The Who, What and Why of Google Fiber

Having your city selected for deployment of Google Fiber has many of the same subsequent effects as the development of a municipally owned network.

Google-Fiber-2Photo credit: UCFFool (Mario at Google Fiber – Kansas City, MO), via Wikimedia Commons

Google has built itself securely into our everyday lives. Between Google mail, Google chat and Google maps, few of us get through the day without relying on one of this gargantuan company’s products or programs. Most people probably default to the company’s website when they are searching for anything on the internet. In fact, the word Google is nearly ubiquitous with the web.

However, tucked into the Google empire’s large portfolio is one of its more discreet and misunderstood programs: Google Fiber. What is it? How does it differ from or compliment a municipal broadband network? Most importantly, why is Google doing this? As part of our Muni Broadband blog series, we will unpack the role of Google Fiber in the broadband game and explore the ways that it supports cities in their efforts to expand internet access.

Google Fiber provides broadband internet service to a small (yet increasing) number of cities throughout the United States. The initial locality for the service was chosen through a competition, in which cities and towns submitted applications and initiated various sorts of campaigns to garner support.

On March 30, 2011, Google announced Kansas City, Kan. as the first recipient of the fiber to the premises service. Subsequently the service was expanded to Kansas, City, Mo., and in 2013 several suburban communities in the Kansas City area were announced, along with Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah.  In February 2014, Google announced 34 additional prospective cities which they invited to be a part of a collaborative process to explore deployment options.

Google offers households and businesses three tiers of service: 1) Free broadband internet service with 5 Mb/s download speed[1] and 1 Mb/s upload speed; 2) 1 Gb/s (upload and download speed) broadband internet service for approximately $70.00 per month; and 3) 1Gb/s broadband internet service with television service for approximately $120.00 per month.

Having your city selected for deployment of Google Fiber has many of the same subsequent effects as the development of a municipally owned network. It ensures that people have access to quality, high speed internet that is affordable, and it spurs economic development. Kansas City saw a surge of start-ups and entrepreneurs following the deployment of the service, including Homes for Hackers, an incubator that hosts and supports entrepreneurs with Fiber connections so that they can develop their new business ideas. That’s why cities are so eager to compete for the chance to get it. Google pays for the infrastructure investment, and the community reaps all of the glorious benefits of municipally owned broadband without the payout and management responsibility.

Google’s choice to host their services in particular cities hinges on several variables. Some cities have existing infrastructure-pipes and fibers already in the ground that make them attractive prospects. Geography always plays into the cost-benefit analysis of prospective infrastructure projects. Another concern is whether right-of-way and other administrative negotiations will go smoothly.

Because the types of agreements and negotiations necessary for Google Fiber projects to run smoothly become increasingly complex in large cities, some have argued that there is less likelihood that we will see Google Fiber deploy in cities like Chicago or New York. Some cities, like Washington, D.C., have non-compete agreements with large telecom companies that keep away Google Fiber as well as the possibility of opening up existing high-speed fiber to residents.

While it’s a shame to think about the fact that some communities might have a better chance at securing these services than others, the ultimate remaining question is not where but why. Why is Google, a multi-billion dollar corporation, investing in pricey broadband infrastructure on which they will see virtually no return? In the organization’s vast portfolio, Google Fiber is one of the smaller projects. However, Google’s announcements of new service locations are impactful, especially with communications service providers (CSPs) who are already selling internet and television service in these areas.

AT&T, for instance, has committed to comparable, high speed service in several of the prospective Fiber locations announced by Google, and some speculate that this might just be the tech giant’s plan. By deploying high speed, low cost broadband service in communities across the nation, Google is both raising the bar for existing service and injecting more competition into the market.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding these deployments, they tend to move very slowly, mostly because this is new territory for both Google and its host cities. Kansas City saw departures from the originally promised deployment timeline, and Austin promoted the service for over a year before residents were able to begin signing up.

Additionally, new roll outs of service have forced Google to squarely face the reality of the digital divide. In Kansas City, Google found that only the more affluent neighborhoods were signing up for the service, and that there were large swaths of the city without internet access. To address this disparity, Google hired a field team to promote the new service to low subscribing communities and initiated several programs and grant funding opportunities around digital literacy. With new opportunities come new challenges, and Google has worked with cities to overcome some of the initial hurdles.

In a way, Google Fiber has the same impact on the broadband game in communities as the build out of municipal broadband networks. It offers better, more affordable service, deflects the power of telecom monopolies and duopolies, and promotes economic development. It is no wonder that cities across the country are begging for the service. The difference is the seemingly philanthropic position of the service provider, Google. Perhaps Fiber is meant to catalyze improved internet services in the market, or perhaps Google is trying to dominate the connectivity market. Either way, cities win.

[1] Free for up to 10 years per address.

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.

The Evolution of Economic Gardening and What it Means for Big Business

This post originally appeared in the November edition of Site Selection magazine.

Cleveland-OhioThe City of Cleveland, Ohio, has made cultivation of second-stage companies a central cog in its anchor strategy, in part through development of post-incubator space. (Getty Images)

Economic gardening is an economic development approach that targets second stage businesses – small, local businesses with the potential and desire to grow.  This “grow from within” development strategy started in Littleton, Colo., in 1989 after the relocation of a major employer devastated the local economy. Precisely because of this harsh history, economic gardening became associated with small businesses, specifically eschewing economic recruitment or a focus on larger employers.

According to Chris Gibbons, director of business/industry affairs for the City of Littleton and co-creator of economic gardening, “The relocation of manufacturing plants offshore and the general decline of economic health in parts of the country have reduced the effectiveness of traditional economic ‘hunting.’ ” For these reasons, economic gardening in its purest form has been adopted in many smaller, more rural and harder-hit areas of the country.

Out of those start-up seedlings has come a harvest of second-stage businesses – companies that have moved past the start-up phase of development but are not yet fully mature. They have a proven product and a market for their goods or services often reaching beyond the local area, bringing dollars into the community, and generating a substantial economic impact.

As the outsized impact of second-stage businesses became more apparent, as cities came to realize that typical small business programs didn’t meet the needs of these unique businesses, and with a desire to strengthen the broader business ecosystem, cities across the country have therefore adapted economic gardening to their local circumstances. What has evolved is a second-stage strategy that leverages larger employers in meaningful ways to accelerate smaller businesses.

Where to Connect?

According to the Edward Lowe Foundation, between 1995 and 2012, second-stage companies represented 11.6 percent of establishments, but 33.9 percent of jobs. Employee numbers and revenue ranges vary by industry, but the population of firms with 10 to 100 employees and/or $750,000 to $50 million in receipts includes the vast majority of second-stage companies.

“Second-stagers now face more strategic issues as they strive to gain a stronger foothold in the market and win more customers,” says the foundation. “Second-stagers wrestle with refining core strategy, adapting to industry changes, expanding their markets, building a management team and embracing new leadership roles.”

4 quadrants (2)According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, economic gardening addresses these unique needs by providing infrastructure, connectivity and market intelligence.

In Kansas City, Mo., KCSourceLink connects small businesses to a network of more than 200 nonprofit resource organizations in the region that provide business-building services.

“In the 11 years we’ve been working in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we’ve determined that second-stage companies are a key segment, creating jobs and stability in the community,” says Maria Meyers, director of the UMKC Innovation Center and KCSourceLink founder. “Resource partner organizations in the network – such as the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, the Small Business and Technology Development Center and the World Trade Center – provide second-stage companies with critical connections to larger corporations, mentoring and market opportunities.”

From Vacant to Vibrant

A key trait of second-stage companies is their readiness to grow, both physically and with new market reach. Acceleration of growth firms has actually become an attraction strategy for some suburban communities located outside of larger innovation hubs such as Boston, Austin, Cleveland and Kansas City.

These communities may not have a high density of traditional start-up supports, but can offer value-add to companies seeking to expand, such as affordable wet-lab space.

In turn, some innovation hubs are focusing not only on the growth of start-up and second-stage companies, but on retaining them as well. In order to do that, these cities need to provide both the physical space and the market opportunities for them to continue to grow from within -and this where the opportunities lie to engage larger businesses.

The City of Cleveland’s rallying point for second-stage companies is actually its anchor strategy, an economic development approach that leverages the economic power of major employers such as hospitals and universities to build wealth in neighborhoods and grow other industries and businesses.

In Cleveland, anchor institutions were incubating some great start-ups, but as they reached second stage, they left for the suburbs, or were purchased and moved to other locations. In an effort to further capture value from their anchor strategy, the City of Cleveland partnered with local developer Fred Geis to create space for second-stage companies. This “post incubator space” came with all the amenities these growth companies seek, as well as incentives from the city and continued engagement with hospitals and universities.

“The three buildings in the Midtown Tech Center have allowed us to capitalize on our Anchor Strategy, attracting companies like Cleveland Heart Lab that have grown from 15 jobs when they exited the incubator to over 115 high-paying technical jobs now,” says Tracey Nichols, director of economic development for the City of Cleveland. “These former vacant properties have brought 389 jobs to the area since 2012.”

Although economic gardening arose as the antithesis to larger employers, the approach as a solo strategy disconnected from retention/attraction efforts is rare. More often, as in Cleveland, economic gardening has evolved as an integral part of a broader economic development portfolio, leading to a more strengthened and supportive business ecosystem.

christy-mcfarlandAbout the Author: Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

Regional Forums Begin as HUD and NLC sign Memorandum of Understanding

The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable.

HUD-Meeting-PhillyA regional forum in Philadelphia supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Photo Credit: HUD)

This week in Philadelphia, mayors, city representatives, non-profit leaders, federal and state officials gathered as part of the second regional forum supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

The first forum was held two weeks ago in Austin before the start of NLC’s annual conference, the Congress of Cities and Exposition. During the conference, NLC and HUD signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding to develop more regional forums across the country.

As part of the regional forums, local elected officials are not only encouraged to join the challenge, but are provided more information about the available resources in communities and who are the local contacts. In addition, participants share with one another how they have made progress toward ending veteran homelessness.

During this week’s forum, participants heard from representatives about success in Philadelphia and Binghamton, New York. In Binghamton, Mayor Richard David and the city commission pledged their commitment to end veteran homelessness at an event on September 5, 2014.

After making his commitment, Mayor David reached out to local veterans, homelessness advocates, community leaders, service providers and state and federal officials. Collectively, the group identified veterans in need and the available resources in the community.

As of November 12, 21 veterans had been housed and that night, there were no veterans sleeping on the streets of Binghamton.

During the Austin forum, participants heard about specific actions taken by the city in Salt Lake City, New Orleans and Houston.

In Salt Lake City, officials worked with county and state leaders to ensure program administrators using CDBG resources only needed to file one report to meet federal reporting requirements rather than multiple reports for local, county and/or state CDBG dollars.

Additionally, Mayor Becker has engaged local landlords to provide apartments for veterans who have been matched with supportive services and housing resources. Similarly, in New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu worked with local realtors and property management companies to recruit landlords to join city efforts.

Houston’s Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives spoke about the importance of creating a “yes” culture. “We have learned that it is not enough to simply have a drop-in center or VASH or SSVF or even coordinated assessment; we must have a “yes” culture,” said Mandy Chapman-Semple. “We operate with the understanding that there is a housing option for every homeless veteran and that it is our duty to offer those choices and deliver.”

Another key element of the regional forums is developing an understanding of what the end of veteran homelessness looks like. While veterans will continue to experience housing instability due to economic, medical or personal circumstances, representatives from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and HUD discussed the end of veteran homelessness meaning that any episode of homelessness is brief, rare and non-recurring.

In Philadelphia, stakeholders believe they will reach this point, called “functional zero,” by fall of 2015. This achievement was first made in Phoenix and Salt Lake City among chronically homeless veterans in the last year.

As part of Congress of Cities, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, joined a panel with the President of Denver’s City Council, Chris Herndon and representatives from The Home Depot Foundation, Community Solutions and the American Legion. The panel discussed how an initial focus on ending homelessness among veterans can better position cities to improve the community for everyone.

Mayor Stanton and Councilman Herndon talked about the opportunity their communities have found to tie together supportive services related to employment, education and healthcare after veterans are stably housed.

Mayor Stanton specifically discussed how his community is now beginning to move the successes they’ve learned around chronically homeless veterans to non-chronically homeless veterans and all chronically homeless individuals and families.

Stanton-SessionPhoenix Mayor Greg Stanton speaking during a panel session at the Congress of Cities in Austin.

With a 33% decline in veteran homelessness since 2010, including a 40% decline among unsheltered homeless veterans, cities across the country are proving that homelessness can end.

In 391 days, we reach the federal goal date when we have aimed to end veteran homelessness. The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable. Regional forums developed by NLC and HUD will continue to help city leaders identify specific actions they can take to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home.

For specific questions and actions you can take in your city, see Three Steps & Five Questions.

NLC and HUD are actively developing future regional forums. If you are interested in learning about or having a regional forum in or near your community, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at

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

Managing Municipal Risk In The Face Of Climate Change

The 2014 NLC Congress of Cities in Austin, TX was a fantastic opportunity to learn and share information related to sustainability, but not all NLC members and partners were able to attend. Through the end of the year, the Sustainable Cities Institute will highlight the tools and resources that were presented at some of the key sessions related to sustainability and resilience. More information is available through the SCI Website.

PowerPlantFlorida-EPAThe National League of Cities recognizes that local governments are on the front line in efforts to mitigate  and adapt to climate change. Nearly all available science indicates that the urgency to take action is greater than ever, and earlier this year the National Climate Assessment summarized its findings by stating that “climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”

As climate change progresses, it will alter likelihood of various extreme weather events and change the risk profiles for many local governments and their citizens. At the Congress of Cities, attendees explored the potential implications in a session on Climate Change & the Future of Municipal Risk Management (slides available here). The session was designed to explore the perspectives of private insurers and ratings agencies who are taking a long-range view of the issue.

The key takeaway from all speakers was that data and projections relating to climate impacts have become remarkably localized. We know more than ever about the climate challenges that are already facing cities and this information can be used to guide decisions on issues ranging from land use, to infrastructure development, to the kinds of insurance policies a city might carry.

The session opened with Alex Kaplan from SwissRE, who began by noting that global losses to natural catastrophes has been increasing, but the proportion of losses that are uninsured are rising more quickly than losses that are insured, creating a widening protection gap. The key finding from recent work was that climate change, if unmitigated, could result in losses totaling 20% of global GDP by the end of the century.

SwissRE Climate Losses Chart

The research conducted by SwissRE is also regional in nature. By analyzing 77 counties on the Gulf Coast, they were able to create a current risk profile for over $2.2 trillion in regional assets and project how growth and development would affect the profile moving forward. For instance, even without changes to climate, a storm of Hurricane Katrina’s strength occurring in 2030 would result in estimated damages near $200 billion as a result of greater economic development alone. Factoring in climate change, such a storm would be 2.5x more likely.

The projection sounds dire, but the same report estimates 33% of this loss can be averted through cost-effective measures. Levees around critical infrastructure such as refineries or petrochemical plants, increased roof and wall standards for new construction, or regional beach nourishment all would be expected to result in net savings over time. This type of cost-benefit analysis can greatly help local officials as they evaluate long term development proposals or updates to building or energy codes.

Sascha Peterson, affiliated with both the Institute for Sustainable Communities as well as the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, reinforced this point by noting that some communities are creating climate thresholds for less dramatic impacts. Austin, TX for example, recognizes that heat above 105 is a tipping point that can strain the electric grid and cause rolling blackouts, reduce water availability, and increase incidents of heat stroke. In other areas the specific thresholds for heat, cold, or precipitation would be different, but by understanding their thresholds and projecting number of days per year that are likely to exceed them, the community can accurately design infrastructure or budget for emergency service delivery.

Geoffrey Buswick from Standard & Poor’s added to the broader picture, explaining that climate change was one of two key macro-trends, along with global aging, that ratings agencies believe will shape access to credit throughout the economy. Although their research publications presently indicate that it is extremely unlikely that a rating would be altered in anticipation of climate impacts, he recognized that capacity to respond and recover from climate event events has already affected ratings, and that these events themselves were more likely to occur.

Following Hurricane Sandy, for instance, Long Island Power Authority was unable to serve millions of customers for days or weeks, which limited its liquidity. The downtime, coupled with the agency’s financial and political response to the storm, ultimately caused the credit outlook to be changed to negative. Conversely, the Metropolitan Transit Agency, which was completely flooded in many neighborhoods, was only down for a handful of days before a majority of service was back on line. Instead of simply restoring service, in many instances the system was upgraded to be more robust and redundant to prevent future damage, and capital controls were put in place. The agency’s successful response actually had the effect of reassuring long-term investors and will keep future borrowing costs down.

The panel concluded with an emphasis on positive trends in local adaptation as Sascha Peterson presented two trends that are enabling local governments to take action and better prepare for climate change: the understanding of extreme weather thresholds, covered above, and greater regional collaboration.

Initiatives such as the Western Adaptation Alliance or the Southeast Florida Climate Compact are enabling local government to tackle similar climate challenges. In the case of the Southeast Florida Climate Compact, 4 counties and 109 municipalities joined together to create a regional action plan with over 100 activities that have been jointly vetted and approved. Peterson noted that the collective planning and action has enabled these communities to avoid redundant engagement processes and pool resources to pursue the action items at greater scale. The climate challenges themselves tend to be regional, and it is encouraging to see governments willing to meet them with regional solutions.

Overall, the speakers summarized a broad array of the information, data, and tools that are now available to local governments, as well we innovative ways to integrate these tools into officials’ decision making process.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Does the ADA Apply to Arrests?

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a Ninth Circuit decision ruling that individuals with mental illnesses must be accommodated under the ADA when being arrested.

SC-BlogGetty images

The Fourth Amendment applies to arrests, no question about it.  What about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?  Specifically, do individuals with mental illnesses have to be accommodated under the ADA when being arrested?  The Ninth Circuit said yes and the Supreme Court has agreed to review its decision in City & County of San Francisco v. Sheehan.

When police officers entered Teresa Sheehan’s room in a group home for persons with mental illness she threatened to kill them with a knife she held, so they retreated.  When the officers reentered her room soon after leaving it, Sheehan stepped toward them with her knife raised and continued to hold it after the officers pepper sprayed and ultimately shot her.

Title II of the ADA provides that individuals with a disability must be able to participate in the “services, programs, or activities of a public entity,” and that their disability must be reasonably accommodated.

Sheehan argued that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests and that the officers should have taken her mental illness into account when reentering her room.  Her proposed accommodations included:  respecting her comfort zone, engaging in non-threatening communications, and using the passage of time to defuse the situation

The Ninth Circuit agreed with Sheehan that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests.  The ADA applies broadly to police “services, programs, or activities,” which the Ninth Circuit interpreted to mean “anything a public entity does,” including arresting people.  The court refused to dismiss Sheehan’s ADA claim against the city reasoning that whether her proposed accommodations are reasonable is a question of fact for a jury.

The Ninth Circuit also concluded that reentry into Sheehan’s room violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unreasonable.  Although Sheehan needed help, “the officers had no reason to believe that a delay in entering her room would cause her serious harm, especially when weighed against the high likelihood that a deadly confrontation would ensue if they forced a confrontation.”

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

The Ninth Circuit refused to grant the officers qualified immunity related to their reentry:  “If there was no pressing need to rush in, and every reason to expect that doing so would result in Sheehan’s death or serious injury, then any reasonable officer would have known that this use of force was excessive.”  The Court also has agreed to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision on qualified immunity.

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

How Cities Improve Service Delivery through Performance Management

In an environment of decreased city revenues, limited state and federal aid and smaller municipal workforces, the value of data-driven decisions is greater than ever.

Performance-Management-2New report examines existing performance management systems in ten U.S. cities.

Decreasing a backlog of housing inspections by 70 percent. Achieving a 20 percent increase in customer service satisfaction. Saving $145,000 by preventing police responses to false burglary alarms. Reducing the number of automobile accidents at dangerous intersections by 23 percent. Prioritizing spending for downtown walkability in response to resident feedback.

Cities nationwide are achieving these service delivery improvements through performance management. The examples above are from city performance management programs that NLC studied during the development of the newly released Performance Management: A Guide for City Leaders. This research report is designed to help city leaders launch performance management programs in their own cities and attain similar results.

Performance management is the process of consistently reviewing performance data on city services to inform decision-making. It is a strategy emerging in more and more cities across the country because it provides city officials with the tools to make informed program and process improvements, to spend scarce budget resources more wisely and to ensure that the community’s needs are being prioritized.

NLC studied existing performance management systems in 10 U.S. cities through staff interviews and surveys. The results revealed that there are key components common to all performance management programs – how they are structured and staffed, the process for collecting data and setting performance targets, and how the analysis of performance is connected to informed decision-making. Performance Management: A Guide for City Leaders discusses these components in detail with examples from each city and advice from the performance management teams.

One area explained in the report is how to select appropriate performance metrics, or indicators, to accurately measure service delivery performance. The report offers specific guidance on the difference between tracking performance “outputs” and performance “outcomes” in order to help move the needle on improving city services. The performance management staff provided great insight into how to distinguish between the two types of data.

“The ideal metrics are operational metrics that don’t just count things but actually enable a city or department to gauge whether it is reaching its goal,” said Chris Dwelley from the Boston About Results team. “If the goal is to keep city streets in good condition, just measuring the ‘number of sidewalk repairs’ doesn’t indicate whether that goal is being achieved. Instead, a performance management team has to look at such things as ‘percentage of sidewalks rated safe,’ according to customer service ratings, or ‘percentage change in number of sidewalk repair requests.’”

Emily Love from Focus on Results (FOR) Atlanta shared, “A good metric is something that is an accurate proxy for performance. The best metrics measure the most important inputs, activities and outcomes that define performance ― for example, ‘percentage of 911 calls answered within 10 seconds.’ This measures a key outcome in the 911 centers, is a good proxy for overall efficiency and indicates a critical part of the 911 call center’s success.”

While no two programs that we studied are the same, one common thread among all the performance management systems is strong support from the mayor, city councilor, and city manager. In several cities the programs were initiated after a new mayor or city manager came into office and spearheaded the process.

The encouragement from city leaders is particularly important because they play a role in communicating that performance management is not a punitive review exercise, but rather an opportunity to make city government work better for everyone. Support from the top down also assures that a focus on performance management and process improvement is a permanent part of the city culture, and not just a passing fad. We offer several strategies in the report for how city leaders can be champion for performance management programs.

Within a governing environment where the post-recession factors of decreased city revenues, limited intergovernmental aid and smaller municipal workforces are a still a reality for many cities, the value of making data-driven decisions is greater than ever. It is our intention that, with the help of this guide, performance management can become an integral part of daily operations in many more cities.

This new way of doing business will help you turn your city’s wish list into an attainable to-do list.

Robbins_small (2)

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


Cities’ Sentiment Toward Sharing Economy is Varied and Evolving

There is no one-size-fits-all regulatory solution for the sharing economy, and what works well for one city might not work for another.

Philly-Sharing-EconomyPhiladelphia is one of the cities profiled in NLC’s new sharing economy report.

The consensus is there is no consensus. City leaders across the country are working to understand and incorporate the sharing economy into their cities, and are being presented with a new set of challenges and opportunities. Community residents crave these new collaborative opportunities and commerce, and at the sharing-economy-info-graphicsame time expect on-demand services at their beck and call. The sharing economy is thriving as a result, and it is upending traditional industries, disrupting local regulatory environments and serving as a bulwark for innovation and growth—all at the same time.

There is no one-size-fits-all regulatory solution that can be implemented across the board to accommodate these new business models, and what works well for one city might not work for another. And, these days, it’s hard to read the news without coming across the words Uber, Lyft, or Airbnb. The sharing economy, also commonly referred to as the collaborative economy or the peer-to-peer economy, is dominating every conversation. Seemingly overnight, services like homesharing and ridesharing became commonplace in cities large and small around the world.

The fact that the word ‘Uber’ has been readily adopted and transformed into a verb (i.e. ‘let’s just uber to the party’) reflects the rapid and impactful way that these types of disruptive technologies have entered and changed our lives. The term ‘sharing economy’ refers to businesses that provide consumers the ability and platform to share resources and services from housing to vehicles and more. Sharing economy exchanges typically take place with the use of an online and/or application-based business model, making them convenient for all who have internet or smartphone access.

The National League of Cities recently conducted a study to measure the sentiment and direction of the sharing economy in the thirty most populous cities in America. Findings are based on a content analysis of media sources covering: 1) the subject of sharing economy services, 2) the introduction of sharing economy services in cities, 3) the overall sentiment pertaining to sharing economy services, and 4) policies and regulation on sharing economy services. For the purposes of this study we limited the analysis to mention of ridesharing and homesharing services. In measuring the sentiment toward the sharing economy, we also determined whether each city has or is undertaking legislative or regulatory action toward sharing economy companies.

While all cities address the sharing economy in different ways, our analysis found that the majority of cities in our sample are working toward policies that accommodate or adjust to the operation of ridesharing or homesharing companies.

In summary, we found that[1]:

  • 9 cities (Austin, Charlotte, El Paso, Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose and Washington DC) show positive sentiment toward ridesharing and homesharing.
  • 21 cities (Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Worth, Houston, Jacksonville, Louisville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville, New York, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and San Antonio) show mixed sentiment toward ridesharing and homesharing.
  • 15 cities (Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose) have experienced regulatory action or other intervention from state policymakers.

In addition to the wide range of responses from cities, our analysis found that state actors are playing prominent role in this discussion. State level interventions ranged from legislation to regulatory rulings to state legal action. Most negative sentiment for the sharing economy is based in concerns over safety (provider and consumer), fair business practices (equal application of regulations or “leveling the playing field”), or lost tax revenue (uncollected hotel taxes). Overall, cities are finding that there is a way to strike a balance between promoting innovation, ensuring consumer safety and addressing existing industries.

City ordinances that governed traditional fields of commerce took decades to solidify, and while the opportunities of the new fields are great, the swiftness of their rise has been challenging. Cities are up to this challenge, though, and the National League of Cities is helping them navigate and prepare for this changed environment with resources and the development of a Sharing Economy Advisory Network. We must harness the power of great ideas, encourage innovation and develop robust regulatory structures that meet the needs of many. For more detail and to read the full report, click here.

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



[1] These findings are reflective of the sentiment in each city at the time of our data collection and analysis. Because of the rapidly changing and fluctuating nature of this policy arena, it is possible that the current sentiment or relevant policy may divert from our original classification.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court Opinions? Already?!

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

SC-BlogGetty images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Ways Cities and Stakeholders are Encouraging Youth Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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