Mayors: Data & Technology Critical to City Leadership

The use of data to drive decision-making in cities is continuing to grow, and the myriad uses for these data are being further incorporated into city operations.

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In their 2016 State of the City addresses, multiple mayors committed to leading smarter cities where classrooms, neighborhoods, and businesses leverage data and technology to become better connected and more productive. (Getty Images)

Data and technology are critical components of highly functioning cities. Mayors recognize this, and seek to elevate related issues – from broadband to smart cities to data-driven government and more – in order to better serve community members and create successful cities.

Cities are also using data and technology to make themselves smarter and more effective. In our State of the Cities 2016 analysis, one in five mayors devoted significant coverage to these issues in their annual addresses.

High Speed Internet

Internet and broadband are top mayoral priorities, coming in as the highest-rated area, with 22 percent of speeches touching on broadband. One of the key messages surfacing is that equity is incredibly important and cities are working to alleviate existing challenges surrounding access.

Mayors across the country noted the importance of fast, reliable internet to community success. However, access varies city to city or even between neighborhoods. In Baltimore, where 30 percent of homes lack internet connection, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called broadband “the great infrastructure challenge of the 21st century.”

This disconnect can put poor students at risk of falling further behind in school. It can also discourage the growth of a local technology business.

“Imagine a new commitment to building a Smart City with high-speed gigabit fiber and focused neighborhood Wi-Fi that not only gives our students access to a 21st Century education, closing the homework gap, but creates an environment for a new explosion in small business investment and high-tech, knowledge economy industry,” said Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg.

Smart cities

Multiple cities — from Nashville to Kansas City, Missouri — committed to becoming smarter cities where classrooms, neighborhoods, and businesses leverage data and technology to become better connected and more productive.

In Escondido, California, Mayor Sam Abed said, “I see a future inspired by 21st century innovation to make Escondido a smart city. I see tremendous opportunities and a better future for the city that we all love and care about.”

This year, Columbus, Ohio, became the first city to win the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Columbus will receive $40 million, in addition to $100 million from private partners, to reshape its transportation system. “Smart Columbus will deliver an unprecedented multimodal transportation system that will not only benefit the people of central Ohio, but potentially all mid-sized cities,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther in a statement.

Data-driven government

“Data helps us make decisions. It’s a tool to help us make choices. And the more we know, the better decisions we can make,” said Mayor Andy Hafen of Henderson, Nevada.

Data is particularly useful for community wide public safety efforts. The Jersey City, New Jersey Open Data Portal is an example of a platform that allows the city to proactively provide the public with unfiltered and unbiased information on crime and other police activities. “We are trying to break down the informational barriers between government and residents in order to encourage honest dialogue aimed at increased public safety,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. These types of tools empower cities to share data with the public and track goals over time.

In Dallas, which suffered the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11 this year, the city is leading on data-driven policing. “In 2015, our department’s excessive force complaints were reduced by 67 percent,” said DPD Police Chief David Brown at a press conference just a few weeks before the fatal police shooting. “And our deadly force incidents have been reduced by 45 percent. So far, this year in 2016, we’ve had four excessive force complaints. We averaged between 150 and 200 my whole 33-year career. So this is transformative.”

The use of data to drive decision-making in cities is continuing to grow, and the myriad uses for these data are being further incorporated into city operations. Furthermore, data-driven government is part and parcel of developing smart cities ready for the future.

Whether data helps city leaders make better decisions on policing, traffic management, or internal processes, the goal is to develop better services for community members. Mayors know that the broad swath of areas in cities that technology enhances grow with each passing year. In order to successfully shape this future for all of us, we can look to cities for true leadership.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about energy and environment.

About the Authors:

Brooks 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.

 

Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

States Sue Over New Overtime Rules

Twenty-one states are suing the Department of Labor over new overtime rules which make it more likely states will have to pay more employees overtime. They are seeking an injunction which will prevent the new rules from going into effect on December 1, 2016.

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To the Department of Labor, salary level — not the type of work actually performed – “is the best single test of exempt status for white collar employees.” (Getty Images)

Per the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), “white collar” employees do not have to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Per Department of Labor regulations, adopted shortly after the FLSA was adopted in 1938, employees must perform specific duties and earn a certain salary to be exempt from overtime as white collar employees.

On May 23, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued final rules nearly doubling the previous salary level test for white collar employees from $455 per week, or $23,660 per year to $913 per week, or $47,476 per year.

DOL also raised the salary threshold for highly compensated employees (who aren’t eligible for overtime no matter their job duties) from $100,000 per year to $134,004 per year. The rules automatically update the salary level every three years for white collar and highly compensated employees.

As a practical matter, the states object to these rules because they will cost more money and states “cannot reasonably rely upon a corresponding increase in revenue, [so] they will have to reduce or eliminate some essential government services and functions.”

In its complaint, the states make five arguments for why the Texas federal district court should grant their injunction. Its first and most ambitious argument is that the Court overturn Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985), where the Court held that the FLSA applies to the states.

The states also argue that DOL has exceed its authority under the FLSA in issuing these rules by ignoring the duties an employee performs and making salary a litmus test.

By automatically increasing the salary basis test, DOL is violating the FLSA’s requirement to “define and delimit from time to time” the white collar exception, the states claim.

As in almost any lawsuit objecting to federal rules, the states argue the rules are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Finally, the states claim that Congress improperly delegated congressional legislative power by conferring “unlimited legislative authority on DOL” in the FLSA.

In addition to the lawsuit, there is also a legislative effort underway to block the rule from going into effect. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced H.R. 5813, the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act, several months ago, and it is awaiting action in the House Committee on Education and Workforce. The bill would implement a three-year phase-in of the new salary threshold and also eliminate the automatic increases. NLC supports the legislation and is considering filing an amicus brief in support of the states’ lawsuit.

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.

How Cities Can Help Provide Healthy Meals to Children Year-Round

As students across the country settle into the new school year, there is an opportunity for communities to provide nutritious meals and a safe space for children to gather when the school day ends, as well as contribute to their academic success.

With funding from the CHAMPS initiative, cities can serve more children healthy meals by addressing transportation challenges and getting children to meal program sites through a mobile strategy that delivers meals to city parks, churches and throughout neighborhoods. (Getty Images)

This month, the National League of Cities (NLC), in partnership with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), awarded grants to 10 cities in Alabama, California and Kansas to create or expand programs providing children with afterschool and summer meals, through the Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative. This effort targets cities in states with low participation in the meal programs and encourages additional cities in these states to apply for CHAMPS funding. With support from the Walmart Foundation, NLC helped 41 cities across the country serve over 10 million meals to 100,000 children over the last five years.

With continued Walmart Foundation support, the 10 cities receiving CHAMPS grants in 2016 include: Alabaster, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuskegee in Alabama; Glendale, Riverside and Stockton in California; and Kansas City, Lawrence and Wichita in Kansas.

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon believes that nutrition plays a critical role in influencing a child’s growth, development and academic achievements. Out of the 6,000 students within the Alabaster City School system, 40 percent, or 2,400 students, qualify for the National School Lunch Program, yet are not being reached. With the support of the CHAMPS initiative, the city will serve more children healthy meals by addressing transportation challenges and getting children to meal program sites through a mobile strategy that delivers meals to city parks, churches and throughout neighborhoods.

Rachea Simms, principal at Meadow View Elementary School in Alabaster, said she has received positive feedback on the afterschool meals program from both students and parents.

“Alabaster City School’s vision focuses on the school and community working together to help our students succeed. By offering our meals after school, our parents and students benefit tremendously,” Simms said. “We realize that it takes the efforts of many people for this program to succeed and we are so pleased to be a part of an initiative that makes our children smile.”

Participation in the summer nutrition programs plateaued across the country last year, despite three prior years of significant growth, according to a new FRAC report.

In Alabama and California, though more children are receiving free and reduced lunch in school, many are not being reached with afterschool and summer nutrition programs. In Kansas, a state with the lowest summer meal participation rates in the nation, fewer than one in 10 low-income children participate in the summer nutrition programs.

How are local elected officials ensuring that children have access to health meals by supporting the federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs in your city? Contact Jamie Nash with examples from your city that can be showcased here on NLC’s CitiesSpeak blog.

For more information, about after school and summer meals program, visit www.nlc.org/CHAMPS, or sign up below.

Jamie Nash bio photoAbout the author: Jamie Nash is the Senior Associate for Benefit Outreach & Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

How Cities Can Train Police Officers Not to Shoot

American soldiers are provided with extensive training that outlines strict rules of engagement and emphasizes the use of force as a last resort. Why aren’t we providing our police officers with the same level of training?

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Military standards dictate that most soldiers facing enemy combatants be given escalation of force guidelines that require them to exhaust several steps – hand signals, flags, smoke and flare use, warning shots and disabling shots – before the use of deadly force (“kill shots”) are authorized. (Getty Images)

Police shootings occur nearly every day in America. Many are justified, but many are unnecessary and avoidable. When investigations ensue, reasonable consideration is given to the fact that an officer may have been justified in the use of deadly force because they followed established protocols and training methods. However, the circumstances surrounding most police shootings in the last decade show that our officers are being provided with inadequate training.

If better training might have resulted in a better outcomes for both officers and victims of police shootings, then why aren’t officers being given the training they deserve?

Each year, nearly 45,000 law enforcement recruits enter state and local basic law enforcement training programs. Depending on state and local laws, most recruits are given approximately 600–800 hours of basic training. These training programs are often similar to military training and involve intense physical demands and psychological pressure. However, our soldiers are provided with extensive training that outlines strict rules of engagement and emphasizes the use of force as a last resort. Our police are not given the same training.

When a recruit enters the police academy, they are taught that they will be putting their lives on the line. They are told that criminals will not hesitate to shoot them, and that the job they are about to take on is one of real danger and sacrifice. What they aren’t often taught is that the vast majority of their encounters with the public will not be not life-threating, and that policing is less about using a weapon than it is about using reasoning skills to de-escalate conflict and keep the peace. The first course of action for any officer during an encounter with an individual should not be to put their hands on their weapon.

Being a police officer is an inherently dangerous occupation, but when governments place an emphasis on the extreme danger police may or may not encounter while on the job instead of emphasizing the vital role of community policing and the duty of officers to protect and serve all citizens, they cripple their officers from the start by instilling during training a warped mentality based on fear and survival. In effect, the training they are provided isn’t just inadequate – it also adds undue stress to a job that is stressful enough as it is. And unfortunately, because of this improper training, police officers then approach their duties with the mindset of warriors as opposed to that of guardians.

How a law enforcement officer is trained to protect his or her community is ultimately the responsibility of local elected officials. City leaders should know exactly how their law enforcement officers are being trained, and what that training encompasses, so that officers can effectively develop the skills needed to protect and serve their communities. While some states may have minimum training requirements for law enforcement officers, local officials should consider bolstering training regimens in areas related to effective leadership, decision-making, and nonviolent conflict resolution so that the use of deadly force is a last resort.

The first step in building trust between police and the communities they serve is to make sure law enforcement training provides the foundation to cultivate police officers as leaders in – and guardians of – their communities. Recently, many states and local governments have changed their laws to require recruits and officers to receive increased training in de-escalation tactics and the use of nonlethal force. City leaders across the nation are joining this movement to change similar laws in their own municipalities. Law enforcement agencies are also looking at new, innovative online training programs for line-level officers to develop leadership and decision-making skills.

This past spring, the National League of Cities released its “City Officials Guide to Policing in the 21st Century” to inform elected officials about the relevant recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and provide guidance on how city leaders can work together with law enforcement officials to implement the principles of community policing. The report includes a section on officer training and education that highlights the need for cities to prioritize de-escalation training for officers.

Police officers make sacrifices every day to protect and serve their communities. If city leaders do not provide them with the tools they need to make the best possible decisions in the field, then cities fail to recognize and respect those sacrifices – and they continue to put both officers and the citizens they serve at greater risk every day.

Yucel-OrsAbout the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control. He is also the author of 6 Essential Tenets for Effective Community Policing. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

3 Ways Cities Can Help Working Parents

September 16 is National Working Parents Day, offering local leaders an opportunity to reflect on how their cities support and honor the hard working families who make up the backbone of their communities.

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When families thrive, so do the cities in which they live, creating a higher quality of life for residents, lower crime rates, and less demand for social safety net services. (Getty Images)

In the 21st Century, the majority of parents work outside the home and rely on a number of supports and services to help ensure their children are safe, secure and on the road to a successful future. However, high quality programs and services often don’t exist in their cities or are unaffordable and out of reach.

From early childhood, afterschool and summer learning to financial empowerment programs, the National League of Cities (NLC) works with cities across the country through its Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) to help working parents meet their needs.

Here are three types of NLC programs that help cities make life easier for working parents and their children:

CSAs Help Children and Parents Save for the Future

NLC’s Children’s Savings Account (CSA) Initiative gives cities the tools to help working parents put their children on the path to long-term financial stability. The partnership between cities and local credit unions also helps solve gaps in economic and educational opportunity, such as low college attendance and completion rates.

We all remember our first piggybank, right? With city-sponsored CSAs, those piggybanks can be replaced by actual bank accounts children use to save for college, and help families gain financial literacy.

Research shows that when a child has a savings account, even if that account holds less than $500, she is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate. As part of NLC’s efforts in this area, the YEF Institute recently created an opportunity for cities to take part in a peer network to collaborate in planning, developing and implementing city-led CSAs.

Early Childhood Learning Programs Prepare Both Children and Working Parents

With the high cost of childcare and preschool programs, working parents are forced to make tough choices. Studies show that childcare often costs more than housing, food and transportation. In most states, full-time childcare costs more than tuition at public universities. It is not only the poorest residents of cities who are struggling to overcome the financial barrier – even active duty military families, teachers, police officers, fire fighters and college-educated professionals find it hard to afford high quality early childhood programs. Families don’t want their children left behind and look to their local leaders to help find solutions.

When cities invest in high quality, affordable early childhood programs and help keep their families economically stable, working parents have an easier time reaching future financial goals, such as buying a home, sending their children to college and saving for retirement. In the meantime, working parents will also have more disposable income to expose their children to what their city has to offer such as restaurants, entertainment and cultural venues, and other local businesses.

Working with a variety of partners – such as the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Early Childhood-LINC (Learning and Innovation Network for Communities) and MomsRising – NLC is helping city leaders start investing in early childhood programs that address a child’s development and school readiness. Additionally, these programs help working parents effectively foster development at home. The YEF Institute also began work recently on a new two-year project on transforming the early childhood workforce on the local level.

Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs Provide Enriching, Safe Environments While Parents are at Work

Learning doesn’t end when the last bell of the day rings or when summer vacation starts. The reality is, in the middle school and early high school years, young adolescents need a safe and enriching space to excel during that crucial time between the end of the school day and when their parents get home from work.

City leaders are increasingly embracing the use of afterschool and summer learning programs to help expand enrichment opportunities for youth and address a broad range of issues such as academic success, public safety, workforce preparedness, economic development, and health and wellness.

The YEF Institute works with city leaders to develop new approaches to effective afterschool and summer learning programs that give working parents the confidence of knowing their children are in an enriching and safe environment. NLC’s cross section of programs include helping cities use data from partners like local school districts to address questions about the scope, impact and effectiveness of their afterschool programs. Additionally, NLC’s Cities Combating Hunger Through After School Meals Program (CHAMPS) supports cities’ efforts to reduce child hunger by providing federally-subsidized meals and snacks, which also attract children to out-of-school-time programs where they can be active, engaged, and safe while their parents are at work.

This is just a sample of the variety of NLC programs that can help your city make life easier for working parents. For more resources from the YEF Institute on how to make your city family friendly, sign up below.

About the Authors:

Indira JimenezIndira Jimenez is the Communications Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

 

 

 

todd wilson headshotTodd Allen Wilson is the Senior Writer in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Mayors Celebrate Diversity, Need to Address Inequities

NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities analysis found that mayors care about the need to create environments that promote equity, especially in diverse neighborhoods, and that multiple mayors set benchmark goals for diversity within their own workforces.

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Mayors often reflect on the visible changes in American demographics that they see in their communities, and they like the strength diverse communities provide to their cities. (Getty Images)

Beginning September 15, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the history of the Latino community in the United States. Latinos contribute to strong economies, cultural vibrancy, and workforce revitalization in almost every community in America. A growing demographic group, Latinos are expected to make up almost thirty percent of the U.S. population by 2060.

For many years, Latinos have added to the essential diversity of cities. According to Pew Research Center, the Latino population is growing fastest in communities with the fewest Latinos while over half of Latinos lived in just 15 metropolitan areas in 2014.

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword, it’s an important ingredient for thriving, prosperous cities. In its State of the Cities 2016 report, the National League of Cities (NLC) found that 17 percent of mayors mentioned the importance of diversity to their cities. In his State of the City address, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We draw our strength from diversity. We are a city where everyone is respected.” Diversity is what makes urban places work and thrive. Cities and their leaders are definitely taking notice, but there is more to be done.

Mayors often reflect on the visible changes in American demographics that they see in their communities, and they like the strength diverse communities provide to their cities. In fact, mayors were twice as likely this year to devote significant portions of their speeches to issues of demographics, like immigration and population growth, compared to last.

But just because a city is diverse doesn’t mean it will necessarily be more successful than less diverse cities. The promise of diversity rests on the ability of all communities – ethnic, racial, economic, or otherwise – to have an equal shot at success. In their State of the Cities analysis, NLC found that mayors spoke about the need to create environments that promote equity, especially in diverse neighborhoods. Multiple mayors set benchmark goals for diversity within their own workforces, particularly in police departments.

Diversity isn’t just important in cities, it’s important to American society as a whole. For this reason, the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program has facilitated conversations on developing pathways to equity and opportunity through events like our America’s Future Summit: Reimagining Opportunity in a Changing Nation. We’ve learned that opportunity comes in many forms and that achieving equity requires a cross-sector approach. Moreover, the story of Latinos is often similar to many other underrepresented communities in America – strategies for empowering Latino communities can be useful for empowering other groups.

Supporting diverse communities, including Latinos, matters for the communities themselves and for the cities in which they reside. Latino communities in particular create jobs for their communities and benefit their local economies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Latino owned businesses grew 46.9 percent nationally from 2007 to 2012, totaling 3.3 million firms. Over the same period, the number of non-Latino owned businesses grew just 0.7 percent. Despite these impressive numbers, Latino entrepreneurs face difficulties finding necessary capital and support in the business community, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But equity is still lacking in cities, and “we also know, however, that the single greatest way to expand opportunity is by expanding and nurturing our local and small businesses,” said Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg. NLC reported that 17 percent of mayors discussed strategies to support minority-owned businesses this year.

Cities may be diverse, but mayors must find ways to expand equity to include Latino and other communities that have immeasurable contributions to make. Today, more than ever, we must recognize the value of diversity in cities across the country and support policies that encourage equity for all.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about data and technology.

About the Author: Haili Lewis is the Program Assistant for the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program. Follow the program at @AspenLatinos.

The Recipe for Economic Development

In this Big Ideas for Cities feature, Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam discusses the economic development tools that have helped fuel the city’s success.

Located a short distance from both Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Fla., the City of Miramar was founded as a “bedroom community” in the 1950s. Since 2000, however, the city has charted a new path, doubling its population and significantly growing its economy. But like a lot of cities, the economic downturn of 2008 forced the city to think creatively about maintaining the services residents and businesses demand despite decreasing revenues. In this Big Ideas for City’s talk, Mayor Messam discusses how the community has leveraged its unique assets with economic development strategies to keep the city moving forward.

Do you have a big idea? Since 2014, the National League of Cities’ Big Ideas for Cities series has featured cities and businesses that are using “big ideas” to drive communities forward. The series has quickly become a popular platform for leaders to share their success stories and describe, in detail, the steps they’ve taken to make their communities better.

We are currently accepting speaker submissions. Leaders are invited to share the best practices and innovative solutions moving their cities forward. The series is filmed year-round and open to individuals from all sectors – public, private and nonprofit. Talks are filmed at NLC’s studio in our new building on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Program Manager for Content and Social Media at the National League of Cities. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimMudd.

5 Ways Parks Provide a Return on Investment

Parks and public spaces are an integral part of the atmosphere and culture of a city or town. More than that, though, they have a massive positive financial impact – one that is generally overlooked.

As city leaders, it is important to consider parks as assets that can be managed – their value creation therefore can be optimized and maximized. (Getty Images)

As city leaders, it is important to consider parks as assets that can be managed – their value creation therefore can be optimized and maximized. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Isabel Munson and Ed Krafcik.

The study of the economic value of parks is rather new, but important. Too often, parks are regarded as stagnant objects, only viewing the surrounding urban activity rather than motivating it or catalyzing changes to it. To consider parks a sunk cost after their construction is erroneous. Once a park is built and invested in, that park becomes an asset that generates savings and income for the local government, numerous different industries, and the public.

Soofa’s white paper, Smart Parks, analyzes this return on investment from parks. Soofa’s position is to use a data driven approach towards this management of parks, ranging from analyzing how many people use a park on any given day to measuring the return on investment from a capital expense related to, say, building a new entrance to a park or renovating an existing set of basketball courts. This return on investment is measured by how many people use parks or recreation facilities after capital improvements versus the baseline data that is collected prior to those improvements. A summary of Soofa’s Smart Parks white paper is provided below, and the full version can be downloaded here for free.

As the white paper describes in more detail, parks provide a return on investment in the following ways:

Property Values

  • Parks increase the property values of surrounding homes, which generates more property tax for the city government.
  • Results are varied, but studies indicate that proximity to a park increases home value by two to 22 percent. The hedonic value of a park is dependent on how nice a park is and its size. Generally speaking, though, a park can reasonably be estimated to account for five percent of the value of homes within 500 feet. Famous parks and those with additional resources, such as pools, tennis courts, or cultural activities can have much higher premiums. By our estimate, an average park generates $4.57 million of hedonic value.

Environment

  • Parks reduce air pollution and aid with stormwater management, both of which save money.
  • Our estimated value of pollution savings by parks in the 100 largest cities is $258 million. The US Forest Service puts the national figure much higher, at $3.8 billion saved annually across the nation thanks to urban trees – 711,000 tons of pollution. We estimate the value of stormwater management by urban parks in the 100 largest cities to be $989 million a year.

Health

  • Green space helps to encourage active lifestyles and reduce stress, in turn reducing healthcare costs.
  • Exposure to green space helps to reduce ADD/ADHD (and generally increase focus), lower blood pressure, expedite medical recovery, improve mood and sleep, and boost immune systems. If exposure to parks and green spaces even reduced anxiety by five percent, which studies would indicate is a low number, the productivity cost savings are $2.73 billion a year.
  • A 2001 study on residents of a Chicago housing project highlighted the impacts of nature on chronic mental fatigue stemming from stressful life problems and environments:
  • “Researchers found that residents with even limited views of trees or grass from their apartments reported less mental fatigue, less procrastination in dealing with life issues, and feeling that their problems were less severe, more solvable, and of shorter duration than residents with no views of nature. Even small amounts of nature, such as a few trees and a bit of grass, were shown to have an impact.”
  • Parks improve likelihood to exercise, and therefore represent a factor that has reduced obesity costs.
  • “A group of studies reviewed in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that “creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach” produced a “48.4 percent increase in the frequency of physical activity.”

Tourism

  • Tourists to notable parks generate additional income for nearby businesses and the local government.
  • We estimate the total value of parks-based tourism in the 100 largest cities to be $494.28 million.

Social Capital

  • The influx of visitors for parks and intersection of different people in parks creates social capital and feelings of community.
  • At the most basic level, park activities and volunteer organizations provide community building and valuable hours of service, establishing a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the community. Using national volunteer data and the national Independent Sector value of volunteer work – $23.07/hour – the total value of volunteer hours is calculated to be $390 million. In addition, conservancy organizations in the 100 largest cities gave over $166 million in donations to parks in 2014. The total estimated value of community cohesion in parks is $557 million.

For city leaders, there has never been a better time than now to focus energy and investment on parks. New York City, for example, is doing just that – this past spring, we announced a new pilot program in partnership with the NYC Parks Department and Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation to help them make smarter parks. We’ve also partnered with other cities in a similar fashion.

No longer should parks just be looked at as the green spaces and refuges throughout a town or city; rather, they should be viewed as valuable assets that can generate economic and social returns to constituents, governments, and the private sector. When parks are considered in this light, then everyone will benefit. Citizens can have more parks nearby and city leaders can have a new source of value creation and capture. Local businesses can thrive by attracting more people – not only locals, but also tourists who flock to experience the great parks and open spaces a city has to offer.

What also emerges is a huge opportunity for innovation to happen. As parks become seen as integral parts of not only the physical landscape of a city or town, but also a revenue producing asset, the more the private sector will look for ways to increase this value. City leaders should welcome this coming trend of parks and public spaces innovation and harness its energy for the betterment of their cities.

About the Authors:

Isabel Munson is the Data Strategy Lead at Soofa, an Internet-of-Things company dedicated to creating social, sustainable and smart cities. Her other musings on smart cities, #Soofatalk, may be found at www.soofa.co or @mysoofa.

 

Ed Krafcik is the Director of Partnerships at Soofa and is an advisory board member for Parks and Recreation Magazine. He collaborates with cities and parks departments across the country to solve problems using new types of data.

How Pension Standards Can Help Cities Chart Their Future Path

The Government Accounting Standards Board’s (GASB) recent changes to pension and retiree healthcare liability disclosure shine a light on the long-term fiscal burden of these benefits – even when they are not controlled by the city.

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A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts put the unfunded liabilities for retiree healthcare benefits for the 30 largest cities at more than $100 billion. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by David A. Vaudt. This post is the second in NLC’s Public Sector Retirement Initiative blog series.

I’m very pleased to be a part of the National League of Cities’ Public Sector Retirement Initiative to help raise awareness in the city government community about the significant obligations related to postretirement benefits and what can be done to manage them.

The GASB pension standards – which are now fully in effect – and the other post-employment benefit (OPEB) standards for retiree healthcare benefits – which take full effect in 2018 – are bringing dramatic improvements to the disclosures around the postemployment benefits governments provide.

Why is this important? Imagine having bad eyesight and trying to drive a car without your glasses on. You can’t see where you are going very well, and you might end up in a ditch before you realize it. These new disclosures are akin to putting your glasses on. Now, cities and their stakeholders have a much clearer view of the road ahead – and how to navigate it successfully.

The Numbers

There is no question that the road ahead has challenges. A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts put the unfunded liabilities for retiree healthcare benefits for the 30 largest cities at more than $100 billion. Meanwhile, unfunded OPEB liabilities for the 50 states exceed $500 billion, according to Standard & Poor’s. Keep in mind, these obligations do not reflect unfunded liabilities for pension benefits, which Pew pegged at an even higher number – $900 billion – back in 2014.

Figures like these underscore the need to get down to work – together – and start to think about how to make sure we can honor the promises that have been made to city employees.

Managing the Liabilities

The GASB pension standards help to clarify the challenge, but of course do not provide answers. How to fund these obligations is a policy matter for elected officials to resolve.  In the simplest terms, city officials will need to focus on managing these liabilities and setting aside the right level of assets to meet the postemployment benefit promises that have been made. Different cities will come to different conclusions about the best way to proceed, based on legal, local economic, political and social considerations.

With the net pension liability now appearing on the face of the financial statements, it will be much easier to assess choices than in the past. Over time, as the net pension liability shrinks, that will be a sign that the government is on the right track. But if that net liability grows, that may indicate the government is pushing current costs down the road to be dealt with in the future – and may be putting the city on an unsustainable course.

The issue of whether the net liability is growing or shrinking is key because it speaks to how well the liabilities are being managed. If pension and OPEB liabilities aren’t well managed, it could have a negative impact on the city’s credit rating and drive up its borrowing costs.

The Economics

It is important to know that the economics of pension promises don’t change because of the GASB’s pension standards. The economics are the same. It’s the level of attention pensions are receiving that is changing. The focus is on how large these promises are and how well governments are managing for those promises.

To help get the word out and answer questions, I’m pleased to tell you that NLC and GASB are partnering later this year on a webinar that will address these and other postemployment benefit issues.

GASB is also working to put an OPEB Communications Resource Group together to help communicate with elected officials and others in the state and local government community about many of these same issues from an OPEB perspective.

No Easy Fixes

There are no easy fixes here; these issues are going to be with us for some time into the future. But we’re now in a better position than ever to talk about what the future looks like and work out what needs to be done.

With so much talent, knowledge, and passion assembled in this group, it is critical to make sure each of our organizations are heard. Great solutions can come from any quarter, for the benefit of all.

Working together, we can’t help but made a difference – it’s deciding how much of a difference that will be our challenge.

About the Author: David A. Vaudt is the Chairman of the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Mr. Vaudt has served as president of the National State Auditors Association, chair of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, and chair of the Iowa Accountancy Examining Board. He also served on the boards of numerous nonprofit service organizations in Iowa.

We Can Help Your Residents Repair Service Lines – And Help Your City in the Process. Here’s How.

Many people believe that when their water or sewer service lines leak, break or clog, the repair is either the responsibility of the City or covered by their homeowner’s insurance. Unfortunately, neither is the case.

(Getty Images)

Usually, it is the homeowner who is responsible for repairs to the water and sewer service lines located on their property – and they often call the City looking for help. (Getty Images)

Myths about the cause of service line failures are common. Many people believe that their service lines will never fail in their lifetime; however, reports indicate that the vast majority of the nation’s water pipes were installed after World War II and are in serious need of replacement or repair. In fact, a report from the National Association of Water Companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that nearly half of all pipes in the U.S. were in poor shape.

In addition to the age of the lines, there are other reasons for line failure:

  • Invasive tree roots – Roots often “follow” and disrupt service lines, seeking out pipes because they provide essential elements that trees need to grow, such as water, nutrients and oxygen. When tree roots get into pipes, they can cause clogs and blocks that lead to serious problems and the need for repair.
  • Poor soil conditions – Conditions such as low soil resistivity and high chloride content can cause corrosion of pipes from the outside and lead to leaks and contamination.
  • Sudden climate change – Water lines are more susceptible to breaks at times of extreme temperature swings, both hot and cold. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the American Society of Civil Engineers advise that just a 10-degree change in temperature can increase stress on water mains and service lines and increase the risk of damage.
  • Pipe materials – Older pipes were generally made from clay, steel or tile – materials more prone to deterioration over time. If your home was built before the 1980s, it is most likely that your pipes are made of clay and in need of repair or replacement.

With the support and endorsement of the National League of Cities (NLC), the Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Service Line Warranties of America (SLWA), is currently available in more than 300 cities and municipalities across North America and has helped over 140,000 homeowners save more than $90 million in service line repair costs.

“Service Line Warranties of America has an exemplary record of delivering outstanding service to customers, partners and contractors. The Program is an asset to every city across the nation as older homes feel the pain of aging infrastructure and deteriorating water and sewer lines. Addressing our nation’s aging infrastructure is a top priority at National League of Cities for both public and private infrastructure – and this is a valuable solution every community can offer to homeowners,” advises NLC CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony.

The experience derived from having executed a multitude of city and municipal rollouts has enabled SLWA and NLC to refine the program to meet the unique requirements of the community in which the program is implemented. City-specific terms and conditions address the needs of homeowners and leadership within city limits. The program is also committed to small, minority and women-owned businesses by working with contractors in the immediate service area to keep dollars in the local economy. The collective result of this experience has led to a thoroughly vetted, tested and successful program structure that educates residents about their service line responsibilities and provides a very consumer-friendly service line warranty option at a fair-market price.

4 Reasons Why Homeowners Need a Service Line Warranty

Most homeowners don’t think about the condition of the external buried water and sewer lines that run from the public utility connection to the exterior of their homes – out of sight, out of mind. In fact, people don’t think about their service lines until confronted with a backed up sewer or leaking water line when challenged to find a reputable plumber and pay for the repair that can cost thousands of dollars. Protecting home and property – usually the single largest investment an individual will make in their lifetime, according to Freddie Mac – is a top priority for many homeowners.

  1. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently gave a D (D = Poor) rating to America’s water and wastewater public infrastructure. Homeowners’ water and sewer lines are subjected to the same conditions as the lines that make up the public infrastructure – age, root invasion, ground shifting, fluctuating temperatures and more. While government is addressing the public infrastructure, homeowners are responsible for the cost of repairs to the service lines located on their property. These repairs can cost from hundreds of dollars to upwards of $3,500 per repair, which can be hard on a family’s budget. With a warranty, the homeowner is covered for the repair costs due to normal wear and tear, with no service fees or deductibles.
  1. Several studies indicate that many people in the U.S. are not prepared for these kind of unexpected expenses, even though most Americans have a budget. A recent study by the Federal Reserve suggested that more than 50% of individuals surveyed could not afford a hypothetical emergency expense of $400 without selling belongings or borrowing money. Homeowners work hard for their money and it’s no secret that the expense of owning a home adds up over time. Bankrate’s study revealed that while more than 80 percent of Americans have a prepared household budget, more than three in five would have to look elsewhere, such as borrowing from family or using a credit card, in order to cover a small emergency expense; they simply don’t have enough savings to cover the cost. With depleted savings and many of those eligible for retirement unprepared, expensive repairs are just not in the budget.

When evaluating monthly expenses, such as a water or sewer line warranty program, homeowners are encouraged to consider what they have in savings and what they can honestly spend each month for protection. For homeowners with limited resources, a few dollars a month to provide peace of mind could outweigh the risk of “if” a failure would ever occur, considering only 38 percent said they had sufficient savings to cover an emergency expense.

  1. It can be difficult to find a contractor you can trust to do the job right the first time. Lifehacker.com suggests, “You can’t cut corners here – there are plenty of bad handymen out there willing to do shoddy work and charge you a ton of money, and they give the good ones who are eager for your business a bad name.” With a service line warranty, the vetting has been done, so you know that the contractor sent to make the repair has proper licenses and insurance and is located within the area.

The Western-Pennsylvania chapter of the BBB comments on the challenge of locating the right contractor. “Hiring a home improvement contractor to perform work or repairs can certainly be an overwhelming process during an unexpected emergency. It’s also the type of situation that likely has an impact on people’s budgets, which is why it’s important for consumers to be educated on their rights and responsibilities when choosing a contractor.”

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program only uses contractors that have successfully passed a rigorous background check, maintain proper licensing and insurance – and as the program’s representatives, they’re committed to providing exceptional customer service.

  1. Homeowners with a service line warranty are more likely to report a problem and have it fixed quickly, which helps with water conservation efforts and prevents ground pollution. We know the impacts that water main breaks have on water waste: a campaign launched by the National Association of Water Companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that there are 650 water main breaks per day in the U.S., resulting in a daily loss of 7 billion gallons of water. The same failing pipes wreaking havoc with municipal water systems are carrying water to your resident’s homes, and are subject to the same breaks and leaks.

Click here for more information about NLC’s Service Line Warranty Program. There is no cost for your city to participate, implementation is easy, and your city receives a share of the revenues collected.

About the Author: Rasheeda Mitchell is the Senior Associate for Strategy & Partnerships at the National League of Cities. Follow Rasheeda on Twitter @LRasheeda.