Should Local Governments Build and Own Broadband Infrastructure?

This is a guest post by Bayfield, Colo. Mayor Rick Smith.

The San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. (photo: Ed Cooley)

With less revenue, municipalities across the country are being asked to do more. While continually providing water, sewer and transportation services to their constituents, many communities are discovering a new infrastructure is being added to the list – broadband.

The southwest Colorado region is made up of five counties and 11 municipalities. It became apparent to these governmental entities that they were paying more for broadband services than their counterparts in urban Colorado. Upon further investigation, it also became apparent that the smaller, more rural communities had few options when it came to broadband service providers.

Regional map of Southwest Colorado

Regional map of Southwest Colorado. (photo: SWCCOG)

These southwest Colorado governments joined together to form the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). The initial emphasis of the council was to address the gap in broadband service. The SWCCOG’s vision was to build a robust regional network that would allow the counties and municipalities to streamline their broadband costs while increasing bandwidth for their residents. An added goal was to build the network in a manner that allowed the governments to communicate and share data with each other more effectively in the future.

An engineering study was commissioned to determine the current state of broadband infrastructure across the region. The engineers also sought to develop a picture of what a network might look like if all the government buildings within a city or county were connected in a small network, and then each of the small networks were connected to form the larger regional network.

Armed with this information, the SWCCOG sent a small contingency to Denver to request funding for this initiative from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA). The project was approved for full funding at $3,000,000 with an additional $1,000,000 in local match. With this funding, the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments launched a three-year broadband initiative: the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN).

The Southwest Colorado Access Network had four main objectives:

  • Install broadband infrastructure (fiber-optic and/or wireless) connecting government buildings in the various SWCCOG communities.
  • Design and install a regional component whereby these small networks could be joined together to create a large regional network.
  • Build redundancy into the regional network so as to minimize the risk of loss of Internet access for the SWCCOG members.
  • Ensure the sustainability of the network.
The Southwest Colorado Access Network

The Southwest Colorado Access Network. (photo: SWCCOG)

The SCAN initiative took three and a half years to complete – and, thanks to the forward-thinking perspective of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments, the project had many positive outcomes:

  • Each SWCCOG member was able to implement or improve broadband access for itself and its residents.
  • Partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) resulted in lower per-megabyte costs for broadband services.
  • A regional network involving public/public, public/private and private/private partnerships was created.
  • County and municipal governments worked closely with each other to connect their smaller networks to the larger regional network (La Plata assisted Bayfield, Cortez assisted Dolores and Mancos, Montezuma assisted Dolores, etc.).

The Southwest Colorado Access Network was successfully implemented, and the SWCCOG hit its target of improved broadband service throughout the region at a lower cost. The most surprising outcome of this collaborative effort was the number of newly-forged private/private partnerships between ISPs. These partnerships resulted in significantly lower broadband costs not only for the local governments, but for their residents as well – a win-win scenario for the entire southwest Colorado region.

Mayor Rick SmithAbout the Author: As Mayor of Bayfield, Colo., Dr. Rick Smith was appointed to the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG) and in 2010 was elected Board Chairman. During his tenure on the SWCCOG Board, he successfully presented the $4.3 million Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN) project to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA).

Resilient Cities Summit Challenges Government and Industry to Plan Collaboratively for the Future

This article was co-authored by Jeremy Sigmon, Director of Technical Policy at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

Aspen_Mayor Becker“Resilience is bigger than disaster management,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, president of the National League of Cities and co-chair of the Resilient Cities Summit hosted last week at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO. “It’s about preserving and improving quality of life for our citizens every single day.” The Mayor facilitated a timely dialogue on community resilience amongst his peer mayors and city leaders from across the country with the help of dozens of private sector experts and practitioners.

The National League of Cities and the U.S. Green Building Council recently hosted the event that drew more than 50 attendees from cities and the NGO and private sectors. Leaders from communities of all sizes and shapes participated in the two-day discussion, including: Aspen, Colo.; Boulder, Colo.; Cleveland; Edgewood, N.M.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Little Rock, Ark.; Mercer Island, Wash.; Multnomah County, Ore.; Nashville, Tenn.; Pinecrest, Fla.; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Santa Monica, Calif.; Snoqualmie, Wash.; Waukesha, Wis.; and West Palm Beach, Fla.

Aspen_Group PhotoThese city leaders were able to quickly move beyond ideas and discuss specific actions they could initiate because more than two dozen other attendees represented organizations that are actively running programs to help cities become more resilient. They were able to draw on expertise from federal agencies like FEMA, HUD, EPA, and DOE; from technical assistance providers like the Trust For Public Land, Urban Land Institute, Sustainable Concrete, and the International Code Council; and from private companies such as Esri, Skanska, Trimble, Constellation Energy, Tremco, Wells Fargo, Socrata, and many more.

Over the course of two days, participants were led through a series of discussions on the following themes (view the full program):

  • The complexity of resilience;
  • Resilience as a leadership opportunity;
  • Lessons in city resilience;
  • Making the next resilience investment;
  • Transforming conversation into action; and
  • The global implications for U.S. city leadership

“In our fast-changing world, local government leaders in every region and of every size, shape, and culture increasingly face difficult questions of how best to ensure a strong, safe, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable community,” said Roger Platt, President of USGBC. “Community resilience is the heart of this challenge and this opportunity. The time to address it is now.”

The Summit was a unique opportunity to take stock of how far we have come in the effort to create more resilient communities, and to understand the barriers that remain.

City Resilience as a Term and a Movement

The idea of city resilience is not new. Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, is considered by many to mark the birth of ‘resilience’ as a term and a movement. In the intervening decade, professionals in environmental, risk management, urban development, and homeland security fields have increasingly worked together to recognize and pursue mutual goals. Codes, standards, and other policies have all improved to support more resilient design and development practices.

Even with a decade of work on the subject, resilience is still not very well understood amongst government officials and the industry writ large. It’s true that resilience – and associated terms like mitigation, preparedness, and adaptation – is not an applause line on the campaign trail. Still in its early stages, the resilience movement is generally confined to professional or academic circles. An observation that many shared is that for every glossy example of a project being made smarter, more sustainable, or more resilient, there are still many more counterexamples of projects that are failing to consider and address long-term risk.

At the conclusion of the Summit, it was clear that everyone in the room had learned something they could use to make their government to be more effective, or make their organization to be more innovative, or make their community to be more responsive. Alex Wilson, founder of the Resilient Design Institute, said his article summarizing the event, “The Summit was unlike any other I have attended… I came away optimistic that the attendees in the room weren’t going to simply sit by and wait for action; they were going to make it happen.”

Additionally, Summit hosts NLC and USGBC are excited to join the Urban Land Institute in the joint creation of a “Blueprint for Community Resilience” later this year. Drawing on the conversation from the Summit, the blueprint serve as a tool for city leaders and practitioners to better understand how best to leverage existing resources and successes and to encourage more effective public private partnerships that can drive community resilience.

We are excited about this collaboration between USGBC, NLC and ULI, and how our organizations and our members can accelerate the uptake of resiliency thinking in communities nationwide. Look forward to our joint report this fall, and perhaps we’ll see you at a future Resilient Cities Summit!

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

10 Ways to Build a Bicycle Friendly Community

This is a guest post by Bill Nesper, Vice President of Programs at the League of American Bicyclists.

Cyclists participate in a ride during the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., a day of bike advocacy on Capitol Hill. (photo: Brian Palmer)

Bicycling is more than a practical, cost-effective solution to many municipal challenges. It’s an opportunity to make your community a vibrant destination for residents and visitors — a place where people don’t just live and work, but thrive.

Bicycle Friendly Communities top the lists of best places to live, work, and visit. Bicycle commuting is up 62% in the United States since 2000 – and it’s grown by 105% in BFCs who are making investments in better infrastructure, education, and encouragement.

Smart leaders across the country are meeting the demand by adding more dedicated bike facilities and connecting bike networks that are comfortable and convenient for all ages and abilities, creating more opportunities for people to learn bicycling skills, improving laws, ordinances and policies to improve safety, and creating an authentic and inclusive bike culture, through events like Open Streets and Bike to Work Week.

With Bike to Work Week just around the corner (May 11-15), it’s a great time to take a look at bicycling in your community. It is your chance to get on a bike and see how safe, comfortable and convenient bicycling is in your community. Here are five things you can do to get started, and five longer-term actions to transform your community.

Five things to do this week:

  1. Ride your bike this week and bike to work on Bike to Work Day, which is Friday, May 15. It will make you happy and give you a new way to connect with people in your community. Look for BTWD events, bicycling classes, bicycling clubs to ride with and more at http://bikeleague.org/map. Then tell us your story.
  2. Use that bike ride and this Quick Assessment to think about the current barriers keeping people from bicycling more regularly in your community. Learn about what things that can be done to build a Bicycle Friendly Community.
  3. Think about what it would take to make your community government a model Bicycle Friendly Business. Introduce your chamber of commerce and business associations to the Bicycle Friendly Business program as a new way to engage with local businesses.
  4. Watch and share these short bicycling skills-building videos.
  5. Celebrate National Bike Month by taking staff on a lunch ride and invite the public to join or hold a community meeting on a bike ride.

Five longer-term actions to build a Bicycle Friendly Community:

  1. Adopt a Complete Streets policy and design standards that create a connected, inclusive all-ages-and abilities bicycling network.
  2. Reach the general public with the vision of a Bicycle Friendly Community and offer regular opportunities for children and adults to gain bicycling skills and traffic safety education.
  3. Support a bicycling culture throughout the year by supporting more family-friendly community and charity rides, bike valet parking at community events, ‘Ciclovia’ or Open Streets events, and other bicycle-themed festivals.
  4. Support and enforce better bicycle-friendly safety ordinances at state and local levels.
  5. Set an ambitious ridership and safety target for your community, develop an actionable plan, and support dedicated funding for implementation. And don’t forget to apply for the Bicycle Friendly Community designation. Every applicant gets custom feedback on what to do to become a great BFC.

Learn more about Bike To Work Day, Bicycle Friendly Communities and more at bikeleague.org.

About the Author: Bill Nesper is Vice President of Programs at the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C. Follow the League on Twitter @bikeleague.

Visit the National League of Cities website

Business Lending, Bike Deliveries and Bee Hives: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

Could this be the future of online shopping? German start-up Kiezkaufhaus allows consumers to purchase local goods online for same-day delivery by bike. (image courtesy Kiezkaufhaus)

A new concern for small businesses is predatory lending. Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection is raising a red flag about potential predatory lending to local business owners. Across the country there are reportedly a growing number of unregulated, alternative online lenders that are charging high interest rates to businesses that likely can’t afford the payments. For example, a restaurant owner in Los Angeles is paying a 60 percent interest rate on a $30,000 loan. The city of Chicago aims to create new regulations to curb this predatory practice that could be a national model for other cities.

Cities are navigating how to create healthy and diverse retail sectors. Striking the right balance of retention and attraction strategies for retail is an ongoing challenge for local economic developers. When developers flock to “hot spot” neighborhoods, there two negative consequences. First, existing businesses might be forced to shutter their doors, as seen in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.  At the same time, it’s difficult to attract retail to neighborhoods that aren’t seen as top choices for investment. Cities in NLC’s Big Ideas for Small Business peer network recently shared their best practices for ensuring that all businesses have a chance to be successful, and that all neighborhoods have access to affordable goods and services.

Small businesses in Baltimore are recovering from riot-related damage. During recent unrest and demonstrations in Baltimore and Ferguson, local businesses suffered serious damage from looting to fires to broken windows. Although attention (rightfully so) has been turned to police and community relations, the question remains how should cities mitigate riot-related damage to small businesses?

NLC Local Jobs Report shows positive growth overall and in local transportation jobs. The latest NLC Local Jobs Report analysis found the month of April 2015 marked the longest period (five months) of consistent local government employment growth since the start of the recession in 2009. The report also found that the level of local transportation employment growth remained relatively positive during the past few years, despite the recession, likely due to federal stimulus funding. (For more local transportation information, check out the webinar on Innovative Approaches to Infrastructure Funding during Infrastructure Week.)

Idea of the month: Local goods ordered online, delivered by bike in Germany. Could this be the future of online shopping? German start-up Kiezkaufhaus allows consumers to purchase local goods online for same-day delivery by bike.  It’s the convenience of online shopping plus the added benefit of supporting small local shops. Sounds like a win-win.

What we’re reading. The launch of What Works Cities, which will help cities use data and performance management approaches to improve local government operations. Cities can apply now to be included in the first cohort of cities.

For the urban farmers among us. It’s official, you can now have chickens, ducks, goats, and bee hives on your property in Pittsburgh thanks to new zoning changes. Here are five reasons from NLC why you should promote urban agriculture.

Robbins_small (2)About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

43 Cities Gather in Philadelphia to Take Action on Reducing Violence Against African American Males

This is a guest post by Jerrilyn Black.

The Cities United event took place in Philadephia April 29 – May 1, 2015. (Getty Images)

Cities United, a national partnership to reduce violence and violence-related deaths in the African American male community, held its second annual convening in Philadelphia April 29 – May 1. The second annual convening brought together more than 300 participants representing 43 cities, including mayors, local elected officials, city staff, faith/community representatives and young people. Attendees participated in robust breakout sessions, plenaries and site visits that focused on how they can locally deepen their Cities United efforts. Cities United believes that African American boys matter and are assets to our communities. During the convening, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges reinforced this principle when she stated, “We all thrive when black men thrive.”

NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony speaks at the Cities United event in Philadephia on May 1, 2015. (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia)

NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony speaks at the Cities United event in Philadephia on May 1, 2015. (photo courtesy City of Philadelphia)

The Cities United initiative also acknowledges that African American men and boys are not always treated as community-building partners due to the explicit and implicit biases they experience every day. As a result, the convening provided opportunities for mayors and city teams to explore how African American men and boys are negatively – and, at times, fatally – impacted by structural racism and skewed perceptions of race. This was particularly relevant as the much publicized and tragic deaths of African American men and boys in Baltimore, North Charleston, S.C., Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., and Cleveland continued to rest in the hearts and minds of convening attendees.

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Mayors and their teams came to the Philadelphia convening ready to not only talk about how African American males are impacted by bias and racism but to also discuss solutions and strategies that support positive outcomes for black men and boys. For example, during the Cities United press conference, Mayor Nutter cited workforce development and job creation for African American men and boys as vital ways to promote black male achievement. Mayors also met with one another on several occasions to discuss program and policy solutions to further the Cities United agendas locally.

Many cities included young African American men as part of their teams, who passionately spoke of their experiences of inequity within their own neighborhoods. These young men, who are staunch leaders in their communities, displayed their commitment to collaborating with city leaders to create more just opportunities for black men and boys. The young men are examples of why it is so important for local elected officials to invest in the safety and well-being of black men and boys.

In a country where homicide is the leading cause of death for black males between ages 15 and 24, the National League of Cities (NLC) is committed to working with the other Cities United principals – Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Casey Family Programs, and the Campaign for Black Male Achievement – to advance the reduction of violence and violence related deaths of African American men and boys. Additionally, through its Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative, NLC is also dedicated to providing leadership development, resources and tools to elected officials who want to further explore strategies that overcome the impact of racism and implicit /explicit bias on their local systems. For information about Cities United, please visit citiesunited.org.

About the Author: Jerrilyn Black is the Senior Associate for Youth Violence Prevention at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

What is Your City Doing to Promote Access to Nature? Participate in our Survey!

Take our Cities Promoting Access to Nature survey today! (Getty Images)

NLC is partnering with the Children & Nature Network (C&NN) on a new initiative, Cities Promoting Access to Nature (CPAN), to ensure that all children, particularly children living in economically distressed communities, have the opportunity to play, learn and grow in outdoor spaces.

Many cities are implementing exciting initiatives and programs to connect more children in their communities to nature. To learn more about what cities are doing, NLC and C&NN have developed a Cities Promoting Access to Nature survey designed to collect information from city officials and staff on the range of strategies, policies and programs they are using – or are considering using – to promote access to nature.

As a follow-up to the survey and subsequent steps in the initiative, cities will receive an invitation this summer to apply to participate in one of two upcoming leadership academies. The leadership academies will provide opportunities to learn about best practices and innovations to connect children to nature, meet experts in the field and receive technical assistance to develop plans for their city.

This three-year initiative will also include pass-through grants, technical assistance to cities and peer support. Funding support from The JPB Foundation makes the CPAN initiative possible.

For more information, contact Andy Moore at moore@nlc.org or Elena Hoffnagle at hoffnagle@nlc.org.

Alysha Davis
About the Author: Alysha Davis is the Associate for Research and Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

This is Infrastructure Week, and Here’s How We’re Participating

Infrastructure Week is a national week of high-profile events, media coverage, focused advocacy and other efforts around the country to build momentum for revitalization of America’s economic competitiveness through rebuilding American infrastructure.

For many of us, infrastructure creates a sort of cognitive dissonance: we don’t often think about it, but we all use it, and we certainly notice when it fails. But because of their significant role in managing, funding and maintaining much of our nation’s infrastructure, city leaders often think about infrastructure a great deal.

In fact, NLC’s 2015 Survey of State Municipal Leagues revealed that leagues and their member cities identify maintaining existing or building new infrastructure as the most critical issue concerning cities’ economic vitality and quality of life. Survey respondents also identified transportation as the top issue with which cities need federal leadership and involvement. Responses underscored the importance of increasing investment in local infrastructure, and affirmed that that only way this can happen is if Congress passes a new infrastructure bill that promotes the local role in this decision-making process.

From roads, bridges and public transportation to water and telecommunications, NLC understands that infrastructure forms the backbone of cities, and that’s why we will be actively participating in Infrastructure Week (May 11-15) this year as an affiliate. Now in its third year, Infrastructure Week is led by several organizations from the business, labor and public policy sectors (Building America’s Future, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Brookings Institution, National Association of Manufacturers, AFL-CIO, and the American Society of Civil Engineers). This week’s events will convene stakeholders in Washington, D.C. and around the country to discuss and advocate for the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems, and the essential role infrastructure plays in our economy.

NLC will host and co-host several events:

Monday, May 11, 1:30-4:00 pm ET
Solving the Infrastructure Crisis Through Public-Private Partnerships: If you’re near Washington, D.C., join NLC for this primer on public-private partnerships (P3s), which will give you replicable examples of success.

Tuesday, May 12
Congressional Briefing: NLC and other state and local government associations will host a Congressional briefing focused on transportation funding. Check out our Facebook page for a recap!

Wednesday, May 13, All Day
Infrastructure Virtual Advocacy Day: As NLC leaders and our allies converge on Capitol Hill, join us from home to tell Congress to fix the transportation funding crisis. Sign up now to take part – you only need five minutes!

Thursday, May 12, 2:00-3:00 pm ET
Webinar – Exploring Local Broadband Initiatives: We’re offering a free webinar exclusively to our members that focuses on how city officials can leverage their position to increase broadband access.

Friday, May 15, 2:00-3:15 pm ET
Webinar – Innovative Approaches to Infrastructure Funding: Hear about solutions to fund transportation projects in this free webinar.

NLC will publish a number of blog entries over the next couple of days further exploring all things infrastructure, examining the roles of city, state and federal partners, and detailing opportunities to engage in these important events and discussions. Revisit NLC’s CitiesSpeak blog this week for more information, and don’t hesitate to contact us (ndupuis@nlc.org) if you have questions or would like to learn more.

Nicole DuPuis bio photoAbout 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.

Five Reasons Why You Should Be Promoting Urban Agriculture in Your City

This is a guest post by Allison Paisner.

April showers bring more than May flowers: for cities, springtime brings an opportunity to focus on more sustainable food systems. Gardens represent an ideal; the food they provide helps meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This spring, NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute recognizes local gardens and urban agriculture as valuable resources that exemplify this ideal.

Gardens represent more than the idea of sustainability, though – they represent opportunity. Urban agriculture initiatives offer city residents the chance to volunteer in a community garden, start their own gardens, support local agriculture through participation in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, or buy produce from a local farmer’s market. From environmental to health benefits, here are just a few of the reasons why urban agriculture will make your city a better place to live.

1) Gardens can help bring nutritious, affordable food to underserved communities.

gardens post 1

Food deserts are geographic areas in which a substantial portion of the population experiences the dual problems of low income and limited food access. According to the USDA, “census tracts qualify as food deserts if they meet low-income and low-access thresholds:

1. They qualify as ‘low-income communities’, based on having: a) a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, OR b) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area median family income; AND

2. They qualify as ‘low-access communities’, based on the determination that at least 500 persons and/or at least 33% of the census tract’s population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (10 miles, in the case of non-metropolitan census tracts).”

Over 13.5 million Americans are living in food deserts. However, even communities with limited food access are often forced to choose between fast food, chain restaurant and convenience store options. Garden projects and even edible landscaping (such as fruit and nut trees) throughout these communities provide an accessible local source of fresh produce. You can use the USDA Economic Research Service Food Access Research Atlas to find food desert tracts in your area, and visit the USDA website to find a complete list of 19 federal grant programs that your community could use to increase access to healthy food.

2) Local gardens reduce food transportation costs.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)
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Whereas “local” is generally regarded as within a 100 mile radius, fresh produce in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to plate (that’s roughly the distance from Los Angeles to Minneapolis!). A Leopold Center study showed that increasing local consumption of produce by only 10 percent in Iowa, for example, would annually save more than 300,000 gallons in transportation fuel.

As a result, “Farm-to-Fork” or “Farm-to-Plate” campaigns are gaining traction throughout the country as consumers aim to reduce the mileage their food travels and eat more locally. For example, Sacramento, Calif. Mayor Kevin Johnson, together with regional elected officials and the State of California, proclaimed the city “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital” in 2012, as the city boasts more than 7,000 acres of “boutique farms” and hosts more than 50 farmers markets.

3) Creative and strategic garden locations can help reduce urban “heat island” effects.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Long gone are the days where gardens are merely rows and columns of vegetation in your backyard or community lot. In urban areas where green space is coveted and backyards are hard to come by, urban agriculture has transformed the environment. The Trust for Public Land points to planting shade trees (let’s make them fruit and nut trees!) and creating new parks as ways to lessen the urban “heat island” effect, the phenomenon in which developed urban areas are warmer than surrounding rural areas. Restoration of junkyards or vacant lots, indoor urban farming techniques (such as aquaponic fish farming and vertical farms), and rooftop gardens are the new wave of urban agriculture. Rather than covering building roofs with black tar, which has low albedo (reflectivity), “green roofs” are essentially rooftops covered with vegetation that provide a source of shade and evapotranspiration, removing heat from the air. With ample access to sun, rooftop farming not only provides a great location for a local source of fresh food, but helps to absorb rainwater, diluting pollutant loads in runoff and potentially preventing storm water runoff by serving as a drainage layer. If you’re interested in existing projects and their viability as a design strategy in other cities, read on about King County, Washington and the feasibility, challenges and benefits of green rooftops. New York City, for example, implemented the Green Roof Tax Abatement to further incentivize green roof construction.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

4) Community and school-based gardens promote citizen engagement.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

If getting dinner is a social activity, then growing dinner can be, too! Cities are increasingly offering plots of land for residents or employing community garden programs to encourage citizen participation in the urban garden “movement,” strengthen neighborhood ties, and promote volunteerism. But gardens can also reinforce community bonds by providing a medium to donate food to local assistance programs, like the Sharing the Harvest Program in Seattle, and offer work to at-risk populations. For example, The Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, California provides job training and transitional employment support services in which trainees learn to grow food on a three-acre organic farm. The organic produce is then disseminated throughout the Santa Cruz community through a CSA program and Farm Stand. Green Youth Farm in Chicago alternately educates teens from low-income communities on sustainable urban agriculture and employs local high school students to work on city organic-farm sites. Recent studies show that school garden programs can positively impact student academic performance, and improve the physical, social and emotional health of students. Cities such as Washington, D.C. and New York City offer school gardens programs that connect kids to the environment and instill a sense of appreciation that will extend beyond their schooling careers.

5) Food waste can be reduced by composting.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

This last reason to “Go Gardens” stems from the fact that, according to the US EPA, roughly 28 percent of municipal solid waste generated in 2012 was attributed solely to food waste and yard trimmings – both of which are desirable compostable products. With a total generation of 251 million tons of trash and only a recycling and composting rate of 34.5 percent, there is much room for improvement – and this is where gardens come in. Compost is defined as “organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants,” essentially serving as a natural fertilizer to improve soil health. Not only does composting reduce landfill waste, but it’s cost-effective and helps increase crop yields.

While you can compost on your own in a bin outside, many cities offer curbside compost programs at no additional fee, similar to that of Salt Lake City, Utah. Here, the yard and vegetative waste is delivered to the city landfill compost operation, and is offered for sale in the form of wood chips, mulch, and compost throughout the year at $30/scoop (one scoop is equivalent to three cubic yards). In comparison, topsoil and mulch can cost anywhere from $60-$150 for three cubic yards. The NYC Compost Project hosted by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden hosts composting workshops and provides assistance to community gardens, schools, and organizations interested in composting. Turning waste into valuable agricultural inputs only enhances the environmental and health benefits of urban gardening.

Allison Paisner headshotAbout the Author: Allison Paisner is an intern with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

First National College Signing Day Encourages Young People to #ReachHigher

The local Ballou High School marching band performed in full regalia as young people from more than 30 Washington, D.C. high schools flooded George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium to celebrate the District’s first college signing day event on Friday, May 1, 2015. (photo credit: George Washington University)

May 1, the deadline by which colleges traditionally require admitted students to submit a letter of intent, has now been declared National College Signing Day. Along with more than 600 additional Signing Day events, the event at George Washington University was part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign to honor graduating seniors who will continue their education at a 2-year college, 4-year college, community college or a certificate or credential program.

The Reach Higher campaign celebrates seniors across the nation who have decided to attend college. Almost 100 students crossed the stage during the Washington, D.C. event, many with academic scholarships, to proudly announce where they would be attending school in the fall. Accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Washington, D.C. Deputy Mayor Jennifer Niles, and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser greeted the future college freshmen with words of encouragement as they prepare for their new journey. Exceptional event planning by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Education helped create a day to remember.

National League of Cities staff members gather for a photo celebrating first lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher initiative.

National League of Cities staff members gather for a photo celebrating first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.

I was proud to represent the National League of Cities (NLC) on this warm spring day as I and others volunteered at the college singing day event. Over the past two months, NLC has disseminated social media press kits to city government offices persuading them to show their alma mater pride on May 1 and encourage young people in their communities to pursue higher education. Many cities responded with details about the exciting events they were planning and their mayor’s involvement.

Plans have already begun for next year’s event, and NLC will continue to support young people who dream big and dare to #ReachHigher.

Miles Sandler
About the Author:
Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at Sandler@nlc.org.

SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Oral Argument: Proceed, or Wait and See?

Supreme Court facade(Getty Images)

Justice Kennedy has a lot to think about over the next two months when it comes to same-sex marriage.

His first question (third of the argument) raised an issue that was discussed throughout Mary Bonauto’s argument in favor of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage: for millennia (not years, decades, or even centuries), marriage has been between a man and a woman. Then Justice Breyer, ever the pragmatist, asked why states can’t just wait and see whether same-sex is harmful to traditional marriage. And should just nine people be deciding this question anyway?

For those worried that Justice Kennedy’s and Justice Breyer’s initial questions indicate they are skeptical of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, more favorable questions laid ahead. Even in his question to Ms. Bonauto—and later in a question to the Solicitor General –Justice Kennedy pointed out that 10 years was enough time for the Court to go from desegregating schools to declaring bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. Perhaps more significantly, Justice Kennedy questioned Michigan attorney John Bursch’s argument, against a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, that states don’t believe that marriage “enhances the dignity of both the parties.” Dignity was the theme of Justice Kennedy’s opinion in United States v. Windsor where the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

As for Justice Breyer, his question to Mr. Bursch provides one answer to Justice Kennedy’s first question, if not his own questions: “But there is one group of people who they won’t open marriage to. So they have no possibility to participate in that fundamental liberty. That is people of the same sex who wish to marry. And so we ask, ‘why?’ And the answer we get is, ‘well, people have always done it.’ You know. You could have answered that one the same way [when] we talk[ed] about racial segregation.”

The Court was hard to read when it came to the second question in the case: assuming states are allowed to keep same-sex marriage bans, will states without a right to same-sex marriage be required to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully preformed in other states. On one hand, states typically recognize marriages performed in other states even if state laws vary on who may marry. On the other hand, if “recognition” becomes the law of the land, just one state allowing same-sex marriages could mean, practically speaking, that all same-sex marriages (performed in the state allowing them) would have to be recognized.

Interestingly, Justice Kennedy asked only one question of the attorneys arguing the recognition question. Might this be the case because he has already decided to vote that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional? We may never know, but we will have a better idea by the end of June when the Court issues an opinion in this case.

Read more coverage of the oral argument in this case on SCOTUSblog: http://www.scotusblog.com/.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.