This Week in Urban Affairs: Self-driving Uber Cars, Veteran Homelessness, and Why Climate Change Will Cost Millennials a Fortune

Our new weekly roundup of the latest reading materials filtered through an urban affairs lens.

Uber announced it will begin using self-driving cars, such as this modified Volvo XC90, in Pittsburgh this month. (Image courtesy of Uber)

Uber announced it will begin using self-driving cars, such as this modified Volvo XC90, in Pittsburgh this month. (Image courtesy of Uber)

Austin, Texas ends Veteran homelessness. Last Friday, Austin, Texas, joined the growing number of cities that have effectively ended veteran homelessness. The city housed 682 veterans since taking on first lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness two years ago. Through enabling new partnerships between varying agencies, implementing innovative programs, and receiving $3 million in assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Austin was able to achieve this goal.

Climate change will cost millennials dearly in lifetime savings. A new report by NextGen Climate and Demos estimates that climate change will cost U.S. residents currently in their 20s and 30s $8.8 trillion in potential earnings over their lifetime. Of the nearly 75 million millennials in the U.S., those with a college degree will lose $126,000 in lifetime income, and $187,000 in wealth, according to the report. The losses get worse for younger generations. A child born last year who earns a college degree will lose $467,000 in lifetime income, and $764,000 in wealth due to inaction around climate change. The report’s authors attribute the anticipated financial damages to bad public policies, including policy inaction.

Uber and Lyft will subsidize taxis in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law this week a 20 cent per-trip fee on ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. Ten cents of that tax will be designated for municipalities, five cents will go to a state transportation fund. The kicker: the remaining five cents of the tax will go to the taxi industry—Uber and Lyft’s biggest competitor. The subsidy for taxi drivers would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Brishen Rogers, a law professor at Temple University, suggests that the funds could be used for retraining taxi drivers to take other jobs.

Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield defends cities’ right to expand municipal broadband. Amid the recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the FCC cannot block states from setting limits on municipal broadband expansion, former Mayor Littlefield argues that the decision is a major setback both for local economic development and the expansion of high speed broadband to underserved communities. Littlefield’s own Chattanooga, Tennessee has provided one of the fastest Internet connections in the world, community-wide, for the past five years with its municipal broadband system. The broadband system has also been able to attract new business investment and innovation in the small city.

Huntington, West Virginia has developed innovative ways to deal with the opioid addiction epidemic in its community. Located in a region that is one of the most affected by the country’s opioid epidemic, Huntington is taking bold steps to mitigate the epidemic’s impacts. In 2014, the city opened an office of drug control policy that brings together law enforcement, health officials, community and faith leaders, and other stake holders to tackle the problem. Eight of the West Virginia’s 28 medically assisted detox beds are located in Huntington. The city opened a center devoted to weaning babies from drugs, the state’s first syringe exchange, and a 100-bed recovery facility called Recovery Point. However, the city says it still lacks the resources it needs to continue to fight the epidemic.

Uber plans to put self-driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh this month. The company will begin using a few self-driving Volvo SUVs and Ford Focus cars this month, with plans to increase to a fleet of 100 in the city. Each self-driving car will be required to have two employees inside: One in the driver’s seat with hands on the steering wheel and another observing from the passenger seat. Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said the technology is necessary to lower the cost of ride hailing and car ownership. Uber plans expand its use of autonomous cars to other cities.

 About the Author: Justin DeWaele is a Housing Policy Intern with NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Justin on Twitter @jdewaele1.

How to Implement Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs in Your City

City leaders are increasingly embracing the strategy of afterschool and summer learning 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. Here’s how to jump on the bandwagon.

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“Effective education goes far beyond the traditional classroom experience. Afterschool and summer learning programs inspire learning and development outside of the classroom, and keep youth safe and engaged in positive experiences. As leaders in our communities, our support of these programs is critical for our youth’s educational success.”
-Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James (Martin Dimitrov/Getty Images)

Statewide summits organized by afterschool networks offer an effective way to educate municipal leaders on the importance of afterschool learning opportunities, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) finds. These summits promote city leadership in afterschool programs by showcasing best practices and detailing active roles that mayors and city councilmembers can play. Kansas City Mayor Sly James recently hosted a joint statewide municipal summit on afterschool and expanded learning with funding from NLC – and your city can do the same.

Statewide afterschool networks in all 50 states influence state policy on issues such as afterschool funding, program quality improvements, partnerships and sustainability of programming. Through these municipal summits, the statewide afterschool networks share data that clearly depict the need and demand for afterschool programs across the state, demonstrate cities’ best practices, and inspire local leaders to take action to establish new partnerships, increase access, and consider additional local investment. With 15 years of experience working on the issue, the YEF Institute documented prime examples of city leadership building coordinated citywide systems of afterschool programs in its Municipal Leadership for Afterschool guide.

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So how can city leaders take advantage of the information, networking opportunities, and funding solutions that these summits provide? Put simply, you can use the aforementioned links to get in touch with your respective afterschool networks, and use the networks to find out about, attend, and become more involved with these afterschool summits.

Convening local leaders to discuss cities’ afterschool programs is of particular importance this year. As voters head to the polls for the 2016 elections, it is important to ensure broad and diverse support from local leaders of all political parties for afterschool programs moving forward, as they can be an important facet of solutions to many critical concerns that communities face. The summits enable mayors and councilmembers to hear from their peers about how and why they have made afterschool programs a priority, how they have funded new programs, or about new partnerships they have created.

The municipal summits can also provide local leaders a forum to discuss their afterschool program needs and priorities with governors’ offices, state legislators, and state education department heads who will make budgetary decisions and set education policy. In addition, state leaders can use the summits as an opportunity to inform participants of legislative priorities and constraints, as well as and gather insights from mayors on how to target resources effectively.

Since 2009, the YEF institute has received funding support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and The Wallace Foundation to work with 23 state networks to host statewide municipal summits on afterschool and expanded learning. Collectively, more than 2,000 local elected officials – joined by school district, county, nonprofit, business, faith and philanthropic leaders – attended the events. Upcoming 2016 summits include Indiana, Ohio and Florida.

Click here for more information about the YEF Institute’s afterschool and expanded learning programs.

About the Author: Erika Pierson is the Associate for Expanded Learning at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

How Your City Can Improve Utility Collections While Helping Families

The LIFT-UP program offers city leaders a win-win scenario, allowing city utilities to recoup lost revenue due to unpaid bills while enabling residents to reduce outstanding balances and late fees, connect with financial empowerment services, and reduce the chances of a utility shut-off.

With July 2016 being the hottest month on record, energy and water bills are likely to spike in the coming weeks for U.S. households. (Getty Images) With July 2016 being the hottest month on record, energy and water bills are likely to spike in the coming weeks for U.S. households. (Getty Images)

With July 2016 being the hottest month on record, energy and water bills are likely to spike in the coming weeks for U.S. households. (Getty Images)

When families are unable to pay basic expenses such as water and electricity, it is frequently a sign of much deeper financial issues. Some of these families may have to make difficult choices this summer between paying for food, housing or a utility bill. Unfortunately, this scenario does not only occur during the hottest months of the year.

Fortunately, there are a handful of city leaders looking more judiciously at existing city programs, local partnerships and broader systems to improve financial outcomes for both families and cities. Three years ago, five of these cities – Houston, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Newark, New Jersey; Savannah, Georgia; and St. Petersburg, Florida – partnered with the National League of Cities to pilot a new program that accomplishes this.

Local Initiatives for Financial Empowerment and Utility Payments, or LIFT-UP, is an innovative framework that connects residents who are struggling to pay a municipal utility bill, like a water or sewer service bill, with financial empowerment services including financial counseling and access to public benefits. The result is a win-win scenario in which families receive the support they need to pay their bills and address their debt, and the city recoups lost revenue due to unpaid bills.

With at least a third of all residential accounts classified as delinquent in three of the pilot cities, NLC realized persistent utility debt was a major issue for both families and city leaders. In the last two years, we’ve witnessed mass residential water shut-offs around the country, including the Detroit Water and Sewage Department crisis when the city attempted to collect more than $90 million in overdue payments. Shannan Nobles, Houston’s chief deputy City Controller, says it makes sense for cities to consider the LIFT-UP program, because “if a new approach also lessens the burden on the entire city system, then all the better for everyone.”

Impact:  Participants pay bills on time and avoid water shut-offs

LIFT-UP offers a holistic approach to help cities collect unpaid bills. The results from an evaluation of the pilot program by the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that a mix of program elements including incentives, restructured payment plans, and access to financial counseling and other benefit programs improved payment outcomes in most of the cities that participated.

For example, customers in Houston and Newark were more likely to pay their bills on time compared to customers who were not offered LIFT-UP. Many of these customers were also able to reduce their outstanding bill balances by more than 30 percent at eight and 12 months after enrolling in the program. And customers in St. Petersburg, who were offered customized payment plans, were 53 percent less likely to experience a water shut-off compared to customers not in the program. Overall, these customers also saved on average $140 more in late fees and shut-off/turn-on charges compared to their counterparts in the evaluation group.

A framework to increase family financial stability

LIFT-UP identifies water customers struggling with payments and offers them the help they need to get back on their feet. The theory is that by helping struggling residents improve their financial management skills through financial coaching, residents can begin to become self-sufficient and build assets such as purchasing a home or saving for a rainy day.

In addition to offering financial counseling, all five cities restructured participants’ outstanding debt and incentivized participation, for example through waiving fees or crediting customer accounts to reward payments. Many customers in the program also received friendly calls, text messages and emails to remind them to make their payment.

LIFT-UP offers cities a new way to consider how they collect payments and pursue debt from residents – one that helps residents move forward in their financial lives. The evaluation suggests that the program model can be implemented in a manner that reduces costs to the city, which has implications for replication. LIFT-UP could be incorporated into the practices of other city and private entities that collect debt, such as private utilities, municipal courts, and public hospitals.  With this hot summer coming to an end and cities thinking ahead to missed payments and utility shut-offs anticipated in the dead of winter, we hope you will consider a LIFT-UP approach in your city.

For more information:

About the Authors:

Denise Belser is the Program Manager of Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment Program within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.


Heidi GoldbergHeidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

This Week in Urban Affairs: Taxing Marijuana to Tackle Homelessness, D.C.’s ‘Smart City,’ & Drone Fences

Our new weekly roundup of the latest reading materials filtered through an urban affairs lens.

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The city of Aurora, Colorado, used the additional revenue generated by its marijuana tax to allocate $4.5 million dollars to the homelessness issue over next three years. Aurora Homelessness Program Director Shelley McKittrick says her goal is to end homelessness by looking at nation best practices and applying them appropriately to Aurora. (Getty Images)

Affordable Housing & Homelessness
9News: How Aurora is Tackling Homelessness
August 16
Aurora, Colorado will allocate $4.5 million in revenue from the marijuana tax to tackling its homeless problem over the next three years. The new Aurora Homelessness Program Director Shelley McKittrick says her goal is to end homelessness in the city, implementing national best practices such as rapid re-housing.

Climate & Sustainability
CityLab: The Importance of Targeting Heavy-Duty Vehicle Emissions
August 17
On Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation rolled out new regulations that will make trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles more fuel efficient. Once they’re implemented, the new regulations are expected to cut fuel spending by about $170 billion, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 1.1 billion metric tons and reduce oil consumption by tens of billions of barrels. Trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles currently account for over 20 percent of transportation-related fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Governing: The Growing Urgency for Serious Public Pension Reforms
August 18
This opinion piece calls for bold pension reform to help solve public pension insolvencies and poor performance. Arizona is used as an example for strong and effective reform. Among the reforms the state implemented are a reduction in the maximum salary for purposes of pension calculations from $265,000 to $110,000 and splitting current and future pension costs evenly between employers and employees.

NY Times: Why Are the Streets Always Under Construction?
August 18
This piece explores New York’s uniquely complex infrastructure challenges. Unlike other local governments, the New York City government does not control the energy, telecommunications and electricity infrastructure underneath its ground—private companies have their own networks. The city has aging water, gas and steam piping, some of which is over a century old. City officials are trying to figure out ways to reduce the enormous amount of permit requests they gets each year, and incentivize utilities companies to upgrade their infrastructure.

Planning & Development
Washington Business Journal: Two Major Local Players Join Microsoft as Partners in Washington Area’s First ‘Smart City’
August 15
George Washington University and the Center for Innovative Technology have partnered with developer 22 Capital Partners to bring the D.C. Metro-accessible Gramercy District project to fruition. The District, branded as an ecosystem of smart city technology, will be located in Ashburn, Virginia. The District will supposedly be a prototype for a platform that links together all aspects of real estate development with a preconfigured, intelligent framework.

Public Safety
Washington Post: ‘I’m Going Home to See if I Have a Home’: Louisiana Flooding Leaves 11 Dead, Forces Thousands from Their Homes
August 16
At least 40,000 homes have been damaged and 11 people have died since historic levels of flooding hit the southern part of Louisiana last Thursday. 10,000 people are in shelters, and Governor John Bel Edwards said it will be difficult to identify the number of people stranded and still needing rescue. The Obama Administration’s federal disaster declaration has extended to 20 parishes and shelters are opening across the state.

Tech & Innovation
Route Fifty: 3 Gigabit Cities Using High-Speed Broadband for Civic Engagement
August 16
The cities of Raleigh, North Carolina, Austin, Texas, and Louisville, Kentucky, will each receive a $30,000 grant from Next Century Cities to leverage high-speed broadband on civic engagement projects. Next Century Cities is a universal broadband coalition of 145 U.S. city representatives, which chose projects it said were replicable in other cities. Austin’s project will help public housing residents near transit hubs access online services, Raleigh will develop a citizen planning tool, and Louisville will wire a community center in an underserved neighborhood with high-speed Internet.

GovTech: Virtual Barriers, Manipulation Tools Enlisted to Keep Drones at Bay
August 17
As amateur drone operators increasingly fly over corporate headquarters, sports venues and the private homes of tech celebrities, emerging counter-drone technologies are being put to use with increasing prevalence. Bay Area tech companies are protecting their headquarters with “geofences” that block drones that are programmed to respond to the fence. Robi Sen, founder and chief technology officer of communications and security company Department 13, said that drones can be used to steal trade secrets, so his firm is helping other companies implement technologies, like geofences, to thwart drones.

About the Author: Justin DeWaele is a Housing Policy Intern with NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research.

No Roads? There’s a Drone for That.

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new TED Talk focused on cities, community issues or local government. To compliment the release of our new report, Cities and Drones, this week’s talk provides inspirational ideas about the dynamic possibilities that drones represent. How could your city use drones?

A billion people in the world lack access to all-season roads. Could the structure of the internet provide a model for how to reach them? Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet thinks so. He introduces a new type of transportation system that uses electric autonomous flying machines to deliver medicine, food, goods and supplies wherever they are needed.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

Mayors Link Education, Workforce Training to Economic Development

As our 2016 State of the Cities report shows, mayors across the country are becoming increasingly aware of the link between a strong local economy and investment in programs that help residents build workforce skills.

In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. (Miahi Andritoiu/Getty Images)

Economic development and thriving communities are a top priority for mayors across the nation. As seen in the National League of Cities’ 2016 State of the Cities report, elected officials are underscoring the need for access to educational opportunities as well as pathways and training to reach their local economic and workforce goals.

“To have a resilient economy, we must invest in our workforce development, small businesses and neighborhoods – and most of all, we have to invest in public education,” said Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Cities across the country are linking education and workforce development. In Richardson, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, new partnerships are being forged between businesses and higher education institutions. And the cities of  Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Paul, Minnesota are building more robust and workforce-centered summer and expanded learning opportunities.

“We cannot expect our existing businesses to grow if we are not providing well-suited employees, and we will continue to work with our local schools and institutes of higher education to ensure we are creating opportunities,” said Covina, California, Mayor Kevin Stapleton.

For the first time, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher make up a larger proportion of the current workforce than those with a high school diploma or less, based on the latest research out of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. The research shows that, since the recession, the U.S. economy added 8.4 million jobs which require a bachelor’s degree or higher as compared to the only 80,000 jobs for those with a high school diploma or less. Research also shows the importance of continued learning to promote educational attainment.

Numerous studies have shown that afterschool programs have a beneficial effect on factors that influence high school completion such as a student’s attendance, behavior and academic performance. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning conducted a meta-analysis of 68 studies of afterschool programs and found that, when compared to their non-participating peers, students participating in a high quality afterschool program demonstrated improvements in a number of areas, including better school attendance.

Cities are utilizing a variety of resources, including existing summer and out-of-school time programming, to engage citizens of all ages to not only learn subjects but to build employable skill sets. In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. Hire Newark Employment Ready Boot Camp, one of the many offerings at the Centers of Hope, connected employers with individuals to work on skill development and provided a bridge to training and employment. In St. Paul, Minnesota, over 20,000 youth were connected to over 90 different organizations with various levels of exposure to learning through the Sprockets out-of-school time network, and the city has discovered the link between programming and increased achievement in schools.

Cities are also forging partnerships that combine the expertise of local colleges and universities as well as local employers to meet workforce needs. Austin, Texas, looks to link education and workforce building in a new strategic plan centered around economic needs while also addressing barriers to college completion. In Tucson, Arizona, the city partnered with the University of Arizona’s Tech Launch Arizona and formed a Commercialization Advisory Network of 750 industry professionals available to guide tech entrepreneurs in the city. The program has already received 200 patents, executed 86 licenses, and created 12 new startups in biotech, materials science, software and publishing.

As cities continue to innovate and build thriving communities, NLC supports these efforts through peer-sharing, technical assistance and resource creation. Look for more education and workforce solutions as the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families takes on this burgeoning body of work beginning this fall. For more information, contact Dana D’Orazio at

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 housing.

About the Author: Dana D’Orazio is the Program Manager for Postsecondary Education in the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

How Data is Transforming Education in Nashville

When those closest to students collaboratively use data, students are given individualized opportunities that enable them to excel.

Leaders from across the city of Nashville are working together toward a common goal – and effective data use is central to their work. (Getty Images)

Too often, education happens in siloes. Programs and funding streams are separate, schools and afterschool programs are islands, and no one speaks the same language. But students don’t come in pieces. We will not help every student excel until all of the adults who interact directly with students have the information they need, and collaborate using that information, to support student learning.

In the City of Nashville, a partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the city-funded afterschool program for middle school youth, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), has significantly improved students’ reading ability in just three months.
This is exactly the type of partnership and focus students need, especially if they are struggling or falling behind.

With access to data about their students’ reading levels, NAZA staff were able to provide individual reading tutors to students in need of additional support afterschool. In just three months, students’ reading ability significantly improved. The NAZA and MNPS partnership is just one example of how districts and afterschool programs can make data work for students, but it demonstrates the steps any partnership can take to help students excel. Here’s how Nashville’s leaders made this work possible:

  • Data Sharing: With afterschool as one of the mayor’s priorities, city leaders created and endorsed a detailed data-sharing agreement to ensure that NAZA staff would have role-based access (i.e., secure, and only the data they need) to student information.
  • Communication: NAZA staff and school leaders are in regular communication about students’ needs and how programs can best supplement the learning going on in school.
  • Individualization: NAZA staff use school data to provide tailored academic supports to students to ensure they are receiving the right kinds of support at the right time.
  • Collaboration: Leaders from across the city are working together toward a common goal – and effective data use is central to their work.

Data has the potential to transform education from a model of mass production to a personalized experience that meets the needs of individuals, ensuring that no student is lost along the way. Data also has the potential to extend beyond academics. School data on behavior and at-risk factors helps programs like NAZA know when certain students are in need of other supports. MNPS and NAZA work together to ensure that the city’s afterschool programs are responsive to the unique needs of their students and communities. Because of NAZA’s commitment to effective data use, students receive targeted supports that result in improved academic outcomes.

Even Congress has recognized the value of afterschool experiences to support student success. The Every Student Succeeds Act highlights the value of school-community partnerships by requiring states’ lowest performing schools to explore how community-based organizations, including afterschool partners, can help improve students’ academic outcomes. And smartly so. Students who participate in high-quality afterschool programs see positive effects on a range of outcomes, including academic performance, in-school behavior, and attendance.

A growing number of cities have taken note and are turning to afterschool programs to build on the learning that happens in school. To make sure afterschool time packs the intended academic punch, many districts and cities are working to securely share information about student learning with vetted afterschool providers to help align and inform the academic supports students receive. Afterschool providers need role-based access to relevant information about the students they serve in order to understand how and where to focus their support. But for this to happen, state and local leaders must work together to align systems and policies that promote and incentivize the kind of collaboration and innovation happening in Nashville.

For more information on how cities can assist in afterschool and data sharing efforts visit

brennan (1)About the Author: Brennan McMahon Parton is the Associate Director for State Policy and Advocacy at Data Quality Campaign.

Drones Will Have an Impact on Your City. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Cities across America will need to decide how they want to manage widespread commercial drone use, how they want to adopt drone technology for themselves, and how best they can encourage innovation in this exciting and growing field while still ensuring public safety.

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Drones have the potential to revolutionize many industries and city services, particularly as their technology advances. Drones can be used for law enforcement and firefighting, as rural ambulances, and for inspections, environmental monitoring, and disaster management. (Getty Images)

We live in automated times. The technologies that for many represent the modern epoch – automobiles and airplanes – are maturing into a connected and automated future which will mark this century as much as Ford and the Wright brothers marked the previous one. While fully self-driving cars may still be a decade or so away, remotely piloted and even automated drones are already here.

Drones, like airplanes before them, are proving to be a versatile technology. Whether they are revolutionizing search and rescue capabilities or those of realtors showing off their homes, drones are lowering the cost and increasing the reach of airborne services. An individual can buy a drone for as little as a hundred dollars, sometimes less, and mount it with a low-cost high definition camera. While this technology puts the sky within reach for the layman, it also represents an opportunity for cities to augment their public services in new and innovative ways.

Drone sales have ballooned this decade, with around 700,00 recreational drones sold in 2015 alone. The retail research group NDP released a report in May announcing that drone sales tripled from the previous year. On June 21, the Federal Aviation Administration, which expects the number of drones to grow from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million by 2020, released new comprehensive regulations governing the use of drones in U.S. airspace.

While the new FAA regulations make strides towards strengthening drone registration and accountability infrastructure, they leave the bulk of enforcement and regulation to local and state government. As our skies become more crowded than ever, it is up to cities across America to decide how and when they want to see widespread commercial drone use, how they want to adopt drone technology for some of their own operations, and how best they can encourage innovation in this exciting and growing field while still ensuring public safety, accountability, and enforcement.

Drone technology promises to bring some exciting innovations that will help cities save revenue while increasing the effectiveness of the services they offer. Already, cities like Somerville, Massachusetts, and Tampa, Florida, are adopting drones for aerial inspections of city infrastructure. Arlington, Texas, and Grand Forks, North Dakota, are using drones to augment their local law enforcement capabilities. While drones offer a boon to municipalities looking to increase their effectiveness while lowering costs, this technology is quickly being adopted commercially as well. Drones are already used for precision farming and aerial photography, and are well on their way to being adopted for emergency medical services and commercial package delivery.

In a familiar pattern, innovation has outpaced legislation, leaving some cities behind as new drone businesses and practices emerge. When cities and towns are slow to act, they face possible preemption by their state legislatures, as has occurred in Maryland, and are missing a meaningful opportunity to shape drone use in their communities. The National League of Cities (NLC) has just released its municipal guide, Cities and Drones, as the first comprehensive study of the landscape of municipal drone adoption and regulation. The objective of this report is to assist local policy and decision makers as they consider their own community’s embrace of this technology. The challenge for local officials will be crafting policy and regulations that enable this drone technology to serve their cities best, embracing innovation, while still considering the safety and privacy concerns of their residents.

To read more about this issue, check out our full report, Cities and Drones: What Cities Need to Know About Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or the shorter issue brief.

About the Author: Elias Stahl is the Urban Innovation Intern in the National League of Cities (NLC) Center for City Solutions and Applied Research.

What It Takes to Be a Comeback City

In this Big Ideas for Cities feature, Gary, Indiana, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson discusses how pulling together the right team, the right ideas, and the right plan has set the city up for a resurgence.

When Karen Freeman-Wilson became mayor of Gary, Indiana, she faced persistent challenges such as crime and blight — but around the time she came into office, the city lost a significant portion of its revenue as well. “So much of [today’s] discussion is framed in the context of the recession of 2008,” said Mayor Freeman-Wilson in her Big Ideas for Cities talk. “That didn’t really mean a whole lot for us. In 2006, the state of Indiana passed permanent property tax caps. And by 2012, they became a part of our constitution, meaning that residential tax-payers paid one percent, commercial two percent, and industrial tax-payers paid no more than three percent. The long and short of that is: on the day I took office, I lost 60 percent of my property tax budget.”

Gary, Ind. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson delivers her Big Ideas talk in Miami Beach, Florida. (Jason Dixson Photography)

Gary, Ind. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson delivers her Big Ideas talk in Miami Beach, Florida. (Jason Dixson Photography)

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.

I Love Being a Police Officer – But We Need Reform

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new TED Talk focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s talk, Baltimore Police officer Lt. Colonel Melvin Russell shares how he is bringing stakeholders together to work toward the common goal of peace and prosperity for Baltimore City.

We’ve invested so much in police departments as protectors that we have forgotten what it means to serve our communities, says Baltimore Police officer Lt. Colonel Melvin Russell. It’s led to coldness and callousness, and it’s dehumanized the police force. After taking over as district commander in one of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods, Russell instituted a series of reforms aimed at winning back the trust of the community and lowering the violent crime rate. “Law enforcement is in a crisis,” he says. “But it’s not too late for all of us to build our cities and nation to make it great again.”

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.