading fluency and significantly improved their vocabulary.
  • Take Heart Orlando (Volunteer CPR), our community-wide Hands-Only CPR/AED initiative led by our partner, the Orlando Fire Department, provides a 30-minute training to city residents, businesses and organizations. Volunteers take action and save lives by registering and getting this lifesaving training. Volunteers assist as CPR trainers and pledge to train at least five others in Hands-Only CPR. More than 3,900 volunteers have already been trained since 2013.

As the City of Orlando continues to grow, service-involved citizens have become a significant part of the landscape of the city. Our ORLANDO CARES volunteers are positively impacting the education and safety of Orlando’s youth, their families and our entire community.

Through ORLANDO CARES, we are engaging volunteers in programs that help youth improve their academic success, increase their literacy skills, plan viable career choices and avoid the juvenile justice system, while improving the overall safety of our city. In our plan, we have created volunteer opportunities that impact educational outcomes and contribute to the safety of our community.  – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

For more information about ORLANDO CARES, please read our Orlando Cares service plan or visit our website.

Marcia-Goodwin-BlogAbout the author: Marcia Hope Goodwin is the City of Orlando’s Chief Service Officer and Director of the Office of Community Affairs and Human Relations. In 2010, when Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer appointed Marcia to lead Orlando’s Cities of Service, Impact-Volunteering Plan, development and implementation. ORLANDO CARES, has successfully increased youth literacy and improved community safety.

Cities Focus on Action, Not Politics, To Tackle Climate Change

For many communities across the country, climate change isn’t a partisan debate; it’s a threat to their way of life.

park1200Saint Paul, Minn.

The United Nations put climate change on the top of its agenda this week, inviting leaders from 125 countries to a special summit focused on spurring international action. President Obama in a speech Tuesday spoke with urgency, telling Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and leaders from U.N. member states that climate change “will define the contours of this century more than any other [issue].”

The voices of international leaders are the second prominent call to action this week – in a historic show of support, 400,000 marched for climate action on Sunday in New York City. Stretching at times more than 4 miles, demonstrators representing the scientific community, religious and civic organizations, among others carried banners while uniting their voices under a call for “action now.”

For climate researchers, fears that this all may be too little too late casts a shadow on what many see as progress on a long stalled agenda. Leading scientists with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been reported as saying we are dangerously close to no longer being able to limit global warming below 3.6° F – a critical threshold.

coleman

Mayor Chris Coleman speaks at the convening.

But for leaders at the local level – the ones that deal with the all too real effects of a warming climate – inaction is simply not an option. City leaders including NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., Deb Lewis, Mayor of Ashland, Wisc. and Marsha Rummel, Alder of Madison, Wisc. know that the stakes are simply too high.

For their communities, climate change threatens the ability to go ice fishing, to protect the grid from increasing ice storms, to safely play hockey on an outdoor rink or to protect their iconic ecology from invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer.

The very landscape upon which their economy, and their culture, is built is being threatened. Across the U.S., average temperatures have already increased by 1.3° F to 1.9° F since 1895 – last decade being the nation’s and the world’s hottest on record. Heavy downpours continue to increase nationally, while heat waves and winter storms have become more frequent and intense.

In Mayor Coleman’s state, Minnesota, the region has experienced a 2.0° F increase in temperature between 1900 and 2012; winter temperatures and overnight lows have increased faster than annual averages; more ice accumulates during winter; and the frost-free season has become 9 days longer – just to name a few.

Cities Tackle Climate Change

Over the course of the Midwest Regional Convening on Climate Resilience that took place earlier this week in St. Paul, which was hosted by NLC in collaboration with the Institute for Sustainable Communities and sponsored by Wells Fargo, despite the obvious challenges, the tone was remarkably solution focused.

“This crisis is at a critical period,” said Mayor Coleman during his keynote speech. “We are on the front lines—our residents are the most affected by the increasing severe weather that impacts us on a local, regional and global scale.”

panelMayor Peter Lindstrom (center) of Falcon Heights, Minn. speaks on a panel about climate challenges in the Midwest.

Cities from Minnesota and Wisconsin in attendance were invited to the workshop to develop strategies, promote discussion and strengthen engagement on the regional level. Over 60 participants from 12 different cities, many with populations less than 50,000, learned from regional and national experts and held discussions with their peers on building more resilient communities.

“This convening was about getting beyond the doom-and-gloom climate scenarios and the politics of the national climate debate,” said Cooper Martin, Program Director of NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute. “Gatherings like this allow city officials to focus on real economic, social and environmental challenges that cities within this region are grappling with today.”

Need for Federal Action

Though the focus of the event was regional, cities understand climate change exists within a national and global context. NLC 1st Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, addressed the city teams, speaking to how local leaders are influencing policy.

Last November, President Obama announced the creation of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the Administration on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide dealing with the impacts of climate change.

climatechangetaskMayor Ralph Becker (front row, second from right) participates on the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in Washington. Photo credit: Office of Gov. Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii).

Made up of state, local and tribal leaders, the President’s Task Force was established to develop recommendations on ways the federal government can remove barriers to resilient investments, modernize federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts and develop the information and tools needed to prepare for climate change.

As a member of the taskforce, Mayor Becker gave his assurance that the federal government was listening to local concerns. Over 400 recommendations have been submitted by the local leaders calling for new programs, or reforms in existing programs to enable them to mitigate risk, engage their citizens and build more resilient communities.

Beyond Partisan Debates

For all in attendance, it was refreshing to be able to give climate change the attention it deserves – without focusing on the federal politics. The workshop’s participants particularly appreciated the opportunity to leave their daily responsibilities behind and spend time thinking strategically with colleagues.

At the end of the event, teams huddled with one another. Rather than taking on new responsibilities or additional work, many found ways to apply new strategies to work they were already doing.

“That’s the most encouraging part,” said Martin. “Participants saw that sustainability and resilience aren’t about doing more, but being more thoughtful and strategic with the time and resources you have.”

Tim-Mudd-IMGAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities.

 

A Mayor’s Pledge to Support Successful Aging

This is a guest post written by Paul H. Irving, President, Milken Institute.

BCSA-Logo

This month, the Milken Institute’s Best Cities for Successful Aging Advisory Committee will ask mayors across the nation to sign a pledge that promises to improve life for older adults and residents of all ages.

Cities are at the front lines in addressing the consequences of the rapid, unprecedented aging of populations in the United States and across the world. Enabling successful aging is a central issue for urban communities and municipal leaders. The Best Cities for Successful Aging Pledge unites mayors around a commitment to enhance life for the world’s largest-ever population of older adults and ensure a better future for our cities.

The Pledge acknowledges both great challenges and great opportunities for city leaders. In conjunction with the second edition of its often-cited report, “Best Cities for Successful Aging,” to be released later this year, the Milken Institute will recognize forward-thinking mayors who sign the Pledge and celebrate their efforts to promote purpose and well-being for their aging residents. The “Best Cities” report, which compares the nation’s metropolitan areas on data-driven criteria, receives wide attention in major national and local newspaper, television, radio and social media outlets.

As we initiate the Pledge, the stakes are clear. By 2030 one in five Americans will be over 65, most of them living in urban environments. Worldwide, this older age group by mid-century will outnumber children under 14, due in large measure to declining birthrates and expanding longevity resulting from medical, technical and public health advances.

In the United States, older adults increasingly concentrate in America’s urban settings, where we see the emergence of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs. These surroundings profoundly influence older residents’ ability to age well and enjoy healthy, engaged and fulfilling lives.

To improve lives through strengthened cities requires urban environments that are physically, economically and socially attuned to the well-being of mature residents. An age-friendly city optimizes health and security as well as engagement and productivity. It offers housing options and social services as well as opportunities for education, work, volunteerism and social interaction. These goals hold vast opportunity for our cities—and require new thinking as well as strong, committed mayoral leadership.

Too often we overlook older adults’ potential to improve society for people of all ages. We see only stereotypes of decline and disengagement. Mayors and other municipal leaders must promulgate the truth: Older residents can be an invaluable asset to their communities. We encourage government leaders to discard outmoded notions of aging that fail to consider this potential.

Older people today are healthier and more vibrant than in generations past. They have much to offer—not just the wisdom of age, but the practical experience and skills that can enrich families as well as work, educational and social settings. They offer a wealth of mentoring and training opportunities in the workforce, along with perspectives that enhance intergenerational teams. In encore careers and entrepreneurial ventures, they help drive economic growth. In education and volunteer activities, they contribute to society’s well-being.

Today’s mayors have a chance to help their communities reimagine what it means to grow older. With eyes open to 21st century reality, innovative officials can create environments that embrace the contributions of aging populations.

Through cross-agency efforts, cities will feature welcoming neighborhoods where age-friendly streets and shops encourage older people’s social engagement. Through upgraded infrastructure and communications, cities will enable people to age independently in their homes. By integrating health and social services into overall planning, cities will foster healthy aging. And through transportation and housing options, cities will promote mobility, safety and convenience, in the bargain enabling older adults to remain involved in their communities.

The role of mayors in this great urban challenge cannot be overstated. Leadership is paramount in championing a new model of aging that incorporates the many assets older people bring. Mayors’ ground-level experience with demographic transitions opens the door to solutions that can be replicated at the state, national and global levels.

Cities are economic engines and centers of purpose. Urban leaders can ensure that older residents contribute to the economy and strengthen civil society, applying their abilities and knowledge to keeping cities strong and vibrant. Our mayors can harness the benefits of longevity and embrace the upside of aging.

It’s time to make successful aging a priority in our cities. We look forward to celebrating the commitment and vision of mayors who sign the Best Cities for Successful Aging Pledge.

Paul-IrvingAbout the author: Paul H. Irving is president and a member of the board of the Milken Institute. Irving’s work to improve aging societies has been featured in outlets such as PBS Newshour, Forbes, CBS, NBC, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. He is the recipient of the 2014 Janet L. Witkin Award from Affordable Living for the Aging. Irving’s book, “The Upside of Aging – How Long Life is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy, and Purpose,” was recently published by John Wiley & Sons.

Supporting Small Businesses through Economic Development Offices

This is a guest post written by Jason Rittenberg.

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh is a mixed-use redevelopment project of CDFA member Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh is a mixed-use redevelopment project of CDFA member Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Incubators. Microlending. Accelerators. Crowdfunding. From rural areas to large cities, from the middle of the country to the coasts, today’s economic development entities — and their jargon — are all-in on encouraging small business finance.

Communities are increasing their support with good reason. Small businesses account for more than 99 percent of firms, 49 percent of employment and 42 percent of payroll in the country.[1] Further, small business lending continues to struggle out of the recession. While overall business lending is up nearly 25 percent from 2008, bank loans of less than $1 million remain down 14 percent over the same period.[2]

So communities are focused on helping small businesses, and from a constituent and need perspective, it makes sense for them to do so. But what does it mean to “help” a small business? For that matter, what is a “small” business? The answers to these questions are actually complex.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business as having fewer than 500 employees, covering 99.7 percent of all firms. However, 90 percent of firms have fewer than 20 employees, and 62 percent have fewer than five. The difference in sophistication, goals and needs of a business with no employees is vastly different from a business with 10 employees, which is again exponentially different from a firm with 200 employees. Infusionsoft put together an infographic in 2012 to help illustrate these differences.

Given this variation, communities looking to support small businesses of any stripe need to think strategically about their economic development goals and needs before proceeding. Development finance programs require non-trivial commitments of resources to be effective and should therefore be entered into only as part of a comprehensive regional strategy. At the organization I work for, the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA), we refer to this approach as the “development finance toolbox.”[3]

In the area of small business access to capital, CDFA has seen a wide variety of city and state programs be successful. Technical assistance, seed and venture capital, credit enhancement, and lending programs — as well as incubators, microlending and other trendy solutions — can all contribute to small businesses in different ways. The keys to success are to match the right program to real community needs and to find the right partners to assist in implementation.

Small business needs, foundational finance programs, and innovative support programs are all being covered as part of the Providing Small Businesses with Access to Capital forum being held in Kansas City, MO on October 8-9, 2014. Economic development, small business development, and other city staff are encouraged to participate in the event to learn about the latest and best practices for encouraging this critical sector of the local economy.

Rittenberg_HeadShot_blogAbout the author: Jason Rittenberg is the Director of Research & Advisory Services for CDFA. He oversees numerous projects, including the State Small Business Credit Initiative Coalition, and is the course advisor the CDFA Intro Revolving Loan Fund Course.

 

 

 

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Latest Statistics of U.S. Businesses Annual Data. Retrieved 8/19/2014 from: http://www.census.gov/econ/susb/

[2] Simon, P. and Loten, A. (2014, Aug. 17). Small-business lending is slow to recover. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 8/19/2014 from: http://online.wsj.com/articles/small-business-lending-is-slow-to-recover-1408329562

[3] Rittner, T. (2009). Practitioner’s Guide to Economic Development Finance.

How Pittsburgh Plans to Connect Two Thousand Young People to Health Insurance

This is a guest post by Patrick Dowd. Pittsburgh, Pa. is one of eight cities NLC has awarded funding to reduce the number of uninsured children.

Healthy-Together-Pitts

Pittsburgh is dubbed one of the most livable and most affordable cities in the nation and is known for its vibrant neighborhoods, world-class arts scene, top-rated health systems and friendly residents. Soon, it could be known for being the first city in the country to achieve 100 percent health insurance enrollment of children and youth. Thanks to a major grant from the National League of Cities (NLC), the Steel City may make history.

The NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families initiative awarded Pittsburgh $200,000 to implement local outreach efforts to enroll its youngest residents in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The plan, called Healthy Together, will target two thousand young people who have been the hardest to reach and most difficult to enroll. The Office of the Mayor will lead the work and collaborate with primary partners: Allies for Children, the Consumer Health Coalition and the Allegheny County Health Department.

I want to thank the National League of Cities for this award, which is the result of a lot of hard work. We are going to use this program to reach 100 percent health insurance enrollment for our youth, and build a model outreach effort that other cities can duplicate across the country.

- Mayor William Peduto

To announce the news, Mayor William Peduto held a press conference in his office. Within hours, every major media outlet shared the story. Interviews appeared on CBS Pittsburgh, KDKA Newsradio, the Pittsburgh Business Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, WESA-AM and WPXI-TV, and social media messages spread like wildfire. #HealthyTogether reached more than 60,000 people on Twitter.

Allies-for-children-tweet

“We are excited about the initial buzz the grant created and plan to continue to engage the media,” says Allies for Children Executive Director Patrick Dowd. “However we know the key to the plan is to continue to build a strong coalition of elected officials, community leaders and child-serving organizations.”

“We realize that in order for this campaign to truly work, it must be led by the city and a mayor who priorities the health of our children,” says Nonprofit & Faith-Based Manager Betty Cruz. “That’s why we changed the direction of our initial approach during the application process. Upon receiving feedback from the National League of Cities, the Office of the Mayor worked with our primary partners on a plan that, over time, would build a sustainable model utilizing existing channels that can fold into the daily work of city government. This will hopefully bring about systematic changes to institutions serving youth.”

FB-Pitts-blog

Mayor Peduto’s Healthy Together campaign combines two core strategies to move Pittsburgh to complete coverage for all children and youth. First, Healthy Together proposes outreach efforts in those communities where it is most likely that uninsured children reside. In the broadest terms, the underlying strategy of the campaign is to embed outreach and enrollment activities in efforts that already exist, like the opening of swimming pools and the rental of sports fields. Additional activities include marching band performances, roving art carts and movies in the park.

“The events have the potential of reaching hundreds of uninsured children living in the City of Pittsburgh,” says Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker. “These kids are five times more likely to have an unmet medical concern and three times more likely to not have access to prescription drugs, like asthma inhalers. Additionally, uninsured kids are 30 percent less likely to get medical treatment when injured. This grant will help expand health access to every child in every neighborhood, so they can enjoy their childhoods to the fullest.”

Second, the Healthy Together campaign will bring systematic change to the institutions already serving children in Pittsburgh, thereby creating a net to catch kids not identified through outreach efforts. Simultaneously, with the launching of the outreach campaign, the City of Pittsburgh, which employs more than 6,000 city residents, will launch an in-reach campaign to make certain that all employees’ children are covered with health insurance. This could be the first step towards a larger effort to require that all firms contracting with the City of Pittsburgh perform similar in-reach efforts.

“We are thrilled that the city is putting the health care of our children at the forefront of practice changes and policy discussions,” says Consumer Health Coalition Executive Director Beth Heeb. “This work will change health outcomes for kids and significantly enhance access to quality, affordable health care.”

At the same time, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, which serves 70 percent of the school age population of the City of Pittsburgh, will track a question on school enrollment forms, which asks if students have health insurance. Beginning in August, responses to this question will be electronically coded and shared with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. The information will then be entered into a data warehouse. Every application for which yes was not answered will be referred to the Consumer Healthcare Coalition to be matched with quality, affordable insurance.

Pitts-kids-pics

Outreach in the community combined with systematic change will not only help Pittsburgh cover 100 percent of children with health insurance, but will also foster a culture of coverage. This is especially important for the future of Pittsburgh as Mayor Peduto positions the city for population growth of 20,000 in the next decade. Having successful outreach strategies and systems in place to assist families, especially those new to the region, with finding affordable health insurance will be critical to the long-term health of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Throughout the enrollment campaign, Mayor Peduto will serve as a spokesperson, working with community members and community-based organizations.

Partners include:

  • A+ Schools;
  • Allegheny County Children’s Court;
  • Allegheny County Department of Human Services;
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh;
  • Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh;
  • Enroll America;
  • Homeless Children’s Education Fund;
  • Latino Family Center;
  • Perry Hilltop Citizens Council;
  • Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children;
  • Pittsburgh Public Schools;
  • Pittsburgh; Squirrel Hill Health Center;
  • Service Employees International Union;
  • The Brashear Association;
  • Kingsley Association;
  • United Way of Allegheny County;
  • YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Center for Race & Gender Equity;
  • Center for Social & Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh and Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

Healthy Together combines a healthy mix of government leadership and community partnership with a rich variety of activities. The goal is to ensure that Pittsburgh’s children will live healthily ever after well beyond the life of this grant.

Dowd 2012-010 High ResolutionAbout the author: Patrick Dowd is a key partner in the Healthy Together enrollment campaign being led by the City of Pittsburgh. His organization, Allies for Children, has worked in partnership with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in shaping the Healthy Together plan and will continue to be a thought-partner throughout the campaign. Patrick joined Allies for Children in July 2013 as its inaugural executive director.

 

 

The Healthy Kids-Happy Families Insurance Campaign: Garden City, Michigan

This is a guest post by Megan Sheeran. Garden City, Mich. is one of eight cities NLC has awarded funding to reduce the number of uninsured children.

By Dwight Burdette, via Wikimedia Commons

By Dwight Burdette, via Wikimedia Commons

Our nation thrives when the health of its smaller communities is good.  Access to health insurance for vulnerable populations, importantly children and families, is crucial in securing a better future for us all.  The city of Garden City is well aware of what makes a great community and has committed to strengthening its resident’s awareness and enrollment in Michigan’s low cost or no cost insurance programs.

Garden City, MI: In a Nutshell

Garden City is a small city with a lot of heart located in southeast Michigan, just a 30 minute drive from downtown Detroit.  Its residents are hard working and service-oriented people.  The city’s community leaders are always working hard to meet the needs of those people living within the city limits and beyond.  As the city’s motto states, it’s “A Great Place To Call Home”.

Getting a Plan in Motion

Garden City is one of the eight cities awarded the National League of Cities grant and technical assistance to support the city leader’s efforts to educate and enroll those residents that are eligible for low cost or no cost health insurance.

A Task Force, made up of community leaders, was organized to carry out the planning phase of the healthcare initiative named the Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project.  Numerous community leaders signed on to be involved with the project including representatives from the school district, the local hospital, and the city government.  The Task Force is a shining example of the commitment and passion this community’s leaders have for the well-being of those residing in their city.

The goal of the Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project is to enroll 100% of Garden City children and adults who are eligible for the Healthy Michigan insurance program but are not currently insured.  During the preliminary stage of program development, it was found that 10% of children in the city were uninsured and eligible for Healthy Michigan (roughly 633 children!).  Clearly, this number doesn’t include the many parents and family members that are also uninsured but are eligible for a Healthy Michigan plan.  It has been estimated that a large percentage of the city’s population will be positively influenced by this project.

Meeting the Significant Healthcare Need in the City:  A Two-Pronged Approach

Prong One

Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project is to increase awareness and knowledge of the Healthy Michigan, the state’s low cost or no cost insurance program.  Majority of residents surveyed during the planning process reported the reason they were not signed up for Healthy Michigan was due to the complicated and time-consuming process of enrolling.  It was important for the initiative to incorporate an educational dimension; therefore the residents of Garden City would be informed about their potential eligibility for Healthy Michigan, the potential benefits this would offer to their individual families and how simple it can be to enroll.

Prong Two 

The Project will offer enrollment assistance to those residents who qualify for the Healthy Michigan insurance program.  The key to this enrollment assistance is that it be offered by trusted community members in trusted community locations such as in schools, the community center, and at the local hospital.  A new city department, the Community Resource Department (CRD), will carry out the day-to-day workings of the project.  City staff and volunteer community members will be the “boots on the ground”, going out into the community and offering one-on-one personal assistance to adults and parents during the application process.

The Project will be in operation year round, apart from the initial campaign, to offer those individuals who have enrolled continuous form assistance and help with choosing a healthcare plan, select a local primary care physician and schedule their first well visit appointment.  It is crucial that these families and individuals do not fall through the cracks once they are found to be eligible for Healthy Michigan.

Increasing Health Insurance Coverage in Garden City: The Benefits

According to the National Center of Children in Poverty, children have higher health-related school absentee rates, affecting educational attainment and future employability (Present, Engage, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, 2008).  Parents of these children experience the challenges of coping with an ill child; employee absenteeism to be home with a sick child that causes lost wages and negatively impacts a parent’s ability to maintain consistent employment (C. Teng, Citispeak.org, 2013).  The Health Kids-Happy Families project will reduce the number of uninsured children in the city, thereby improving school attendance and educational attainment; preventing their parents’ from the threat of falling into a debilitating financial crisis.

In addition, the local hospital is currently challenged with a high rate of Emergency Room visits by uninsured families for non-emergency issues; majority of these visits go unpaid, causing tremendous financial burden on the hospital.  Also, when the Emergency Room is busy with non-emergency issues, true emergency treatment is often delayed.  Reducing non-emergency use of the Emergency Room will benefit the community greatly, financially and otherwise.

Garden City: Setting a Course to Thrive!

The City of Garden City’s Healthy Kids-Happy Families project is going to enrich its community immensely.  Being an example to other communities of what can happen when city leaders come together for the sole purpose of cultivating healthier outcomes for families and individuals and in doing so enriching the nation as a whole.

Megan-Sheeran-Garden-CityAbout the author: Megan Sheeran is a limited licensed Master of Social Work and is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work.  She recently returned to the City of Garden City as the Community Resource Coordinator and will be organizing the day-to-day tasks for the Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project as well as coordinating many other community support program.