Why Startups Believe They Can Solve Cities’ Greatest Challenges

Smart City Startups 2015 participants gather at the Miami Light Project in Wynwood, Miami, Fla. (Photo: Tim Mudd)

Flying cars wiz across the dense, underworld-like landscape as an ominous, synthesized musical score accompanies the action. That’s Los Angeles in the year 2019, as portrayed in the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

“Any future without the Internet and smartphones is bound to get a few things wrong,” said Shaun Abrahamson, Co-Founder, Urban.US, during the opening talk of Smart City Startups 2015. “But what Blade Runner gets right are the big challenges facing cities today – challenges like climate change, poverty and homelessness.”

The film’s cautionary tale of the implications of technology on society and the environment, served as a useful frame for a conference focused on urban challenges and solutions.

Blade Runner introduced a future world where high-tech places stand in contrast to the decayed. Thirty-three years after the film’s future predictions, today’s cities are indeed grappling with the remnants of past thinking as economic currents speed faster forward in the information age.

Across the globe – we see infrastructure, regulations, service delivery processes and jurisdictional boundaries with roots in a former time, inhibiting the implementation of promising technologies and practices to improve sustainability and resilience, mobility and governance.

Startups, investors, foundations and cities gathered for the Smart City Startups conference in a neighborhood that embodies the crossroad of past and future in Miami. Once the warehouse and manufacturing district, Wynwood’s shuttered factories and neglected warehouses now house graffiti-coated art galleries, restaurants, cafes and creative businesses.

DSC_0019A street corner in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, Fla. (Photo: Tim Mudd)

For those whose lives and businesses are invested in the success of urban environments, the tension between the old and the new – and its most intractable outgrowths – cannot go unaddressed. There is simply too much at stake.

Can Startups Transform Cities?

As a dedicated partner in the improvement of cities, NLC was a participating sponsor of Smart City Startups 2015. Over the course of the two-day conference, attendees shared their perspectives and expertise on how to transform cities into more efficient, equitable and responsive communities.

Over 100 startups, influential investors, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and policymakers came together to discuss how emerging technologies can solve issues in areas such as energy consumption, mobility, sustainable building, and governance and public safety.

Companies offering platforms to make government “smarter” introduced services like SmartProcure, which allows users to find out what other government agencies paid for contracts by connecting thousands of local, state and federal agencies. MuniRent displayed a platform that makes it easy for public agencies to share heavy-duty equipment internally and with other agencies. NextRequest, a public records management platform, offers cities the ability to coordinate between multiple staff members across departments to quickly fulfill requests.

DSC_0026Participants write down topics for unconference sessions at Smart City Startups 2015 (Photo: Tim Mudd)

In the area of transport and mobility, “rideables” such as Future Motion’s Onewheel demonstrated how citizens might get around cities in the future via an easily storable one wheel skateboard. TransitMix promises better transit planning by allowing planners to sketch routes rapidly and see live cost calculations.

No doubt that these ideas are fascinating and creative, but many participants wondered if the speed of startup solutions outpaces government’s willingness or capacity to acquire them. Cities across the country have proven that it isn’t a matter of willingness – municipal administrations in Boston, Louisville, Chicago, among others have institutionalized cutting edge practices, embedding innovation in their operations. But what both big and small cities need is more than new and cool. They need a real-world understanding of the practical application of these products and their value to communities.

Bridging the Divide

Creativity can solve the needs of cities. Startups around the country are hard at work to find solutions in an environment of rising costs of services, urgent infrastructure needs, employee obligations and state and federal funding cuts.

Moving toward a place where start-up ambitions match local policy decisions requires more forums like Smart City Startups, which generate the dialogue between entrepreneurs and cities that will bring creative ideas to life.

Through our work to help city leaders build better communities, NLC is dedicated to fostering creativity and connecting promising solutions with the communities that need them. If you’re a startup with a solution or a city in need of one – reach out to us.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities. Contact Tim at mudd@nlc.org.

City Investments in Financial Capability are Paying Off

This post was co-written by Alysha Davis.

President Obama issued a proclamation declaring April 2015 to be National Financial Capability Month. It’s described as a to time to “renew our efforts to support the informed financial decisions that will open doors into the middle class and help ensure economic security for all.”

Financial capability 2A couple receives financial counseling and foreclosure prevention assistance in Los Angeles. (David McNew/Getty Images)

In his proclamation, the president calls upon “all Americans to observe this month with programs and activities to improve their understanding of financial principles and practices.”

As April comes to a close, we wanted to highlight some of the innovative ways that cities are stepping up and delivering financial capability opportunities to their residents at the local level. The National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) is supporting these efforts in a number of ways.

Mayors and city council members recognize the importance of helping residents become more financially secure and gain access to financial services, not just to enhance the economic stability of families but also to boost local economic development. More and more cities, often in partnership with community-based organizations and financial institutions, are offering financial education and counseling, homeownership assistance, expanded access to safe and affordable financial services and debt reduction strategies, to call out just a few of the activities taking place at the local level.

To learn more about these and other financial inclusion programs, stay tuned for a forthcoming report from the YEF Institute on how municipal leaders from across the country are stepping up to address the financial struggles of their residents. The report will document the findings of NLC’s City Scan of Local Financial Inclusion Efforts, which included a survey of 118 city leaders, follow-up telephone interviews and a roundtable with city officials and community partners focused on municipal financial inclusion efforts.

The NLC YEF Institute has a history of assisting city leaders to implement programs to build residents’ economic stability. Over the last two years, we have been working with five cities (Savannah, Ga.; Newark, N.J.; Louisville, Ky.; St. Petersburg, Fla. and Houston) to implement the Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment Through Utility Payments (LIFT-UP) program, an innovative pilot project to help low-income families pay their utility bills and achieve financial stability.

As part of LIFT-UP, we are providing technical assistance to help cities connect families who are in debt to city-owned utilities and with options such as a restructured payment plan, payment incentives and a variety of financial empowerment services, including financial counseling.

We also recently launched a project to identify best practices for local leaders to incorporate financial capability strategies into municipal youth employment programs. The aim is to improve the ability of young people (ages 14 – 24) to effectively manage their finances – from saving to building credit and keeping debt manageable. We are looking at the roles that city leaders, banks, credit unions and other partners can and do play in ensuring that young jobseekers have access to financial knowledge and services.

As part of this project, we will be providing guidance to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor on their new technical assistance opportunity to help cities include financial capability in their youth employment programs.

About the Authors:
Heidi-HeadshotHeidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

Alysha Davis
Alysha Davis is the Associate for Research and Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

The Arts Mean Business

This is a guest post by Jay H. Dick, Senior Director of State and Local Government Affairs at Americans for the Arts.

Meyerson_Symphony_Center_Dallas_1_fullsizeThe Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas, is a visually spectacular example of the type of anchor for economic development that can be achieved when city governments invest in arts and culture initiatives. (photo: Matt Clarkson)

If your city had a new construction company move to town, this would be good news – more jobs, more economic activity, and more tax revenues to be collected. How about if your city received funding from your state to widen a road? Again, you would probably welcome this news with open arms. Now, think about a new arts organization moving to town. Would you look at this group with the same economic lens that you used to look at the construction or transportation business?

If your answer was no, here’s why you should!

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) with the National Endowment for the Arts recently released their second annual report measuring the arts and culture sector’s contributions to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). This year’s report found that the arts and culture sector represented 4.32 percent of the GDP – a higher percentage than tourism (2.6 percent), transportation (2.7 percent) and construction (3.4 percent) – at $698.7 billion!

(Americans for the Arts)

In other words, the arts and culture sector have a larger impact on your economy (in terms of GDP) than these other industries. The unfortunate problem is that we don’t readily recognize the economic value and impact of the arts. Luckily, more research is being done on this topic by groups such as the BEA and by organizations like mine, Americans for the Arts.

For example, did you know that, according to our Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study, the nonprofit arts are a $135 billion industry that supports over 4 million full-time equivalent jobs? Further, the nonprofit arts contribute $22 billion dollars in tax revenue, of which $6.07 billion is collected at the local level. Given that most local governments (that Americans for the Arts has studied) appropriate less than they receive in tax revenue, the arts are a wonderful investment!

Our Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts reports provide a research-based approach to understanding the scope and economic importance of the arts in America. Nationally, 702,771 businesses are involved in the creation or distribution of the arts, and they directly employ 2.9 million people. This represents 3.9 percent of all U.S. businesses and 1.9 percent of all U.S. employees – demonstrating statistically that the arts are a formidable business presence and are broadly distributed across our communities. Arts businesses and the creative people they employ stimulate innovation, strengthen America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, and play an important role in building and sustaining economic vibrancy. In addition to our national numbers, there are downloadable maps on our website of every state, federal legislative district, state legislative district, counties and some larger cities.

Cities of all sizes that, even minimally, invest in their local arts organizations can see economic benefits. For example, over 300 cities have created cultural districts to foster the economic viability of their downtown. Cultural districts are a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use area of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities serves as the anchor of attraction and robust economic activity.

The Playhouse Square Center in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty Images)

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Playhouse Square’s downtown economic impact has been impressive. For every one dollar spent in ticket sales, $2.20 is generated in additional expenditures to the local economy. In a five-year period, 79 new businesses moved downtown, and the cost of downtown office space nearly doubled.

In the late 1990s, Paducah, Ky. had a problem – an area of the city, LowerTown, was run down. Fifty percent of homes were dilapidated; 73 percent of homes were renter-occupied; and there was a 17 percent unemployment rate with 51 percent of people living in poverty. To tackle the problem, city leaders came up with a unique plan: the Artist Relocation Program. City leaders partnered with banks and other businesses and reached out nationally to artists to invite them to move to Paducah. The program would offer them a very low-interest loan if they bought a house, agreed to make improvements, worked as an artist out of their house, and lived there for at least five years.

Dixie Leather Works, located in the LowerTown arts disctrict of Paducah, Ky. (photo: Paducah Visitors Bureau)

Dixie Leather Works, located in the LowerTown Arts District of Paducah, Ky. (photo: Paducah Visitors Bureau)

Ten years later, dilapidated homes have fallen to 3 percent; the renter-occupied rate is down to 15 percent; unemployment is down to 6 percent; and the number of people living in poverty has been reduced to 4 percent. This is all a direct result of the Artist Relocation Program.

These are just a few examples of how the arts and culture can help your city’s economy. The great thing about the arts is they are already in your city. The arts, unlike many industries, are not going to relocate overseas or to a different city. The arts are committed to serving your city’s residents and improving the quality of life. But what they do need are community leaders to recognize them as an industry worthy of both private and public sector support. So, please contact your local arts groups. Get to know them, understand their programming, and how they work to improve your city. And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly – I would love to help.

Jay H. DickAbout the Author: Jay H. Dick is the Senior Director of State and Local Government Affairs at Americans for the Arts, an organization which serves, advances and leads diverse networks of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain and support the arts in America. Americans for the Arts has partnered with NLC for almost 20 years on a variety of programs.

Closing the Digital Divide in America

This is a guest post by David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation.

Chance the Rapper (left) and Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen present laptops to students from Chicago’s Alcott College Prep at a recent event to announce new Internet Essentials milestones. (Comcast)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 52 percent of low-income households in the United States subscribe to broadband at home. What’s more, for certain low-income groups, broadband adoption still falls more than 20 percentage points behind the general population, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Today, access to the Internet at home is essential for all family members to keep up in this digital and highly competitive world— so much so that it’s hard to believe there are still so many families without it. Whether doing homework, applying for college, searching and applying for jobs, paying bills, accessing health care or using social media, think for a second about how you would do all these things if you didn’t have the Internet at home? Would you park your car in your nearest McDonald’s parking lot so you could hand your smartphone to your child to use the free Wi-Fi to write a book report? Would you send your daughter across town on a bus at night to a computer lab so she could do her homework? Would you walk a mile to your local library to sign your son up for a 30 minute session on a computer? I’ve traveled all around the country hearing stories from mothers and fathers who had to do all of these things for their kids because they didn’t have Internet service at home. It doesn’t seem fair does it?

Comcast post 2

In August 2011, we set out to try to help solve this problem by introducing Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. It provides low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in person.

That was three and a half years ago. Recently, we were proud to announce that thanks to the support and hard work of thousands of community partners, elected officials and dedicated employees, we have connected more than 450,000 families, or 1.8 million low-income Americans, to the power of the Internet at home. For a frame of reference, 1.8 million is larger than the populations of 96 of America’s 100 largest cities as well as 12 states. That is real and meaningful progress.

Comcast post 3

On a local level, the Chicago metro area leads the way in closing the digital divide for the fourth year in a row. More than 50,000 families, or 200,000 low-income Chicagoans – nearly 25 percent of its eligible population – have signed up for Internet Essentials. Second best is the Miami metro area, with more than 41,500 families, or 166,000 low-income residents – 28 percent of its eligible population. The Atlanta metro area is third best with more than 25,000 families, or more than 100,000 low-income citizens – almost 20 percent of its eligible population.

Crossing the digital divide is not just about getting families online, it’s also about teaching them how to use the Internet’s resources to its fullest potential. The clear-cut assessment across all broadband researchers is that the most widely noted reason for non-adoption is not the price of the broadband connection or any cost related to that connection. Instead, it’s a bucket of digital literacy issues, including a perceived lack of relevance of the Internet and a lack of understanding of its value. For instance, nearly half of non-adopters say they simply don’t need the Internet at home or are not interested, according to research by the NTIA.

To break down that barrier to adoption, we’ve invested more than $225 million in cash and in-kind support to help fund digital literacy and readiness initiatives, reaching more than 3.1 million people through our network of national and local nonprofit community partners. Partners like the National League of Cities have also played a crucial role in making more people aware of these training opportunities.

One of my favorite statistics that truly highlights the progress we are making is from research by Dr. John B. Horrigan, former head of research for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and a preeminent researcher on broadband adoption and utilization. He found that even though Comcast is only one of multiple providers, and does not have broadband systems in two-thirds of the country, the company’s Internet Essentials program has accounted for one-quarter of all of the national broadband adoption growth for low-income families with children from the program’s inception through June 2014.

We look forward to the continued success of the program. We believe the Internet has the power to transform lives, strengthen communities and inspire a new generation of leaders – but we can’t do this alone. We hope you will join us in this fight to close the digital divide. If you’d like to get more involved and become a partner, please sign up at www.internetessentials.com/partner and help spread the word.

david cohen, comcast_150x187About the Author: David L. Cohen is Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. David has a broad portfolio of responsibilities, including corporate communications, government and regulatory affairs, public affairs, legal affairs, corporate administration and community investment, and serves as senior counselor to the CEO. He also serves as Chief Diversity Officer for the company.

Retention and Attraction Strategies for a Balanced Retail Sector

This is a recap from Big Ideas for Small Business, NLC’s national peer network helping local governments accelerate effort to support small businesses and encourage entrepreneurship. To learn more, email robbins@nlc.org.

Empress of China SFNeighborhood institutions, such as the Empress of China restaurant in San Francisco, are often forced to close their doors due to escalating rent prices – but city leaders can balance retention and attraction strategies to sustain a healthy and diverse local business community. (Image courtesy reelsf.com)

Small businesses in some San Francisco neighborhoods are “disappearing as fast as an artisanal ice cube in a $14 craft cocktail” because of a development boom that’s turning neighborhood institutions, like the Empress of China and Lombardi Sports, into housing units. In Washington, D.C., local shops like Jak & Co. Hairdressers are closing their doors due to escalating rent prices.

At the same time, though, Cleveland has found it difficult to attract a full-scale grocery store downtown. Fort Worth also recently struggled to attract a retailer to a lower-income and underdeveloped neighborhood of the city.

What’s happening in these scenarios is nothing new. The real estate industry tends to develop where demand and buying power are high enough to create a return on investment. Even though cities don’t have direct control over the private real estate market, there are indeed strategies local governments can implement to create equity across neighborhood retail sectors.

City leaders should find the right balance between retention and attraction strategies to sustain a healthy and diverse local business community across all neighborhoods. Business retention strategies help existing local businesses keep their doors open. Business attraction strategies encourage or promote business growth in areas that wouldn’t otherwise be considered viable options for investment.

Achieving the right balance can undoubtedly be a complicated and ongoing process. Cities from NLC’s Big Ideas for Small Business peer network recently shared some of their local best practices.

Business Retention

 Legislating to preserve legacy businesses.  San Francisco is considering Legacy Business Legislation that would help retain local businesses in their original location by providing incentives to both the business and property owners. The businesses affected by this legislation are mom-and-pop restaurants, bars, and other small retailers operating in the city for at least 30 years. In recent years, these historic retailers have been “swallowed up” by the city’s development boom.

Providing business owners with site relocation assistance. For existing businesses that can no longer afford their leases, the choices are either to close up shop or relocate to a different neighborhood. Retail site selection tools, like the Retail Site Search from the Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP), catalogue all of the available commercial spaces in the city. Every year, the WDCEP works with several business owners to choose a new, more affordable site for their business. The WDCEP tracks data on new business licenses that provides a unique vantage point into areas where businesses are growing and commercial rents are likely to rise.

Business Attraction

Partnering with a public hospital to build a grocery store in a food desert. Grocery stores are one of the more difficult types of retail for cities to attract in underserved areas. A public hospital in Kansas City, Mo., is supporting the construction of a grocery store in a section of the city that is now considered a food desert. The hospital’s vision is to provide access to fresh, affordable produce so that local residents are healthier and need fewer emergency room visits. Once it’s opened, the hospital will take over the management of the grocery store and offer classes on food and nutrition.

Using vacant space for pop-up retail. Temporarily filling vacant commercial corridors with pop-up retail businesses benefits the local economy in two ways. First, it reinvigorates the neighborhood by attracting visitors and customers, and can help reestablish the neighborhood as a “hot spot” for new businesses or development. Additionally, pop-up spaces provide local entrepreneurs the chance to test their products and skills in a low-risk environment. San Antonio’s OPEN initiative provides entrepreneurs with short-term leases in vacant downtown spaces, and aims to “authenticate downtown as a vibrant urban space, ready for long-term investment.” The Pop-Up Project in San Jose also connects retailers to vacant or underutilized downtown space.

A mix of these types of retention and attraction strategies will help ensure that all businesses have the chance to be successful, and that all neighborhoods have affordable goods and services available for residents.

Robbins_small (2)About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

For Children & Families This Spring, April Showers Bring More Than May Flowers

President Obama recently signed into law the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. This comes as great news to city leaders such as Mayor Jorge Elorza, who is working to expand health coverage for children and families in Providence, R.I.

CHIPFrom left to right: U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Jorge Elorza, mayor of Providence, R.I., Merrill Thomas, CEO, Providence Community Health Centers and Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Director, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. (City of Providence)

On April 16, President Obama signed into law the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. This bill extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two more years. Federal funding for the program was scheduled to run out on Sept. 30, 2015, which would have potentially put the health of millions of children at risk.

Enactment of this bipartisan measure is not only a win for children, it’s a win for cities! When families have health insurance, the burden on local hospital emergency rooms is reduced, financial crisis resulting from medical debt is avoided, children have greater academic achievement, and parents take less time off work to care for sick kids. Connecting families to health insurance is good local governance. In addition, the measure provides an additional $40 million in outreach and enrollment grants. In the past, recipients of such grants included local governments.

The bill’s extension is great news to city leaders such as Jorge Elorza, mayor of Providence, R.I., who is working to expand health coverage for children and families in his city. At a recent event, Mayor Elorza, Senator Jack Reed and their partners came together to kick-off a campaign to reach eligible but currently unenrolled children. Mayor Elorza underscored the importance of the federal program and its role in covering 28,000 children in Providence.

To reach these children and their families, the city and its partners have disseminated 94,262 promotional and educational materials and conducted outreach to over 7,100 students. They have enrolled 808 children to date in RIte Care, a combined Medicaid/CHIP program, as a result of these efforts.

Providence is one of eight cities participating in NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families Initiative, which supports city efforts to connect children and their families to health insurance coverage. For more information, check out the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families’ blog for a great overview of the CHIP provisions within the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.


Carla PlazaAbout the Author: 
Carla I. Plaza is a consultant to the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ health benefits outreach project. Follow Carla on Twitter at @cipinwdc.

First Lady Honors New Orleans for Ending Veteran Homelessness, Announces New Resources

On Monday in New Orleans, first lady Michelle Obama joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu and community members to congratulate them for becoming the first city in the nation to achieve the goal of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To help other cities reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness this year, the first lady announced three new resources.

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness event in New Orleans. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness event in New Orleans. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

As part of celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of the Joining Forces initiative, Mrs. Obama highlighted the progress seen on behalf of veterans on employment, education, health care and mental health. Recognizing that veteran homelessness is at the intersection of these elements, the first lady said the issue “cuts straight to the core of what it means to support those who serve our country.”

“When we have tens of thousands of veterans who don’t have somewhere to go when it rains – that is a stain on our nation,” said Mrs. Obama. “That’s why, as President, my husband has vowed not to simply manage this problem but to end it. And overall, since 2010, we’ve housed nearly 230,000 veterans and their families.”

In January, Mayor Landrieu announced the city was the first to reach the historic milestone of achieving functional zero for homeless veterans. The city’s progress accelerated after Mayor Landrieu became one of the first mayors to join the challenge.

“This isn’t just an extraordinary achievement for the city, this is a call-to-action to our entire country,” said Mrs. Obama. “You all have proven that, even in a city as big as New Orleans, veterans’ homelessness is not a reality that we have to accept. It is not an impossible problem that’s too big to solve. Just the opposite – you’ve shown us that when leaders make this problem a priority and bring the right folks to the table, we can find a solution.”

Noting the importance of mayoral leadership, Mrs. Obama highlighted the actions taken by some of the other 570 mayors, governors and local officials who have committed to ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year.

  • Los Angeles housed more than 5,000 veterans last year.
  • New York City has cut the number of homeless veterans by more than half.
  • Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle and Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, Calif. have supplemented federal funds with city funds to provide rental subsidies and rapid rehousing services.
  • Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has invested nearly $3 million for homeless veterans, plus even more for veterans’ security deposits

New Resources

To support mayors who have joined the challenge, Mrs. Obama announced that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would begin regular conference calls to discuss proven best practices.

In addition, the first lady announced the availability of nearly $65 million to help more than 9,300 homeless veterans find permanent housing with HUD-VASH vouchers.

Finally, Mrs. Obama announced a commitment from Blackstone Equity to provide “Welcome Home Kits” for veterans when they transition into new housing. Blackstone’s portfolio of companies, such as Hilton, Motel 6, and La Quinta Inns and Suites, will be working with local leaders in 25 cities to provide furniture, appliances and other supplies.

Following the first lady’s remarks (which can be viewed in full here), Matthew Doherty, recently named Executive Director of USICH, spoke with Mayor Landrieu about some of the city’s keys to success.

Matthew Doherty (left) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

Matthew Doherty (left) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

The mayor noted that many of the lessons applied to ending veteran homelessness arose from the city’s experiences following Hurricane Katrina. Among these lessons was the importance of convening stakeholders to facilitate vertical and horizontal communication among local, state and federal agencies.

Mayor Landrieu pointed to his unique ability as mayor to convene and ensure that all stakeholders were “pulling in the same direction.”

As collective conversations were held, the community recognized the need for help identifying homeless veterans throughout the region, as well as a need for more housing. To meet these challenges, the mayor reached out to area landlords and property management companies, particularly those that were already working with the city and local housing authorities.

In addition, the community engaged the area’s active duty military personnel and veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. With the participation of other veterans, more of their homeless peers were identified, engaged and connected to services.

Throughout the day, the first lady and Mayor Landrieu urged participants of the Mayors Challenge to bring together key representatives to better understand what is happening to end veteran homelessness in their community. To help mayors identify where to start their conversations, the National League of Cities (NLC) has developed Three Steps & Five Questions, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has published Five High Impact Steps, and HUD has compiled numerous resources as part of the Mayors Challenge Desk Book.

For more information about how NLC can support your city’s work to end veteran homelessness, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or contact harig-blaine@nlc.org.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Supreme Court Holds No Dog Sniffs After Completed Traffic Stops

Drug sniffing dogs are a powerful law enforcement tool used by many city police departments. But may they be used after an already completed traffic stop? No, says a divided Supreme Court. (photo: LA Times)

In a 6-3 decision in Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court held that a dog sniff conducted after a completed traffic stop violates the Fourth Amendment. In a dissent, Justice Alito describes the Court’s holding as “unnecessary, impractical, and arbitrary,” and suggests savvy officers can skirt it.

Officer Struble pulled over Dennys Rodriguez after he veered onto the shoulder of the highway and jerked back on the road. Officer Struble ran a records check on Rodriguez, then questioned his passenger and ran a records check on the passenger and called for backup, and next wrote Rodriguez a warning ticket. Seven or eight minutes passed between Officer Struble issuing the warning, back up arriving, and Officer Struble’s drug-sniffing dog alerting for drugs. Rodriguez argued that prolonging the completed traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Court agreed. It concluded that exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the traffic stop was made violated the Fourth Amendment. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, relied on Illinois v. Caballes where the Court upheld a suspicionless dog search conducted during (not after) a lawful traffic stop. In that case the Court stated that a seizure for a traffic stop “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete [the] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation. While officers may lengthen stops by checking a driver’s license and inspecting a vehicle’s registration and proof of insurance, those measures are taken to ensure that the vehicles on the road are operating safely. Likewise, officers may lengthen a stop by asking a driver to exit the vehicle for the officer’s safety. A dog sniff, however, is not aimed at officer or highway safety—it is aimed at discovering illegal drugs.

Justice Ginsburg ends her opinion by stating that the critical question “is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket… but whether conducting the sniff prolongs – i.e., adds time to – the stop.” This statement seems to be contradicted by – or at least avoidable per – Caballes, as Justice Alito suggests in his dissent: “The rule that the Court adopts will do little good going forward. It is unlikely to have any appreciable effect on the length of future traffic stops. Most officers will learn the prescribed sequence of events even if they cannot fathom the reason for that requirement. I would love to be the proverbial fly on the wall when police instructors teach this rule to officers who make traffic stops.”

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.

National Park Service Launches NPS Urban Agenda

This is a guest post by Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director of the U.S. National Park Service.

Jefferson National Expansion MemorialThe Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Mo., exemplifies the innovative ways city leaders, businesses and NGOs are investing in new parks, new park designs, and new ways to engage communities in creating healthy and livable cities. (National Park Service)

One hundred years ago, lawmakers were considering a radical idea to preserve some of our nation’s most iconic landscapes “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Indeed, what the founders of the national park idea had in mind nearly 100 years ago was incredibly innovative – but today, we live in a different time and a different era that requires new ways of thinking and a renewed relationship between parks and the American people. Since 1916, the American public has diversified and evolved; so, too, has our need to diversify National Park Service parks and programs to answer the call of the next century.

As we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service’s establishment in 2016, we have spent a great deal of time thinking about how we can make national parks relevant to a new generation of Americans. One constant in those discussions is the importance of urban parks and National Park Service programs in urban areas.

People are often surprised to hear how urban the National Park Service is. For instance:

  • Forty of the country’s 50 most populated urban areas have national parks located within them;
  • One-third of all NPS sites are located in urban areas;
  • Thirty-six percent of all NPS visitation occurs at our urban sites – Golden Gate being the most visited;
  • NPS historic preservation tax credits have contributed significantly to preserving the character of our cities, generating more than $66 billion in private investment in historic rehabilitations; and
  • Some 30 NPS programs serve urban communities, providing funds and technical assistance for recreational facilities, environmental restoration, historic architecture, historic research, trail building, and youth engagement.

Recognizing this strong base of urban engagement and its potential to connect new audiences to national parks, last week, the National Park Service announced the Urban Agenda for the National Park Service. The Urban Agenda establishes a framework for an unprecedented strategic alignment of parks, programs and partnerships that will better serve communities.

A key component of the Urban Agenda will be realizing the core principles that call for being relevant to all Americans and creating a culture of collaboration. We have identified 10 model cities where we will develop our capacity to act as “One National Park Service” to better serve communities. To assist in activating the Agenda, we have developed a fellowship program that will deploy Urban Fellows in each model city and ultimately serve as a pipeline for growing NPS urban leaders.

The model cities were selected to provide opportunities to address a variety of challenges in spaces where we already have a national park located within the city, places that have national parks nearby, and locations that have no physical national park units, but strong ties to NPS programs. They include:

  1. Boston
  2. New York City
  3. Philadelphia
  4. Richmond, Virginia
  5. Washington
  6. Jacksonville, Florida
  7. St. Louis
  8. Detroit
  9. Tucson, Arizona
  10. Richmond, California

Importantly, the NPS Urban Agenda is supported by the President’s 21st Century Conservation agenda that calls for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a $326 million NPS Centennial Fund. If enacted by Congress, this would provide an additional $107 million for federal land acquisition, $47 million for state grants and $25 million for the Urban Parks and Recreation Fund, which assists economically distressed urban communities with the revitalization and improvement of recreation opportunities.

My boss, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, has launched an ambitious youth initiative that will engage the next generation of leaders and stewards through recreation, education, volunteerism, and employment. Specifically, by 2017, the Department will convene coalitions in 50 cities across the country to create more opportunities for young people to play, learn, serve, and work outdoors. The 10 NPS model cities are part of this movement, and over the next year and half, her initiative will result in investments in and support for 50 coalitions in many of our largest and most densely populated cities in the country. The Department of the Interior’s youth initiative goals include engaging 10 million kids in outdoor recreation programs; providing educational opportunities to 10 million of the nation’s K-12 students annually; engaging one million volunteers in support of public lands; and providing 100,000 work and training opportunities to young adults, including returning veterans.

This month, the National Park Service and our partner the National Park Foundation also launched a broad public awareness and engagement campaign called “Find Your Park.” This campaign extends an invitation to the public to understand the current breadth of the National Park Service stands for and rethink where and what all that a park can be.

The National Park Service recognizes that we cannot accomplish our goal of connecting the next generation to the benefits of their parks and public lands without the support and assistance of a whole host of partners. So, I invite you to join us and find ways to engage and share in a public dialogue, to learn from one another, to address the impact of climate change on our cities, to create education and employment pathways for disengaged youth, and maybe even to co-design the next great urban national park. Go out and Find Your Park.

Jonathan_Jarvis_150x183About the Author: Jonathan B. Jarvis began his career with the National Park Service in 1976 as a seasonal interpreter in Washington, D.C. Today, he manages that agency whose mission is to preserve America’s most treasured landscapes and cultural icons. Managing the National Park Service on the eve of its centennial in 2016, Jarvis has focused on several key areas that are critical for the future: enhancing stewardship of the places entrusted to the Service’s care; maximizing the educational potential of parks and programs; engaging new generations and audiences, and ensuring the welfare and fulfillment of National Park Service employees. His blueprint for the agency’s second century, A Call to Action, calls for innovative, ambitious, yet practical ways to fulfill the National Park Service’s promise to America in the 21st century.

Remarkable New Policy Allows City Employees in Louisville to Mentor — and Pays Them

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Louisville, Ky. Under the leadership of Mayor Greg Fischer, the city of Louisville, Ky., has created a new program which allows employees the opportunity to take two hours of paid time a week to work with at-risk youth. (Getty Images)

“When I ask businesses and others to step up to mentor, they ask, ‘What are you guys doing?’ And I say, ‘Here’s our Mentors Program. Mentoring is an act of citizenship; at the end of the day, we’re put on the earth to make the world a better place… being an American is not a spectator sport.’”

– Mayor Greg Fischer, City of Louisville

When speaking about his groundbreaking new mentorship program, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer did not limit his rallying cry to moral exhortation and sound bites. He set a goal: to sign up 10 percent of the city’s workforce – 600 individuals – as mentors. And he anchored his exhortation in city policy.

Louisville’s Metro Government Personnel Policies, states, in section 1.21 (1), “The future of Louisville rests in the hearts and minds of our young people – we must do all we can to plant the seeds of future growth and success in our young people. The purpose of this policy is to allow all Louisville Metro employees to act as mentors for area youth.” The policy continues: “Metro employees qualifying to participate in the program will be allowed up to two hours per week, to be used during their regular work shift, in order to volunteer at one of the program’s partner organizations with the purpose of mentoring at-risk youth in our community and shall commit to participate for a minimum of one year. This time will be paid.”

“We talk the talk, but now’s the time to walk the walk,” asserts Sadiqa Reynolds Chief for Community Building, top aide to Mayor Fischer. “Ours are public employees, and we see this as part of their public service commitment.”

Anthony Smith, who directs the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods for the City, has woven mentoring into “One Love Louisville,” the City’s comprehensive violence prevention/community building plan. He views mentoring as an essential crime prevention tool: “We have a lot of kids who might be involved in the criminal justice system. They need positive adults in their lives right now. And there are kids in the third grade who can’t read. They’re in danger of dropping out and getting into trouble.”

Sytisha Claycomb, a city employee who serves as the Administrative Director for the Youth Detention Center, points to the powerful effect of mentoring on her life. Having helped her mentee complete his GED, and now working to enroll him into a local university, she states: “I felt like a proud parent at his GED graduation this morning at the institution. All the facility workers, line staff and other kids and family attended his graduation. He thanked me from the stage. Thanked me! I can’t tell you how honored I felt.” She also underscored one of mentoring’s core purposes, namely, steadiness and reliability in otherwise chaotic, mistrusting lives. Speaking about her mentee, she noted that “He doesn’t need another person dropping in and out of his life. He needs consistency.”   The City’s program asks for a year’s commitment. Not enough for Sytisha: “I originally signed up for one year,” she stated, “but I’m committed for at least two to make sure he’s solidly on his next path.”

In addition to consistency and trust, exposure to a wider world and to trusted adults who can provide that exposure, lie at the core of a successful mentoring program. Says Smith, “The mentees need to see a better world than they see now, a wider world, the wide horizon of Louisville and beyond, because all they know is their tiny corner.” City employees can introduce them to that wider world. As Smith notes, “We’re actually talking about job shadowing now, kids coming into city hall and other places to see what people actually do.” Darryl Young, another mentor, echoes Smith’s sentiment: “We who have made it take for granted that everyone has people to look up to, people who are examples of jobs, of opportunity.”

The paid mentorship program instituted in Louisville offers city employees increased incentive to serve as positive examples for at-risk youth, and the program serves as a model of what can be accomplished by cities willing to dedicate resources to such an endeavor. The key takeaway: this model doesn’t add additional costs to city budgets. It simply allows employees to spend two hours of their work mentoring youth . Two hours makes little difference in employee productivity and a huge difference in the lives of young people. And Mayor Fischer is quick to recognize that not every city employee is prepared to mentor a youth who has been in trouble or who finds him or herself in a particularly turbulent, even violent situation. His response?  “I understand that, but come on, everyone can help a third grader read!”

Note: It’s an idea that’s taking root at the federal level. The Department of Justice recently approved two hours a week (8 hours a month) of paid administrative leave for Office of Justice Program (OJP) employees to receive training and perform academic mentoring at a DC area public school through an already approved afterschool program. Echoing Louisville’s Reynolds, Beth McGarry, OJP’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General said, “When I returned to OJP one of my goals was to ‘walk the walk’ and set up a program for our employees to mentor.”Cities throughout the nation are embarked on mentoring campaigns, especially for at risk children and youth. The Louisville and the Department of Justice examples show that the government can model what it is asking citizens to do.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.