The State of the Cities in 2012


This is the first in a seven-part series about mayors’ 2012 State of the City speeches.  The following post is written by Lara Malakoff in NLC’s Center for Research and Innovation.

Cities are finding themselves at a cross-roads.  We know this from an analysis of State of the City addresses given by mayors and city managers as they kicked off 2012.

The outlook of city leaders at this juncture ranges from cautiously optimistic to overwhelmingly positive, but they are all looking forward and embracing change.  Obvious fiscal constraints and other well-documented challenges at the local level have created room for innovation (For more about innovation, see a recent post by Chris Hoene). In his State of the City speech, Mayor Greg Hines of Rogers, Ark., said, “We are proud of where we started as well as where we are now; however, we cannot afford to simply relish in our current standing.  We must continue the quest to do better, reach higher, dream bigger and work harder.”

They’re not expecting the road ahead to be without challenges.  Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, of Tucson, Ariz., wisely titled his first State of the City speech, “Making Tucson Work.”  In it, he described the work ahead: “We’re beginning the slow climb out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  As our economy recovers, it will be tempting to go back to how we’ve done things in the past.  It is imperative that we not fall into that trap.”

This is NLC’s third annual analysis of State of the City addresses.  NLC staff from the Center for Research & Innovation, the Institute for Youth, Education & Families, and the Center for Federal Relations analyzed speeches given by mayors and city managers from 30 cities—cities of all sizes spread geographically throughout the nation.  This analysis does not provide us with an exhaustive or statistically reliable cross-section of the state of cities in America.  Rather, it gives us some concrete evidence to use as we focus our research, conduct legislative advocacy and help city leaders build better communities.

When we gathered to discuss the speeches we analyzed, one thing was clear: in the face of the challenge of supporting fiscal stability, cities are doing it all.  They are purposefully investing in initiatives that help their citizens thrive from childhood through career.  They are working hard to protect local revenue sources and ensure they can provide necessary city services.  They are finding new ways to develop and maintain citizens’ trust in government.  They are engaging in varied and creative economic development strategies.  They are focusing on the future with innovative, transportation infrastructure projects that create livable communities.  And they are ensuring the long-term sustainability of their communities.

“And so, the fundamental question we face as a city at this moment is whether we will seize our future!” said Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray.  Don’t miss six more posts over the next several weeks that discuss the common themes that illustrate cities’ efforts to “seize the future.”  We will reflect upon these themes and offer our perspective on what this means for moving cities forward.

We also want to hear from you.  Do these examples reflect the challenges and triumphs your community experienced in the last year?  Do you have creative ideas for addressing these challenges and building on success to create a vision for the future?  We urge you to participate in this discussion by commenting on the blog.

Cities Included in the 2012 State of the Cities Project:

Allentown, PA Columbus, GA Milwaukee, WI Richmond, VA
Baltimore, MD Eugene, OR Mount Dora, FL Rogers, AR
Biloxi, MS Folsom, CA New Haven, CT Tacoma, WA
Boulder, CO Fort Wayne, IN Novato, CA Taylorsville, UT
Boulder City, NV Henderson, NV Oklahoma City, OK Tucson, AZ
Buffalo, NY Lakewood, CA Pasadena, CA Washington,  DC
Caldwell, ID Lansing, MI Providence, RI Wyoming, MI
Centerville, OH Louisville, KY