The Rise of Cities and a Global Parliament of Mayors

Building on a foundation of intercity cooperation aimed at addressing the increasing dysfunction of nation-states in dealing with global crises, Benjamin Barber proposes a governance revolution: the founding of a new global legislative body comprising the world’s cities called the Global Parliament of Mayors.

Dr. Barber delivers an address at NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville, Tennessee on Nov. 6, 2015. (Jason Dixson)

This is a guest post by Dr. Benjamin Barber.

The age of the dominion of nation states, four centuries long, is over. Their national borders and insular sovereignty no longer accommodate the borderless interdependence of the 21st century world. Cities on the other hand are rising, their pragmatic capacity to solve problems and their inclination to cooperate across borders making them more successful politically than any other political bodies. That is hardly surprising, given that cities are much older than the nation-states to which they belong, and much more multicultural and hence open, transactional and tolerant as well. More than half the world’s population now live in cities (75 percent in the developed world) and over 80 percent of global GDP is produced by them. Moreover, cities are viewed by citizens as home, their own community and neighborhood to which their attachment is more traditional and visceral that their link to the nation state.

Little wonder, then, given this irresistible rise of cities to political preeminence, that a governance revolution is underway. This revolution is the consequence of two trends: the first, a devolution revolution in which, as Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne explained last spring, England will “deliver radical devolution to its great cities,” giving them “levers to grow their own local economies.” The second trend, grounded in the results of the first, is the manifest capacity of cities to work together across borders in addressing such common global issues as climate change, refugees and crime. As Mayor Bill di Blasio of New York City has said, “when national governments fail to act on crucial issues like climate, cities have to do so.”  Climate and sea rise have been particular concerns of cities, 90 percent of which are built on water: rivers, lakes, oceans and seas. Although the COP 21 meetings in Paris finally achieved a modest general agreement, it appears that real implementation will depend on cities where 80 percent of greenhouse emissions are generated and the political will is present to act.

Both devolution and global urban cooperation are fact not theory. The leadership of mayors in addressing the real problems of citizens from climate change, education and inequality to transportation, pandemic disease and security has inspired trust by citizens in local government more than double that of their trust in national politicians. And cities are already cooperating through associations like the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors; but they are also collaborating across borders in successful global urban networks which go far beyond the beguiling but modest sister cities program and that embrace institutions like the UCLG (United Cities and Local Government), the environmental collective ICLEI, the Hiroshima-based Cities for Peace, and the C40 Climate Cities founded by Mayors Livingston of London and Bloomberg of New York. It’s not just that cities can collaborate, they do!

Building on this foundation of intercity cooperation aiming at addressing the increasing dysfunction of nation-states in dealing with our global crises, I proposed in 2014 in my book If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities that the time had come for a governance revolution: the founding of a new global legislative body comprising the world’s cities that I called the Global Parliament of Mayors. Mayors responded enthusiastically, and theory is on the threshold of becoming practice.

On September 10-12, 2016 in The Hague (The Netherlands), the inaugural convening of the Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) will launch. This founding will take place in the “city of peace and justice” that in 1922 became home to the League of Nations Permanent Court of International Justice, in 1945 became host to the International Court of Justice and since 2002 has hosted the International Criminal Court.

How deeply fitting that The Hague and its visionary mayor Jozias van Aartsen, the former Dutch foreign minister, along with his colleagues in the Dutch G4 cities, should host the establishment of this new experiment in global democratic governance and mutual justice in our roiled age of global anarchy and pervasive injustice. For as the successive world courts in The Hague aspired to bring a degree of justice to international public affairs, the GPM aspires to encourage cities and their mayors to work together across borders to realize the public goods and global interests their citizens share in common but have yet to be secured by their national governments.

The establishment of a Global Parliament of Mayors as a governance keystone in the organizational arch of impressive urban networks alluded to earlier will build on their extensive achievements. It will act as an experiment in organizing and deploying the common power of cities; and in affording them common policies and laws through common legislation – but on an opt-in basis by individual cities. The opt-in approach will emphasize the bottom-up federal nature of municipal governance and the ultimate sovereignty of citizens themselves in authorizing legitimate governmental authority. Participation, collaboration and consensus will be the working methodology of the GPM, not top-down mandates via hierarchical decision-making.

Initial participants will include up to 125 motivated cities led by public officials keen to act. More than a hundred have already been engaged in the two-year planning process under way, along with numerous urban networks, NGOs and urban experts. These cities come from North and South, from municipalities large and small, from every economic bracket and every continent. In time, through virtual meetings on a digital platform, as well as innovative representative mechanisms, the GPM will be able to represent and include a preponderance of the world’s urban population. The aim is not just to represent traditional municipalities but emerging “metro-regions” that encompass old cities and newer suburbs and exurbs, as well as surrounding agricultural regions.

The GPM will not compete with or encroach upon sovereign nations, but will rather work to cooperate with them and with the United Nations in solving common global problems. The GPM cannot pretend to represent everyone, but will manifest the ultimate right of urban majorities across the globe to take action together, across borders, in domains where the global agenda has been stalled or thwarted. In this it will serve a sustainable and just planet and all those who live on it.

Ultimately, the founding of the GPM in September 2016 is an experiment in democratic urban governance that will depend on the vision, prudence and courage of its founding mayors and those who come to join them in The Hague. This innovative cross-border exercise in democracy and responsibility, rooted in the leadership of visionary mayors and their engaged citizens, represents a historic and constructive moment in unruly and dangerous times.

About the Author: Dr. Benjamin Barber is a senior research scholar at The Graduate Center, CUNY, founder of the Global Parliament of Mayors Project and the Interdependence Movement, and Walt Whitman Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University.

He is the author of eighteen books including the classic Strong Democracy, the international bestseller Jihad vs. McWorld, and his latest work, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, which is the foundation for Barber’s current project aimed at establishing a Global Parliament of Mayors.

His honors include a knighthood from the French Government, the Berlin Prize of the American Academy, the John Dewey Award, and Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Social Science Research Fellowships. Barber has also written for the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the L.A. Times as well as The Nation, The New Republic, and The Atlantic.

A Call for Bipartisan Leadership on Gun Violence

This is an op-ed written by Columbia, S.C., Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin.

Sweeping change that effectively combats gun violence can only come from a united, bipartisan Congress. (Getty Images)

It is hard to imagine that, in 2015, there were more than 52,606 gun-related incidents in the United States, which resulted in 13,344 deaths and 26,929 injuries. What is more troubling is that 3,390 children under the age of 17 were killed or injured as a result of gun violence. According to the Institute for Southern Studies, in South Carolina, a person is killed by a gun every 14 hours, and there is an aggravated assault with a gun occurring every 90 minutes. South Carolina ranks 4th in the nation for the most women killed by guns and 7th for overall gun related homicides.

There is no reason to be proud of these statistics. Law-abiding gun owners who have legally purchased their guns and have undergone background checks are not the perpetrators of most of these shootings. This surge in gun violence is a result of relaxed gun laws that allow criminals and gang members to freely purchase guns at gun shows, over the internet, and through straw purchasers and unscrupulous gun dealers.

South Carolina cities are on the front lines of the battle that is raging in our nation over what to do about gun violence. Last fall, the nation’s conscience was stunned by a horrific mass shooting that shattered the sanctity of Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. In Columbia, we have convened local community leaders and residents, and our state representatives have been at the forefront of enacting reforms that keep guns away from those convicted of domestic violence. However, federal action is essential for further progress. We need Congress to pass laws that will prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. These laws should require a background check on the sale and transfer of all guns, and stronger penalties for gun dealers and straw purchasers who knowingly buy from and sell to prohibited persons.

We can change the tide in the rise of gun violence in our cities through sensible actions that would make it harder for prohibited people to buy guns. However, it will take bipartisan leadership and commitment from our nation’s leaders, including the presidential candidates from both parties, to pass federal legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. We can and must do more to eliminate gun violence in America’s cities.

About the Author: Stephen Benjamin is the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and president of the African American Mayors Association.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Mandatory Union Fee Case

The petitioners in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association are asking the Court to restrict the collection of fees by unions that represent more than nine million public employees in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

(Getty Images)

It was a typical oral argument at the Supreme Court in a “big” case. Protesters outside with opposing messages tried to yell over each other, but everyone inside was listening to Justice Kennedy.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association the Court will decide whether to overrule a nearly 40-year old precedent requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. More than 20 States have enacted statutes authorizing fair share.

If the Court doesn’t overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), it may instead rule that public employees may be allowed to opt-in rather than required to opt-out of paying “nonchargeable” political union expenditures.

In Abood, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not prevent “agency shop” arrangements where public employees who do not join the union are still required to pay their “fair share” of union dues for collective-bargaining, contract administration and grievance-adjustment. The rationale for an agency fee is that the union may not discriminate between members and nonmembers in performing these functions. So no free-riders are allowed.

In two recent cases, Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014), in 5-4 opinions written by Justice Alito and joined by the other conservative Justices and Justice Kennedy, the Court was very critical of Abood. Neither case squarely raised the issue of whether Abood should be overturned.

Justice Kennedy, whose vote may or may not be crucial in this case, asked questions of both sides. But he repeatedly expressed the view that many teachers may disagree with positions that the teachers union takes on issues like tenure, merit pay and class size. He characterized the real problem with agency fee as “compelled riders,” not free riders.

Just as time was running out for the attorney arguing for the teachers objecting to agency fee, Justice Kennedy asked the attorney to address the issue of opt-out versus opt-in. This was a significant question, especially from Justice Kennedy. If all the Justices were pretty sure before argument that there were five votes to overturn Abood, the opt-in/opt-out issue would be irrelevant.

Overturning precedent is a drastic step, so unsurprisingly, many of the questions (particularly from the more liberal Justices) addressed that possibility. Justice Breyer’s questions were the most impassioned.

He pointed out that overturning Abood will mean overturning other precedent including Keller v. State Bar of California (1990) (bar dues for attorneys) and Board of Regents v. Southworth (student activity fees) (2000). He asked how the country would view the Supreme Court’s role in providing stability if all these cases were overturned. He also pointed out that in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (separate by equal) it was easy to identify the principle that the Court relied on in deciding that the case was just wrong. However, Justice Breyer could not find a comparable principle in this case.

Click here to view an NLC webinar held on Jan. 12, 2016 which discusses the legal issues in this case and what’s at stake for state and local governments if the Supreme Court rules that public-sector “agency shop” arrangements are unconstitutional.

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.

Leadership in the Age of Disruption

Technological innovation is compelling and necessary, but it complicates the economic and policy frameworks that communities—governments, businesses and families—have bet on.

Mayor-Steve-AdlerAustin, Texas Mayor Steve Adler discusses entrepreneurship at NLC’s Big Ideas for Cities. (photo: Jason Dixson Photography)

Disruption. It may be a buzz word, but it perfectly encapsulates this moment in time. Sharing economy behemoths like Uber and AirBnB have redefined how we navigate and experience the built environment. Trends in driverless technology promise to further shift the dynamics of personal and public mobility. The rapid acceleration of automation is forcing all of us to consider – will my job be done by a machine?

Technological innovation is compelling and necessary, but it complicates the economic and policy frameworks that communities—governments, businesses and families—have bet on. New technologies don’t simply disrupt business models; they disrupt lives. At times, they forcefully forge change and demand swift adaptation from every size of community.

The real challenge is ultimately the one that hits home. And if it hits home, it’s something city leadership can’t neglect. Cities are not simply at the whim of disruption. Our democratic systems provide the public an opportunity to have a say. So here are three ways cities can lead in this age of disruption:

1.    Take Time to Weigh the Pros and Cons

NLC’s city survey on the sharing economy, Shifting Perceptions of Collaborative Consumption, identified three key benefits and concerns of city leaders. When city leaders were asked to identify the greatest benefit sharing economy businesses offer their communities, 22 percent of respondents identified improved services, 20 percent identified increased economic activity, and 16 percent identified increased entrepreneurial activity. On the whole, cities want to encourage economic development and accommodate the services that their constituents want, and the sharing economy in many respects has delivered.

At the same time, our survey found that cities have concerns about the sharing economy—the biggest being public safety. The lack of comparable insurance requirements coupled with general safety concerns was cited by 61 percent of respondents. Cities also cited the protection of traditional service providers and industry participants (10 percent), as well as non-compliance with current standards (9 percent).

We’ve learned that the sharing economy poses significant policy questions, but also that the sharing economy offers great promise for cities—and city leaders are well prepared to successfully navigate the ever-changing development. However, cities must allocate time to understanding and weighing the costs and benefits of these emerging trends. City leaders must consciously ask, “Do we want our city to be a socially cohesive place, where the benefits of growth and new technologies enhance quality of life across a diverse range of demographic groups? Or will it be one where disruptive change serves to benefit only a few?”

2.   Avoid the Trappings of Old Ways of Thinking

The ability to automate work and use artificial intelligence to augment everyday tasks is here. Robots can be found walking outside factories, the whir of drones grows louder in the air, and driverless cars are poised to join us on the streets in cities nationwide. We are rapidly approaching an inflection point. These changes are likely to result in a sea change in the workforce. McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that by 2025, robots could produce an output equivalent to 40-75 million workers in both industrial and service roles. A University of Oxford study found that 47% of U.S. jobs might be at risk within the next two decades due to advances in computers, automation, and AI.

Drastic and rapid change makes it easy to focus on what has and will be lost, but comparisons to the past do not have to dominate our narrative of tomorrow. We must move the policy discussion away from job retraining to job rethinking. By embracing what machines do better and bolstering the areas where humans thrive—creativity, craftsmanship, and human judgment—we will be able to harness the power of these technological changes to create products and industries that are entirely new. City leaders have an important part to play in helping to rethink how we approach work across the spectrum—from service industry to professional jobs, white collar and blue collar—and what changes these areas will require in terms of new skills and education.

3.   Be Diligent in Staying Ahead of the Curve

The availability of new modes of transportation will fundamentally alter urban environments. This is evident in our recent City of the Future research, which analyzed long-range transportation plans in the 50 largest cities (and metro regions) as well as the plans of the largest cities in each state. What we saw is a widening gap between where technology is rapidly taking us and where cities are currently planning to go. So, will cities be ready?

Only 6 percent of the plans we analyzed consider the potential effect of driverless technology. Three percent of these plans look at companies like Uber and Lyft or other players in the transportation network space—even though they operate in 60 or the 68 markets. Fifty percent of the plans contain explicit recommendations for new highway construction while only 12 percent clearly state no new highways are planned.

This doesn’t necessarily comport with what community residents are requesting, and in many ways, reflects the disruptive speed at which recent transportation technologies have come online. If cities are always playing catch up, city leaders will miss out on crucial opportunities to structure how further innovations take hold.

All of these developments and shifts will drastically alter our future cities. With the rapid changes facing us all there will undoubtedly be unforeseen advancements in the coming years that no one could have predicted. City leaders have a unique moment ahead of them to help shape our collective future in exciting new ways.

We are living in the age of cities. Cities are the platform for growth, and in order for our economy to succeed, cities are the vehicle to success. Leadership during these changing times can be challenging, but our city leaders are on the front lines getting things done. It may be an age of disruption, but it is an environment that is ripe with opportunity for leadership.

About the Author:

Brooks Rainwater bio photoBrooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.


Supreme Court Update: What Local Governments Should Be Paying Attention To

Register for NLC’s webinar, Will Public Sector Collective Bargaining Survive The Supreme Court Term? to learn more about what’s at stake for state and local governments.


Unfair or Unconstitutional? The Supreme Court to Decide

You can’t make this stuff up. Really. But that doesn’t mean it is unconstitutional.

In Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief argues that a government employer’s perception that an employee has exercised his or her First Amendment rights cannot be the basis for a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit.

Officer Heffernan was assigned to a detail in the Office of Chief of Police. He was reassigned after he was seen picking up a campaign sign for the current police chief’s opponent.

The First Amendment protects non-policymaking public employees who support a candidate in an election. Officer Heffernan maintains that he was in no way involved with the police chief race. The sign wasn’t for himself; it was for his bedridden mother.

Officer Heffernan’s claims he was retaliated against based on the City’s perception he was exercising his First Amendment free association rights. He points to lower court precedent holding that public employees may bring First Amendment retaliation claims if an adverse employment action is taken because they remain politically neutral or silent.

The Third Circuit concluded Heffernan could not bring a perceived free-association claim because he wasn’t retaliated against for “taking a stand of calculated neutrality.” Instead, he was demoted on a “factually incorrect basis.” The Supreme Court has held that it does not violate the Constitution to discipline an employee based on incorrect information. To bring a First Amendment claim an employee must engage in First Amendment speech protected conduct, which Officer Heffernan failed to do in this case.

The SLLC amicus brief argues the Supreme Court need not find a constitutional claim exists when an employer misperceives that an employee has engaged in political speech. Collective bargaining statutes, “just cause” protections, civil service statutes, and statutes protecting against interference or attempts to interfere with any individual’s civil rights would prevent a state or local government employer from lawfully taking an adverse employment action in such circumstances.

The SLLC amicus brief also argues that if the Court were to hold that the First Amendment covers perceived First Amendment violations, it should clarify that the First Amendment does not protect political speech made by employees in sensitive and confidential positions, such as Heffernan.

Collin O’Connor Udell and Anne Selinger, Jackson Lewis, wrote the SLLC brief which was joined by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association,  the International Public Management Association for Human Resources, and the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association.

Immigration and the ACA: A SCOTUS Conference to Remember?

A challenge to President Obama’s immigration deferral program and (another) challenge that could harpoon the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could make it on the Supreme Court’s docket this term and be decided by the end of June.

For the first time at the Supreme Court’s private conference on January 15, it will consider petitions in United States v. Texas (immigration) and Sissel v. Department of Health and Human Services (ACA).

The Court will have three choices: grant the petitions, deny the petitions, or postpone making a decision until a later conference. If it postpones a decision in either case, it must decide at the January 22 conference to accept the cases or they will be heard next term (assuming the petitions are ultimately granted).

If the Court is going to grant the immigration petition it will likely do so January 22 at the latest as the next President may simply not pursue Obama’s immigration program, rendering a June 2017 decision moot.


In November 2014 the Secretary of Homeland Security initiated the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program allowing certain undocumented parents with citizen children to lawfully stay and work in the United States. Twenty six states sued the United States and won before the Fifth Circuit. Four legal issue could be decided in this case.

The United States argues that the states lack “standing” to challenge the DAPA program. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the cost of issuing drivers licenses to DAPA program participants is a particular harm states will face, which provides the basis for standing.

States also challenged the DAPA program as violating the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) notice-and-comment requirement and claim it is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. The lower court concluded the states were likely to succeed on both claims.

The Fifth Circuit reasoned the DAPA is a substantive rule requiring notice-and-comment not a policy statement. It is arbitrary and capricious because it is “foreclosed by Congress’s careful plan” in the Immigration Naturalization Act for “how parents may derive an immigration classification on the basis of their child’s status and which classes of aliens can achieve deferred action and eligibility for work authorization.”

While the states oppose the Supreme Court reviewing this case (as the won in the lower court), they do assert in their opposition petition that the DAPA program is unconstitutional. The Fifth Circuit did not address the constitutionality of the program. They argue it must have–but lacks–congressional authorization.


The Constitution’s Origination Clause provides that “all Bills for raising Revenue” must “originate in the House of Representatives,” but it allows the Senate to “propose or concur with Amendments” to revenue-raising bills originated by the House.

The ACA, which the Supreme Court has held imposes a tax on those who don’t have or buy health insurance, didn’t originate in the House. It originated in the Senate, which erased the text of another House-passed bill on another subject.

The questions the Court will consider deciding in Sissel v. Department of Health and Human Services are whether the individual mandate is a “Bill for raising Revenue” to which the Origination Clause applies and whether the Senate’s cut-and-replace procedure is an “amendment” pursuant to the Origination Clause.

The D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the federal government reasoning that the “primary purpose” of the individual mandate was to induce people to buy health insurance to make the ACA work, not raise revenue. So the ACA isn’t a “Bill for raising Revenue” subject to the Origination Clause.

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.

Digital Divide, Main Street Trends and Regionalism: 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.

Regional Economic Development is on Trend for 2016. Next City highlights how state and local leaders in Massachusetts, the Washington, D.C., area and New York are collaborating on how to strengthen their overall regional economies. D.C. leaders are exploring the idea of joint trade missions, and Massachusetts officials signed a compact to work together on issues related to economic development, transportation, and housing. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo provided $500 million in state funds to incentivize regional partnerships around economic development.

Assessing the Digital Divide at the Local Level. Until the release of Brookings’ analysis of new Census data, it’s been difficult to determine local-level broadband adoption rates, which is defined as the share of households with a DSL, cable, fiber optic, mobile broadband, satellite or fixed wireless subscription. Perhaps not surprisingly, significant barriers to getting online include income, age, employment status and level of education. Overall, household broadband access is most common in large metro areas, but there remains wide variation among adoption rates both within and across regions. Brookings suggests making broadband more affordable and expanding online literacy programs may help close the digital divide and help more individuals access the benefits of internet connection.


Clarence Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities, speaking about the importance of metro broadband access.

First-Ever Index on Main Street Entrepreneurship. The Kauffman Foundation recently delivered a first-of-its-kind report detailing main street business trends from the previous 20 years. The Main Street Entrepreneurship Index found that small business growth is on the rise, but it has yet to return to levels seen before the recession. A main source of growth has been in the micro-enterprise market (businesses with fewer than 10 employees). The nation’s small business owners are also becoming increasingly more ethnically diverse with immigrants owning 20 percent of all small businesses. However, men still outpace female business owners by two to one, which underscores the need for more entrepreneurial support programs targeted to women. (The full report and additional analysis are here.)

What’s the Secret Recipe for Local Economic Growth? According to economist Jed Kolko, the secret recipe includes the right mix of jobs. This finding comes from Kolko’s comparison of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ten-year projections for occupational growth to Census data on where those particular high-growth jobs are located. Kolko predicts big, dense cities with large numbers of actors/artists, economists, bellhops and taxi drivers are where we’ll see the most growth. Which cities top this “right mix” list? Durham, New Haven and San Jose.

New, Market-Rate Rental Units are the Holy Grail of Housing. As has been widely covered in the past year, the goal of creating affordable rental housing is much-desired by city leaders, but is extremely hard to achieve. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies published a new report  reinforcing this difficult dynamic. Emily Badger of the Washington Post provides her take on this news and highlights that new rental units are “tailored to the wealthy.”

Kudos to These Cities for Shopping Small in Big Numbers. The nation’s biggest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco) are also the ones where consumers are more likely to shop at small businesses, according to data from the JP Morgan Chase Institute. The study also points out that there is a “chicken and egg” relationship between cities and small businesses. A city needs to have a strong local economy in order for small businesses to thrive, but small businesses also help fuel a healthy local economy.

What We’re Watching: HBO’s “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA” Documentary. This straightforward look at the causes and effects of the heroin epidemic in a seasonal tourism area of Massachusetts is gripping, and encourages you to think about this tragic public health issue from an economic development perspective.

For a Laugh. Baltimore is named City with Best Quality of Pigeon Life.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

5 Things Mayors Can Do to Create Healthier Communities

NLC’s new report, Addressing Health Disparities in Cities: Lessons from the Field, provides lessons learned and examples of actions that mayors and other city leaders  are taking to intentionally address childhood obesity-related health disparities.

Healthy Baton RougeBaton Rouge, Louisiana Mayor-President Melvin L. “Kip” Holden and a young Baton Rouge resident ride bikes together at a Healthy Baton Rouge event.

Today’s cities are facing many challenges — aging infrastructure, income inequality and health disparities — all of which threaten the economic vitality and resiliency of cities.

Health disparities — differences in incidence, prevalence or burden of disease between population groups — are chief among cities’ challenges because they prevent children and families from reaching their full potential and fully contributing to society.

If you were to ask a group of mayors why they ran for office, a likely response is that they wanted to make their community a better place to live. Health disparities threaten their ability to accomplish this goal.

Consider the health and economic consequences of childhood obesity. One in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. And low-income children and children of color tend to experience higher rates of obesity compared to their peers:

The U.S. population is becoming more racially diverse, with more than half of the nation’s children projected to be part of a minority racial or ethnic group by 2020. If low-income youth and youth of color are more likely to suffer poorer health outcomes that prevent them from reaching their full potential, what are the implications for the future workforce and for the overall social and economic health of American’s cities and towns?

And what can city leaders do to reduce these health disparities?

Last year, NLC created the Learning Collaborative on Health Disparities to explore this question. Local leaders from seven cities were invited to share their perspectives about the challenges and opportunities associated with local efforts to address childhood obesity-related health disparities. The seven cities are:

Baton Rouge, Louisiana                  Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Cleveland, Ohio                                 Savannah, Georgia

Kansas City, Kansas                         Virginia Beach, Virginia

Lincoln, Nebraska

Every day, mayors in these and other cities across the country make decisions in areas such as transportation, public safety, housing and economic development that directly or indirectly impact the ability of children and families to make healthy choices. As such, mayors are uniquely positioned to lead and drive change to reduce health disparities.

The Learning Collaborative identified five actions that mayors can take to address childhood obesity-related health disparities. These actions have implications for childhood obesity prevention efforts as well as broader efforts to promote a culture of health and equity in health.

  1. Speak Boldly about Race, Racism and Health — Mayors can speak candidly about how historical patterns of racism, segregation and discrimination have resulted in the unequal distribution of social, economic and environmental resources by race and income across neighborhoods. Bold leadership, including an investment in professional development and training, can empower mayors and other city leaders to confront individual, institutional and structural racism as well as bias in policies, practices and systems.
  1. Listen to the Stories of Residents — Mayors can bridge the divide between government and community by actively listening to and engaging with residents, especially those experiencing the poorest health outcomes. Residents’ stories about the conditions in their neighborhoods can provide important insights about the barriers to healthy living that many low-income residents face. Mayors can incorporate this information into policy development and implementation.
  1. Focus on Health Equity — Mayors can convene a broad array of city leaders, community partners and residents to create a shared vision, cross-sector commitment and goals for building a healthier city that incorporate strategies to address inequities. A strong commitment to health equity from the mayor can ensure there is an intentional focus on improving the underlying social, economic and environmental conditions that shape communities.
  1. Connect Health to Other City Priorities — Mayors can use their bully pulpit to elevate the connections between health and other city priorities such as economic development and public safety. This messaging can help city departments outside of the local health department better understand how the core functions of their department directly and indirectly impact health, as well as specific actions they can take to advance health equity.
  1. Engage the Business Community — Mayors can enlist the support of local business leaders to develop publicprivate partnerships to promote public health and address the underlying causes of heath disparities, such as poverty and education, which directly impacts a city’s ability to attract and maintain a healthy, educated workforce that businesses need to thrive.

Mayors can lead the way in eliminating health disparities. They can connect children and families to the social, economic and environmental resources they need to thrive, such as quality education, jobs, healthy foods and safe spaces for physical activity. The time to act is now.

Alyia Head Shot
About the Author:
Alyia Gaskins is a Senior Associate for Health and Community Wellness at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Alyia on Twitter at @a_gaskins412.

How to Address Predatory Small Business Lending in Your Community

Cities should proactively talk to businesses about their borrowing needs and rights and lead them in the right direction towards trustworthy sources of capital.

The National League of Cities recently took action by signing on as an endorser to the Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights, a pledge that pushes for fairness and accountability when it comes to loans for small businesses. (photo: Mshake/Getty Images)

Access to credit can make or break a growing business. Right now though, the incremental recovery from our recent economic recession means funding for businesses from traditional banks and the government is still very limited. This credit situation has caused business owners to turn to unregulated, non-bank lenders for their borrowing needs. However, some of these alternative lenders are using savvy marketing campaigns to lure businesses into taking out loans with unaffordable interest rates and hidden fees. These escalating predatory small business lending practices are cause for concern, and are forcing us to question if this will be our country’s new credit crisis.

The National League of Cities recently took action by signing on as an endorser to the Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights, a pledge that pushes for fairness and accountability in the private small business loans market. The Bill of Rights calls for transparent pricing and terms, responsible underwriting, and fair collection practices from lenders and prohibits abusive strategies like debt traps, hidden penalties, and irresponsible credit reporting. (Read about how your city or organization can sign on here.)


The Big Ideas for Small Business, a national peer network of economic development staff from cities across the country, hosted a conversation with Gwendy Brown, the Vice President of Research and Policy at Opportunity Fund, one of the creators of the Bill of Rights. Gwendy shared her suggestions for how cities can prevent local business owners from obtaining a predatory loan.

Survey business owners about their credit usage. One of the biggest challenges is understanding the credit climate in your city, and how local businesses are accessing capital. Implementing a survey tool to collect this data would help city officials get a better sense of the market, and if there are predatory actors at play locally.

Talk to business owners about their borrowing needs. Too often, we only hear about a predatory business lending situation after it’s too late to intervene, and the business is already in a financial state of emergency. Cities should proactively talk to businesses about their borrowing needs and lead them in the right direction towards trustworthy sources of capital.  

Inform business owners about their borrowing rights. Education campaigns may be the most effective way to address predatory small business lending right now, since the industry is currently unregulated. The Small Business Borrower’s Bill of Rights lays out in clear terms the red flags borrowers should avoid, and reinforces their right to make informed decisions about accessing capital. Cities can add this helpful information to their existing resources and trainings for small business owners.

The City of Chicago is one of the first cities in the nation to take action against local predatory lenders. In January of this year, Mayor Emanuel launched an awareness campaign to educate the business community about predatory merchant cash advance companies and to promote access to credible local lenders, like Accion Chicago and the Chicago Microlending Institute. The campaign posted collateral on buses and trains and also shared information in workshops, email correspondence to business owners, and in the Small Business Center, the City’s one-stop-shop for small businesses. The City’s Small Business Opportunity Centers, which were established in 2014 to provide small business owners with guidance on accessing capital, also serve as a key partner in the education campaign.

It’s not too late to get out ahead of this issue in the short term, with awareness campaigns and more proactive discussions with business owners about their borrowing needs. In the long term, however, more regulatory oversight is needed to help eliminate these “bad apple” predatory lending institutions.

Read more about this issue in the resources below, and reach out to us if you’d like more information about how to address predatory small business lending in your community.

Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights

Aspen Institute FIELD Webinar (Sept. 2015)

Accion: What is Predatory Lending?

Governing: Are Predatory Business Loans the Next Credit Crisis?

Bloomberg: Lenders Target a New Subprime Market

Forbes Op-Ed: It’s Time to Rein in Shady Small Business Loan Brokers

About the Author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

Trump Talks Infrastructure, but City Issues Still on the Fringe

The majority of American voters live in cities, and the 2016 presidential election candidates should pay more attention to the issues that matter most to them.

The nine top-polling 2016 GOP presidential candidates stepped up to the plate for last Republican debate of 2015 hosted by CNN at the Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on December 16, 2015. (photo: ABC News)

This is a guest post by Devon Hawkins-Anderson.

The nine leading Republican candidates took the stage this week in Las Vegas to debate for the last time before the February Iowa caucuses. In the aftermath of recent terror attacks abroad and on home soil, national security, surveillance, immigration and personal rivalries took precedence during the two-hour prime time event.

However, city issues were largely left unaddressed. While national security and surveillance issues are worth considerable time and attention on the debate stage, so are the domestic topics most affecting America’s cities — public safety, infrastructure, and the economy. According to American mayors, these issues are the primary concern of the 80 percent of Americans who live in cities.

The road forward for everyday Americans and cities is paved with investment in domestic capital and innovation. Refocusing national attention on cities as hubs of culture, innovation and economic activity will provide the catalyst that powers the U.S. well into the 21st century.

Most think of public safety as defense against horrendous acts of violence, such as those that recently occurred in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. However, cities and towns spend upwards of $64 billion on law enforcement operations annually. Despite huge local allocations towards crime reduction, crime remains a significant barrier to individual and family safety, quality of life, and social cohesion in cities across the country, particularly in racially diverse and disadvantaged neighborhoods. Amid talk of public safety on a global scale, candidates must acknowledge that safer communities at home create a safer world.

Few recall that the Interstate Highway Act of 1954 was funded with defense dollars, but on Tuesday night, Donald Trump made statements that reminded viewers of the inextricable link between domestic infrastructure investments, collective security and quality of life:

“In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various [regimes] that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems, our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now… it’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports and everything else that are all falling apart.”

Seldom recognized for his passion on infrastructure issues, Trump stood out from the pack when he called for the reallocation of war funds to all manner of infrastructure improvements, acknowledging that America’s aging infrastructure threatens to stymy future growth.

Similarly, the economy continues to be an intractable issue for American cities and the country as a whole. Following the White House declaration of full employment last month, many have forgotten about workers who have ceased looking for jobs as well as the perennially underemployed. According to the Georgetown Center, when these depressed job seekers are re-added to employment statistics, the real unemployment rate is considerably higher than reported. Regrettably, none of the candidates addressed the employment-to-population ratio (which measures employment among all working-age Americans, not just those actively looking for jobs) or cited economic growth as a formidable barrier for cities.

Sure, the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, mentioned infrastructure – but city issues are still on the fringe. The majority of American voters live in cities, and the 2016 presidential election candidates should pay more attention to the issues that matter most to them.

About the Author: Devon Hawkins-Anderson is the 2016 National Urban Fellow at National League of Cities. Contact Devon at

COP21 – A Full Roundup of the Paris Climate Change Conference

The speeches from President Barack Obama and other heads of state may have concluded, but the work has just begun for U.S. mayors and local leaders who have traveled to the UN Climate Change conference in Paris to support a global climate change agreement.

Photo: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

Day 1

The National League of Cities (NLC) and partner organizations ICLEI, the World Wildlife Fund, and the U.S. Green Building Council have convened an 11-member delegation to advocate for their communities and for cities all across America. This group includes mayors of Atlanta, Boulder, Colo., Chula Vista, Calif., Des Moines, Iowa, Grand Rapids, Mich., Oakland, Calif., Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, and West Palm Beach, Fla., and councilmembers from Santa Monica, Calif. and King County, Wash.

The cities represented are all signatories to the Compact of Mayors, under which cities conduct greenhouse gas emission inventories, develop climate action plans and report on their progress.

NLC CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony welcomes local leaders to the U.N. climate change conference with City Solutions and Applied Research Director Brooks Rainwater, Sustainability Program Director Cooper Martin, and other partner staff.

NLC CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony welcomes local leaders to the U.N. climate change conference with City Solutions and Applied Research Director Brooks Rainwater, Sustainability Program Director Cooper Martin, and other partner staff.

On Wednesday, December 2, ten of the eleven leaders had arrived and the group gathered to discuss their goals, their message, and to review the final schedule of events that will take place over the next several days here in Paris.

Even before this strategy session, several leaders had already traveled to the conference for a handful of early sessions and meetings.

Boulder, Colo., Councilmember Matthew Appelbaum had the busiest day of the group, first speaking at a panel at the German Pavilion on the path to 100% renewable energy. Later that afternoon, he spoke on the topic of emissions measurement and verification technology hosted by Harris Corporation. Appelbaum pointed out that the topics are related in interesting ways that can be counterintuitive for policymakers. For example, the measured emissions directly over Boulder may be low, but much of the city’s energy comes from coal plants located far away and the city has worked hard to continue to improve efficiency. Additionally, he noted that many Boulder residents oppose new development – particularly some proposed data centers – on the grounds that it will increase the city’s emissions. However, Appelbaum noted that because of their heightened energy standards these facilities would be more efficient in Boulder than if they were built elsewhere – a net benefit in the bigger picture.

Photo: Cooper Martin

Members of the NLC delegation Mayor Frank Cownie from Des Moines and Council Chair Larry Phillips from King County meet with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Elsewhere at the event, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and King County Council Chair Larry Phillips were able to have separate meetings with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel of the U.S. Department of Interior and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Each expressed their strong support for the effort being demonstrated by the administration, as well their desire for greater resources to help cities who are already striving to meet these goals.

Thursday at the conference, mayor George Heartwell of Grand Rapids will moderate a panel “A Tale of Three Cities” at the U.S. Center sponsored by the U.S. Department of State featuring Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland. Following that, Mayor Reed will speak about Atlanta’s efforts to reduce energy consumption through benchmarking policies. Then it’s off to Paris City Hall to attend the Climate Summit for Local Leaders.

Day 2

Thursday, December 3, was the Day 2 of the UN Climate Change conference in Paris. The delegation of local leaders that was convened by NLC and its partners – ICLEI, the World Wildlife Fund, and the U.S. Green Building Council – were at the main site of the negotiations for another round of sessions.

Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks about Oakland’s sustainability efforts at the U.S. Center. (photo: Cooper Martin)

Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks about Oakland’s sustainability efforts at the U.S. Center. (photo: Cooper Martin)

A morning panel, “A Tale of Three Cities,” featured mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland as well as panelists from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Kotzebue, Alaska, at the U.S. Center, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The panel was moderated by Mayor George Heartwell, another member of the NLC-organized group, and it highlighted the shared experiences of the three coastal cities feeling the impacts of a changing Arctic. Mayor Schaaf summarized the role of cities in Paris, saying “if you get enough cities on board, it has greater effect than nations.”

After his session, Mayor Kasim Reed takes a seat in the U.S. Department of Energy’s electric, 3D-printed Shelby Cobra. (photo: Cooper Martin)

After his session, Mayor Kasim Reed takes a seat in the U.S. Department of Energy’s electric, 3D-printed Shelby Cobra. (photo: Cooper Martin)

Thursday was also ‘Buildings Day’ at the convention site, and Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta joined a panel of global efficiency leaders to discuss the energy benchmarking policy and other initiatives that have helped Atlanta improve the performance of its buildings. Currently, the city has over 100 million square feet of building space participating in the national Better Buildings Challenge, which will help the city meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2040.

On Friday, the whole group will be participating in the Climate Summit for Local Leaders at Paris City Hall, where they will hear from President Hollande of France, and meet with a group of US Senators who have traveled to Paris to support the conference.

Day 3

In his opening remarks at the Climate Summit for Local Leaders in Paris, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that it was the “Largest gathering of global mayors and local leaders ever, the first to coincide with the UN meeting of nations, and we’re making history today. But we are not here to make history, we are here to preserve the future.”

It was more than a complement to his audience. In his role as Special Envoy to the UN for Cities and Regions, Bloomberg has worked for years to earn the kind of status and recognition that cities have achieved at the COP-21 negotiations. On Friday, December 4, city leaders grabbed the microphone both figuratively and literally to announce to the negotiators that local governments were already doing the work that is now being asked of nations.

Hosted by Bloomberg and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the event showcased influential government and business representatives from around the world, including an address from French President François Hollande, who admitted that even with a successful global agreement, “National governments can provide funding, but increasingly cities and regions will be the key player.”

President François Hollande addresses the Climate Summit for Local Leaders. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

President François Hollande addresses the Climate Summit for Local Leaders. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Many members of the NLC-led group were able to share some of their unique local experiences.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf noted that the presence of cities the whole week was important because it “created the political pressure and support for national leaders, but [cities] are also proving that it can be done, and it can be done without tremendous cost, and that it can be done with actual benefits to the economy.”

Mayor Mary Salas noted that her city of Chula Vista, CA, had been planning and implementing pollution reduction measures since the early 1990’s. Transit, walkability improvements, and other efforts have had far-reaching impacts on community satisfaction, educational attainment, and the attractiveness of the city within the region.

Boulder Councilmember and NLC Board Member Matthew Appelbaum speaks with Former U.S. Senator Mark Udall. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Boulder Councilmember and NLC Board Member Matthew Appelbaum speaks with Former U.S. Senator Mark Udall. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

However, as effective as many of these leaders have been over the many years, greater support and cooperation from state and national government is essential to take the kind of action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels. Councilmember Matt Appelbaum of Boulder, CO pointed out that “What cities are doing is fabulous, it needs to be done, it creates the foundation on which everything else sits, but you think about what national governments could do, a carbon tax, that would change the whole game immediately.”

You can see interviews from all NLC-led local leaders from the Climate Summit for Local Leaders:

Day 4

by Carolyn Berndt

Day 4 of the UN Climate Negotiations ended with big news: negotiators have agreed on a draft global accord for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While much work remains to be done as we head into the second week of COP21, NLC and our delegation spent “Action Day” highlighting the work of cities and local leadership in tackling climate change.

Local officials from across the US are recognized for their leadership at the Cities and Regions Pavilion at COP21. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

Local officials from across the US are recognized for their leadership at the Cities and Regions Pavilion at COP21. (Photo: Cooper Martin)

NLC participated in two events recognizing the great progress cities have made toward climate mitigation and the commitments for future action. In the morning, ICLEI hosted a briefing on “Local Action, Global Results” that recapped local climate action since 2007 and recognized the work of all US local officials in developing climate solutions for their communities. Moving beyond recognition, cities across the country are now implementing even more ambitious goals. A key tool to help cities measure progress toward their goals in a transparent matter is ClearPath, which over 300 US cities using this tool for the past three years and which is now available to cities globally. Mayor Libby Schaaf discussed Oakland’s success with ClearPath in measuring greenhouse gas emissions reductions across a variety of policies and programs, including zero waste, land use and transportation.

In the afternoon, NLC partnered with the German Marshall Fund to host a briefing, “Leading from the Front with Equity and Inclusion,” to bring together local officials from the US and Europe to share opportunities and challenges of leading equitable and inclusive climate and clean energy policies that create vibrant cities and regions. Mayors Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City and Kasim Reed of Atlanta participated in the panel, along with NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony and local officials from Turkey and Sweden.

Panelists discuss importance of equity and inclusion in climate action plans. (Photo: Carolyn Berndt)

Panelists discuss importance of equity and inclusion in climate action plans. (Photo: Carolyn Berndt)

NLC’s priorities at COP21 include a commitment to inclusion and social justice that goes beyond sustainability and climate change. “Climate change is a reality for our cities every day. Equity and justice are at the heart of what makes our communities strong,” said Mayor Becker. Mayor Reed echoed these sentiments, stating that equity must be part of a city’s core decisions.

Mr. Anthony concluded the panel by stating that local action on equity and inclusion is about “giving a voice to populations that often don’t have a seat at the table, but have a huge stake in the issue and the desire for an equitable solution.”

The day wrapped up with a briefing and reception with the US Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, on the importance of cities in the negotiation process and a reception hosted by Paris Mayor Anne Hildalgo at the Eiffel Tower.

About the Authors:

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


Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.