Tying Business Incentives to an Economic Development Strategy

This is a guest post written by Ellen Harpel. Post originally appeared on the Smart Incentives blog.

Construction-in-SingaporeEconomic development initiatives like this construction project in Singapore are more successful when investment incentives align with the values articulated by the overall development strategy. (Getty Images)

Incentives are not just about winning a deal or completing a transaction with an investor. Smart incentive use is always connected to a larger economic development strategy.

Economic strategy

Any project for which incentives are offered needs to be evaluated in the context of community economic goals and strategies. Many communities have an economic development strategy, though perhaps of varying quality, and making sure that an incentivized project aligns with the broad statements and values within that strategy is an important first step. Unfortunately, a surprising number of communities either do not have strategies in place or do not align their incentive programs to those strategies. Community discussions on incentive use focus on the deal, not the reason for the deal. My work around the country has revealed that the public, elected officials and even economic development board members do not see how incentives are connected to the broader economic development mission, seeing them entirely as necessary evils to enable business recruitment.

Program goals

Policymakers are increasingly ensuring that individual incentive programs have clear goals, although we have seen that guiding legislation can be frustratingly unclear, making both implementation and evaluation difficult. Clearly defining the purpose of an incentive program helps ensure it will be used as intended. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being offered to all comers regardless of their capacity to connect to community goals. Communities also often have specific objectives related to supporting target industries or developing individual sectors of the economy. Economic developers may be urged to support small businesses or firms meeting certain demographic criteria. Economic development organizations often work with regional or national organizations and may need to align efforts with their broader strategies. Sustainable development may be a priority. These are all additional strategic factors that should be considered when assessing the basic project benefits that an incentives investment might generate. Good economic development organizations know their communities well and should be able to relatively easily assess whether a proposed investment aligns with community values on these factors, singly or in combination.

Ellen Harpel bio photoAbout the Author: Ellen Harpel is President of Business Development Advisors (BDA) and Founder of Smart Incentives. She has over 17 years of experience in the economic development field, working with leaders at the local, state and national levels to increase business investment and job growth in their communities. Contact Ellen at eharpel@businessdevelopmentadvisors.com or ellen@smartincentives.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at @SmartIncentives.

5 Ways Cities Can Promote Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs

Providing meals for children through federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs is a win-win opportunity for cities. Cities benefit by bringing more federal funds into their neighborhoods, and can improve the health and well-being of low-income children by increasing their access to healthy meals and their participation in fun and safe activities during out-of-school time hours.

It is important for mayors and other city leaders to build strong partnerships with stakeholders, such as statewide anti-hunger groups, schools, food banks and other community organizations, to implement meal programs in ways that maximize quality and participation. These stakeholders can serve as important outreach partners that help city leaders connect with their residents to make sure they are aware of the resources available to them.

Here are five ways that city leaders can promote afterschool and summer meal programs in their communities.

1. Use the bully pulpit to raise awareness of child hunger and promote out-of-school time meal programs. Local elected officials can write op-eds for local newspapers, emphasize the need for afterschool and summer meal programs in public speeches or at events, and promote afterschool and summer meal programs on the city’s website and through newsletters and social media. Nashville2. Publicize out-of-school time meals through a targeted marketing strategy. An important component of any marketing strategy for out-of-school time meals is a kick-off event. These events can raise awareness about meal programs in a way that brings key stakeholders and families together. Mayors can use kick-off events to frame afterschool and summer meals as a top priority for the city before a large audience of community leaders. Cities can also take advantage of existing national resources such as the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3HUNGRY) to make meal program site locations and operating hours easily accessible to families. In addition, cities can advertise information about meal sites on utility bills, via robo-calls, or through the city’s 311 information line or the United Way’s 211 information line. Philadelphia3. Sponsor Afterschool or Summer Meal Programs. City agencies such as parks and recreation or departments of housing are well-suited to be sponsors of afterschool and summer meal programs and to host meal sites at local facilities, e.g., recreation centers. Staff from a mayor’s office can also coordinate a working group or task force that focuses on the issue of child hunger and identifies strategies to reduce it, including initiatives to increase participation in out-of-school time meal programs. City staff relationships with key community partners, as well as knowledge of where young people congregate after school and during the summer, are integral to the success of these programs. Houston4. Partner with community organizations that serve afterschool and summer meals. Local nonprofits and other afterschool providers often act as sponsors to provide afterschool and summer meals as well as activities for young people before and/or after meals. Cities can leverage funding for meal programs in partnership with community-based organizations.Seattle5. Incorporate child nutrition goals into a broader citywide agenda. City leaders can work with staff responsible for broader citywide initiatives such as Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties or other initiatives that focus on children and youth to expand the reach and scope of child nutrition programming. FontanaTo learn more, check out our new issue brief on afterschool and summer meals.

Jamie Nash bio photo About the Author: Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact Jamie at nash@nlc.org.

Meet the Freshman: Rep. Brenda Lawrence

This is the first in series of closer looks at new members of Congress coming from city government office.

Brenda Lawrence bio photo

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.-14) is no stranger to city concerns. A lifetime resident of the Detroit area, Rep. Lawrence spent 17 years prior to her election to Congress in city government, first as a city council member and then mayor of Southfield, a suburb of Detroit with over 72,000 residents.

Rep. Lawrence’s work in Southfield positioned her to be a champion for city residents. During her time as mayor, she led her city in partnership with NLC on a number of initiatives, including Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, the Cities United violence prevention initiative, and the Mayors’ Action Challenge for Children and Families. She has most recently served NLC as a member of the NLC University Board of Advisors. Rep. Lawrence has also previously worked with Mayors Against Illegal Guns as part of an effort to curb gun violence. She has the distinction of becoming the first female and first African-American mayor of Southfield, and the first African-American female Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee in Michigan.

“I’ve been fortunate to have served as a mayor who has provided perspective to Congress like in the aftermath of the home mortgage foreclosure crisis,” said Representative Lawrence about her time spent in city government. “[I] have lobbied for and administered federal block grant dollars that are used to enhance and improve services at home. So while I’m a freshman member, I’m certainly not new to the federal government process. Equally important, I truly understand the needs of our nation’s cities.”

Representative Lawrence was appointed to serve as a “Senior Whip” for the House Democratic Caucus by Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland. She will serve on the influential House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has oversight responsibility for federal agency activity and regulations.

Learn more about Rep. Lawrence and the other freshman members of Congress using NLC’s interactive map tool.

Panettieri photoAbout the author: Angelina Panettieri is the Senior Associate for Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. She helps empower city leaders to engage directly with Congress on the issues most important to them.

This Year, Cities Have Got You Covered

This blog post was co-written by Carla Plaza, consultant to NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families initiative.

Children Receive Emergency Care At Pediatric HospitalEight cities are taking bold new steps to increase Medicaid and CHIP enrollment this year. (Getty Images)

Yes, it’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about the NFL playoffs or flu season, though. It’s the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period (November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015). Enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), however, is available year round for eligible families and children.

The eight cities participating in NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families (CEHACF) initiative are leveraging the renewed focus on health insurance to get more families and children in their communities enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP.

One of the lessons learned from the CEHACF cities so far is that strong messages are effective when they come from trusted community voices. Mayor Randy Walker of Garden City, Mich., and Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh have used the bully pulpit to encourage their residents to get health coverage, and are featured prominently in PSAs about Medicaid and CHIP.

Healthy Together is committed to enrolling all Pittsburgh children and youth in quality, no- to low-cost healthcare programs, like Medicaid and CHIP.

One of the main Cover Jacksonville campaign strategies has been to develop a streamlined, single point of access referral system for community residents. Working in partnership with the United Way of Northeast Florida, the campaign team trained 211 call staff to incorporate questions about health insurance enrollment into their conversations with callers. 211 operators can now make appointments for callers with an enrollment assistor at a convenient location.

Dallas is finalizing the process of becoming a Community Partner with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. As a Community Partner, staff at city agencies that work in community centers as well as child care and homelessness services can become trained enrollment assistors. Clients visiting any of these city agencies will then be screened for and enrolled in all of the benefits for which they are eligible through the YourTexasBenefits program – including Medicaid and CHIP.

The New Bedford, Mass. campaign team is working closely with school nurses to educate students and their families about the importance of health care coverage and access. This partnership is also generating awareness about their school-based campaign and enrollment events.

Together with local health care providers, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and Dr. Brenda Weis, Director of the New Bedford Health Department, participate in promotional video for the city of New Bedford’s new health initiative.

Recognizing the importance of the tourism industry in their city, Savannah, Ga.’s campaign team is targeting the hotel and hospitality industry to get their employees and employees’ families enrolled. The team is working with local businesses to ensure that families and children get the coverage they need.

Finally, Providence, R.I. is targeting older youth and recruiting them to become health ambassadors who would spread the word about the importance of coverage to their families and friends. In Hattiesburg, Miss., campaign staff are working with their faith-based community to help spread the message of the importance of health coverage. The team trained some church members to be enrollment assistors, which allowed for onsite enrollment assistance following church services.

What is your city doing to help enroll children and families in Medicaid and CHIP? Share your story with us!

Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot

About the Author: Dawn Schluckebier is a Senior Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck. Email Dawn at schluckebier@nlc.org to share your city’s story or get more information on the CEHACF cities’ campaigns.

Mayors: A Responsive City Needs Great Internet Access

This is a guest post by Susan Crawford.

fiber opticsIn theory, fiber-optic cables have the capacity to transmit data at unlimited speeds. As of this writing, data has been successfully transmitted at more than 40 terabits per second – fast enough to allow you to upload a 1TB hard drive in 1/5th of a second. (Getty Images)

A recent Webby Awards/Harris Interactive poll found that consumers – constituents, in other words – have come to expect real-time tracking, same-day delivery, and the opportunity to provide instant feedback regarding every service and business they encounter. 80 percent of respondents said they expect payments to be handled automatically, 85 percent expect to see reviews from other customers, and 60 percent expect services to learn about their preferences. In the next five years, these expectations are only going to be higher; nearly 50 percent of respondents said they expect that there will be a service within the next five years that ships them products they need before they order them.

Meanwhile, the digital divide in U.S. cities remains staggering. 56 percent of Detroit households don’t have what the FCC calls “fixed broadband subscriptions” (meaning anything other than dial-up or mobile devices), and 40 percent have no Internet access at all (meaning they have no wired or mobile access). More than 36 percent of Cleveland residents have no Internet access at all. Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Chicago are all on the list as well. (Here’s the full ranking of cities with more than 50,000 residents.)

Mayors know that public trust in the institutions of the federal government is at record low levels these days. But mayors also know that public trust in local government remains strong. Mayors get things done; they don’t have time to play polarized, corrosive politics.

And here’s the kicker: polls show that world-class Internet access is becoming a voting issue in America.

What can a mayor do to ensure (a) the services his or her city is providing meet constituents’ expectations (keeping trust in the effectiveness of local government high), (b) all of his or her constituents have world-class, reasonably priced, high capacity Internet access where they live, work and play (so that every resident is treated with dignity and given the opportunity to thrive), and (c) constituents are convinced that tomorrow will be better than today?

The answer lies in municipal fiber. Its time has come.

Without city-controlled fiber-optic lines connecting municipal buildings and the pulsing infrastructure of the city – transport, energy, water, sewage, public safety etc. – your city won’t be able to gather, aggregate, visualize, collaborate over, ship around among agencies, report on, or even use the data you should know about in order to effectively manage a 21st century municipality. (You’ll find a useful set of case studies reporting on the exciting intersections among cities and data in my recent book, “The Responsive City,” co-authored with Stephen Goldsmith.) Only fiber has the symmetric (both upload and download) capacity you’ll need to handle these floods of data. And once it’s in, it’s good for decades – to upgrade, all you’ll need to do is swap out the electronics at the end points. As far as scientists can tell, fiber has an unlimited capacity to carry information. And in order to provide the digital window on your city that your voters will increasingly demand – the predictions, easy payment mechanisms, real-time services, visual feedback and data-driven policies they will expect from all interactions – you’ll need fiber.

Those fiber-optic lines linking city infrastructure need to be controlled by the city; your constituents need reasonably-priced connectivity. Starting with city buildings is a good way to launch a city network. Just ask my hometown of Santa Monica, California, which saved so much money by dropping leased services and wiring its municipal buildings itself that it now provides service to businesses – and is ready to move to fiber to the home.

And municipal fiber is how you can close the digital divide that is the scourge of so many U.S. cities. Think of that divide, now amplifying and entrenching existing social problems in your city, as similar to a failure to provide a functional street grid. You don’t have to provide retail services yourself, just as you don’t have to provide the cars and businesses that use your streets. Consider the case of Ammon, Idaho, a small conservative town that built a passive fiber (as opposed to fiber-optic) network over which a host of competing service providers can sell directly to residents. Only a city builds streets; similarly, no private company would have an incentive to serve everyone with basic infrastructure, but every private company will rejoice in having reasonably-priced, unlimited communications capacity as a basic input into everything it needs to do. For more evidence, look at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Finally, the excitement, pride, and relief of people who see that their city is capable of great things will add up to votes for the leaders involved. People are aching for reliable, effective, nonpartisan leadership. They still trust their mayors, many of whom have recently joined Next Century Cities to learn more about municipal fiber.

​Now that about twenty states have put barriers in place making community high speed Internet access initiatives difficult (and we know additional state barriers will be proposed this year), local leaders are also banding together in the Coalition for Local Internet Choice to oppose barriers to local choice.​

Why? Because these state-imposed limits are bad for the communities involved, bad for the private sector, and bad for America’s global competitiveness. 2015 looks like a good year for forward thinking.

Susan Crawford bio photoAbout the author: Susan Crawford is the John A. Reilly Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property at the Harvard Law School (2014) and a co-director of the Berkman Center. She is the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, co-author of The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance, and a contributor to Medium.com’s Backchannel.

Cities Can Help Close the Meal Gap on Weekends and Holidays

Holiday meals - blogCity agencies can serve meals and reach more children by utilizing existing resources. (Getty Images)

During the weekends and holidays, many of us look forward to spending quality time with our family and friends, and much of that time is spent around the dinner table. It is important to remember, though, that many children and families will go hungry this holiday season – just as many children do on the weekends when they don’t have access to federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs. For many families across the country, the Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs provide healthy meals that parents and caretakers rely on to help ensure their kids are fed during out-of-school time hours. Providing meals on weekends and holidays is a great opportunity for these programs to reach even more kids. Local leaders and city agencies that sponsor meal programs can help fill a critical need by building off of their existing programs to serve weekend and holiday meals. Under the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), public agencies such as public housing authorities and parks and recreation departments, as well as schools, nonprofits (e.g., Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs) and faith-based organizations are eligible to serve meals and snacks on weekends and holidays. Many meal program sponsors find it challenging to fully staff their meal sites on weekends and holidays, but they can work with vendors and other partnering organizations to develop a plan to gradually phase in weekend and holiday meals based on existing enrichment programs. A gradual, phased approach could provide sponsors with needed flexibility to respond to staffing and funding needs. Below are a few strategies for cities that are thinking about serving meals on weekends and holidays:

  • Utilize existing staff and staff from volunteer programs: In Minneapolis, the Nite Owlz late night teen program is held primarily in inner city parks on Friday and Saturday nights. They are currently expanding their meal service program, and the involvement of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would allow this program to extend healthy food choices to over 350 teens each weekend night throughout the year.
  • Develop creative partnerships between city agencies and community partners: In Washington, D.C., a strong partnership between the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), and Metroball, a local nonprofit summer basketball league, has helped to reach over 300 teenagers on Saturdays during the summer. DPR acts as the meal program sponsor and serves the meals at the basketball league sites, and the local police department helps spread the word about the program. Summer meals sites are open in D.C. on Saturdays at select Department of Parks and Recreation Centers, D.C. Public Library locations and community-based organizations.
  • Start by serving one meal on Saturdays during the school year. There are approximately 40 Saturdays during the school year, and these days provide a great opportunity for sponsors that implement the Afterschool Meal Program during the school year to serve meals one additional day per week.

For more information on serving weekend and holiday meals, check out the Food Research and Action Center’s resources, including this Afterschool Meal Matters recorded call.

Jamie Nash bio photo
About the Author:
Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact Jamie at nash@nlc.org.

How: (Cities) + (Science) = Resilient Communities

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners.

Testing-Water-BlogTesting water level levels with a measuring pole.

If pushed to their intellectual limits, most people will be able to name one great living scientist. At the top of any list is either Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist and cosmologist) or Jane Goodall (anthropologist). Beyond these two, the next most famous scientist is either director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Cosmos Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist) or Sheldon Cooper, the fictional physicist on the television sit-com The Big Bang Theory. For those of a certain age, Bill Nye the Science Guy rounds out the top five.

Stephen Hawking of course is the great mind behind A Brief History of Time and other cosmic works that broke all sorts of New York Times best seller records. Alas, it is also true that hundreds of thousands of folks may have purchased his books but only small fractions have actually read them. On the other hand, in any given week, the antics of Dr. Sheldon Cooper are watched by anywhere between 15 and 20 million viewers.

The point is not to disparage our general lack of knowledge about scientists and scientific breakthroughs. Rather it is to highlight how little credibility is paid to good science produced by working scientists who are solving problems of disease, starvation, environmental degradation and species collapse in universities, labs and garages all over America.

Scientists deal in facts, data, observations, experiments, testing and retesting, and vigorous analysis. In big ways and small, scientists are pushing the limits of human understanding and working to solve problems that face the Earth’s population each day. They are the friend and ally of anyone seeking to make life better in communities around the world, and in the present era they are armed with the most sophisticated tools ever invented for measurement and evaluation.

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners. They bring a methodical approach to local priorities and work to define research questions, collect and analyze data, and apply results to make local-level predictions.

Working through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an international coalition of more than 61,000 scientists, a project called the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) is advancing human and environmental resilience. The project brings scientists together with community leaders to provide participatory scientific methods and research to local challenges. In short, TEX helps a community imagine and launch innovative projects that leverage Earth and space science for the public good.

Examples of such collaboratives already exist. Five diverse Denver neighborhoods are in the midst of a TEX project to investigate environmental factors that influence health and wellbeing in their communities. Operating under the umbrella of Taking Neighborhood Health to Heart (TNH2H), the neighborhoods of Park Hill, Northeast Park Hill, East Montclair, Northwest Aurora and Stapleton are the target research zones. These areas are bounded by two major interstate highways, transected by three of the metro areas’ busiest thoroughfares, and are near shuttered military installations with defense industry-related dump and waste sites. The research is exploring issues of geohazards, water and soil quality and climate change.

On the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Native American and non-Native scientists are working to identify aquifer water quality within the local watershed in order to understand the cause of an extremely high rate of cancer (600% higher than the U.S. average) in Pine Ridge residents. A team working for almost 4 years in close harmony with the Tribal Council and a local cancer survivor group collected samples and ran tests on different water filter models to determine which tool might serve the community best.

Cities with a capacity and willingness to make use of geoscience information in planning or operations are ideal candidates for a TEX project. Community leaders can reach out to AGU staff directly to engage with the Thriving Earth Exchange Program. The program director is Raj Pandya, rpandya@agu.org, 1-303-999-7112.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Celebrating the Attractions of Small Cities

via Wikimedia Commons by Acroterion

German Street in Shepherdstown, WV, via Wikimedia Commons by Acroterion

When I talk about cities I have visited, I use sensory language. I describe the art or architecture I saw, the unique foods I consumed, the sounds of nature or of music I heard, the landscape I traversed or the people with whom I connected. Big city or small city, in the U.S. or abroad, my experiences are similar. There is always something unique or compelling that creates a story about this or that place.

I have previously written on this blog about thriving and creative small cities. Shepherdstown, West Virginia was one such community that offers a range of activities and amenities that draws visitors to the Shenandoah from across the region. This community, while charming, is not unique. In fact a magazine called American Style has been reporting on the creativity and imagination of smaller communities for many years. Although generally focused on arts and cultural assets, the stories about cities represent the wealth of diversity that causes us to celebrate June as Small Cities Month.

There are few things more delightful than outdoor concerts. Eureka Springs, Arkansas offers a veritable cornucopia of music programs year round. A recent look at the city’s website shows an activity calendar listing the 27th Annual Arts Festival in May, the bluegrass festival in June, the 64th season of Opera in the Ozarks during July and the jazz festival in September.

The visual arts – painting, sculpture, metalwork, photography, etc. – offer other opportunities for communities to advantage a unique strength. The Ox-Bow School and artist-in-residence program in Saugatuck, Michigan is one such example. This program was established in 1910 and is now affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From a beach, harbor and arts and crafts town, Saugatuck has catalyzed their artist colony status into a genuine growth industry.

Sarasota, Florida may offer the most eclectic mix of arts and culture of any city. The long-established Ringling International Arts Festival (Yes, THAT Ringling) puts circus arts front and center as well as dance and music. A more sublime event will run concurrently during 2014, the 27th Annual Downtown Festival of the Arts. This event provides exhibition space to creators of sculpture, painting, jewelry and crafts. Multi-cultural foods tend to grace all events in Sarasota.

Film and music are at the center of the arts festivals in Aspen, Colorado. The annual FilmFest has grown over the years to rival the film events hosted in Cannes, Toronto and Sundance. The historic Wheeler Opera House offers an unmatched venue for previewing autumn new releases, documentaries or Oscar-quality performances. For those whose tastes run to music, the Aspen Music Festival attracts world-class performers and guest artists.

Programs that showcase the arts and culture thrive in smaller cities as well as in larger ones. Many of these festivals have grown from modest events highlighting local artists and performers in ad hoc spaces into high visibility orchestrations with professional management and national or international reputations. Proof that an investment in cultural and arts programming is an investment well made.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Sustainability Matters: An Interview with David Narkewicz, Mayor of Northampton, Mass.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, Executive Director of STAR Communities.

North-Hampton

City of Northampton, Mass.

Last week, STAR Communities announced that Northampton, Massachusetts is the first city in the United States to be awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating, STAR’s highest possible designation, and a recognition of Northampton’s strong record instituting a wide range of sustainability practices as a means to increase quality of life for the city’s residents.

This blog post features Northampton, Mass. Mayor David Narkewicz reflecting on “Paradise City’s” strengths, weaknesses, and the reasons why he is most proud that his city is the first in the nation to reach 5-STAR certification.

What are the qualities of your community that you feel strongly about protecting and enriching through sustainability programs and practices? 

Northampton offers a lifestyle rich in natural beauty, cultural, artistic, academic, and business resources. Our downtown center is one of the most vibrant in New England. The superb quality of life in Northampton contributes to a strong and diversified economic base. Northampton is unique in the number of independently owned businesses that make up our business community.

Northampton’s blend of traditional neighborhoods, forged by the great care of generations of good neighbors, and a lively and sophisticated cultural community would make any great city proud. Located in the heart of the Five-College area, and home to prestigious Smith College, education has always been a priority. Northampton retains the historic character of downtown and the mill villages of Florence, Leeds, and Bay State.

Northampton is proud of its work to create a more sustainable community.  As a community we have embraced restoring and protecting our environment, providing housing and services to all, caring for those with the least resources of their own, and growing our economy in a way that honors our history and serves all of our residents.

Becoming the first certified 5-STAR Community is a great accomplishment. For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR lets us [Northampton] promote all the great things that we have done to make our community strong and resilient.  It is positive feedback that lets our residents, taxpayers, businesses, investors, and community partners know that we are on the right track.  The transparency and independence of the process builds confidence in our work.

Equally important, in honoring us for what we have done and in benchmarking our progress, STAR encourages a community conversation on all that we still need to do to make our community even stronger.

So, what are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected inSTAR? 

Our greatest achievement is that we have a balanced approach and try to address all sustainability challenges. Our rail trails, bicycle lanes, arts, and open space serves much of our community, our economy has a strong local focus, and our residents with fewer resources have more opportunity and services than in most communities.

I am proud that STAR validated our across-the-board balanced approach.  Whether it is dealing with reducing trash or fossil fuel energy use or encouraging buy local, we are working to address all of our sustainability challenges.  Our years of hard work are paying off.

What challenges are facing your city? How do you plan to address them going forward?

The biggest challenges are always fiscal.  There are never enough resources, especially in a city where the majority of our population is struggling and our median income is far less than we would like.   That said, we need to and will find the resources to be more resilient, to continue all of our efforts, to ensure that our youth and adults both have access to the best education and training, to make our streets safer and promote travel not dependent on private cars, expand our economy, and protect our environment.

STAR Communities is a national leader in rating sustainability efforts of cities, towns and counties; its national ratings program helps communities evaluate themselves in seven areas related to sustainability, such as “Climate and Energy,” “Built Environment,” and “Economy and Jobs.”

Cities can apply this month to be considered for the Fall 2014 Leadership STAR Community Program, joining cities like Northampton, MA; Austin, TX; Des Moines, IA; Tacoma, WA and Fort Collins, CO who became certified while participating in STAR’s leadership program. 

For more information, visit www.STARcommunities.org, visit STAR on Facebook and on Twitter @STARCommRating.

???????????????????????????????About the Author: Hilari Varnadore is the Executive Director of STAR Communities, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit organization advancing a national framework for sustainable communities. She works with local government leaders to empower communities to chart a clear path toward a sustainable future.

 

 

2_MayorNorthampton (2)About Mayor Narkewicz: David Narkewicz was elected the 44th Mayor of the City of Northampton in November 2011. He previously served as Councilor At-Large and President of the Northampton City Council from 2010-2011 and Ward 4 City Councilor from 2006-2010.

 

 

 

Mayors, Residents Make Big Strides with National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation

This is a guest post written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

water-mayors-challenge

With cities across the United States facing water scarcity, five U.S. cities were honored today for the commitment of their residents to making water-saving choices as part of the third annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

The cities of Dallas, TX, Corpus Christi, TX, Huntington Beach, CA, Bremerton, WA, and Crete, NB, led an effort among over 23,000 people across the nation to take 277,742 specific actions over the next year to change the way they use water in their home yard, and community.

Presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, with support from the U.S. EPA and National League of Cities, the challenge had direct participation from more than 100 U.S. mayors, from San Diego to Miami, FL, who encouraged their residents to participate in the online challenge at mywaterpledge.com.

“Access to a clean and reliable supply of fresh water is fundamental to our lives,” said artist and conservationist Wyland. “Most people do not think about their water footprint and the extent to which water quality issues can impact them personally.”

The challenge comes at a time when population growth, extreme weather patterns, water shortages, and again infrastructure all threaten access to a steady, sustainable supply of water in the United States.

The National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation provides a positive way to reward residents across the country for using water wisely and controlling what goes down the drain and into their local watershed.

By sticking to their commitments, the collective efforts of these residents will reduce national water waste by 1.4 billion gallons, reduce waste sent to landfills by 36 million pounds, eliminate more than 179 thousand pounds of hazardous waste from entering our watersheds, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.3 billion pounds.

Beyond its efforts to foster environmental change, the challenge provides an opportunity for participants from the top five cities to win more than $50,000 in eco-friendly prizes, including a Grand Prize Toyota Prius Plug-In.

City leaders, sustainability directors, and utilities managers who are interested in getting their city involved in the program for 2015 are encouraged to contact the Wyland Foundation at 949-643-7070. To see this year’s final national standings, please visit mywaterpledge.com.

Watch Al Roker & Nancy Stoner, EPA Director of Water, discuss the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Steve-CreechAbout the author: Steve Creech is executive director for the non-profit Wyland Foundation. He is the co-author of  “Hold Your Water: 68 Things You Need to Know to Keep Our Planet Blue,” a fresh look at the importance of water in our communities and throughout the world. Steve is a former environmental news reporter in southern California and currently blogs for Huffington Post.