5 New Year’s Resolutions for Cities

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For the first time in human history the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas – including 80 percent of Americans and 3 billion people worldwide. As you might expect, increasing population growth in cities leads to increasing citizen demands on local government – demands which come during a time of weak economic growth and fragile fiscal health, no less.

For these reasons, 2014 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for cities. Will local governments retrench or find new ways to invest in growth and enhance quality of life? While cities will continue to face critical challenges in the year ahead, here are five things that should be on the New Year’s resolution list of every mayor, city manager, or councilmember:

1. Resolve to … Make Government More Open and Transparent

City of Chicago Data Portal
City of Chicago Data Portal

Governments that resolve to think in a more open and transparent way make positive change happen more often, and more effectively. The reason for this is because open government policies make information accessible to individuals outside of government with creative ideas, talent, and motivation to make their community better. Whether its Philadelphia’s Open Data Race or Asheville’s Open Data Day, more and more communities are beginning to promote a “startup” approach to local government. To learn how you can get started, the Sunlight Foundation recently re-released a series of best practice provisions and case studies to aid policymakers in translating open government aspirations into actionable policy.

2. Resolve to … Involve Youth in Local Government

mayor-rogers-youth-seattle
Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers with youth delegates at the Congress of Cities in Seattle

Youth are an often untapped source of valuable feedback and ideas – a constituency that in many respects is most influenced by government policies, but have the least amount of input on policy development.  The first step in tapping into the insights of youth is to acknowledge that their voice matters – that youth are valuable stakeholders, capable of contributing to the vibrancy of our communities. NLC has drawn upon the experiences of communities with the most robust youth engagement initiatives to develop an Authentic Youth Civic Engagement (AYCE) guide consisting of four critical elements to help cities successfully involve youth in local government.

3. Resolve to … Be “Smarter” and More Efficient

smarter-city

Whether you have been a resident for decades or you are a new college graduate looking for a place to call home, security, convenience, opportunity and a chance at prosperity are high on the list of citizen demands. Local leaders must create opportunities from today’s realities – such as aging infrastructure, declining budgets, changing populations, and dynamic environmental concerns. Smarter, more efficient cities do this by investing in the expertise and technology to gain valuable insights, providing universal access for citizens to reach the programs they need, and implementing service delivery based on outcomes.

4. Resolve to … Be a Model of Civility

Which means less of this…

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…And more of this.

City leaders at the Congress of Cities in Seattle
City leaders at the Congress of Cities in Seattle

The national discussion on civility over the past couple of years demonstrates that the unnecessary fighting in Washington is not working as a means to solve our nation’s problems. City leaders should demonstrate to their residents that civility in a democracy is not only possible, it is critical to the health of any government and its citizens. NLC has developed a framework for civility and democratic governance that encourages governing a community in a participatory, deliberative, inclusive, and collaborative way.

5. Resolve to … Empower the Pets

cat-mayor-socks
Socks the Cat

OK, this one is a joke – but let’s remember that finding time for humor in times of challenge will be important in the year ahead as it always has been.

The REAL #5. Resolve to … Be Resilient in the Face of Increasing Disasters

Copyright 2011, The Associated Press
Copyright 2011, The Associated Press

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported back in June that extreme weather events caused a staggering $110 billion in damage in the U.S. in 2012, took nearly 400 lives and impacted virtually every part of the country. Mayors across the country have increasingly recognized the need to take proactive steps to safeguard their communities and adapt to extreme weather and energy challenges. NLC is a proud partner of the Resilient Communities for America Campaign and encourages mayors to sign the Resilient Communities for America Agreement to affirm their commitment to creating more resilient cities.

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