Mayors Say America’s Infrastructure Needs an Upgrade

In addition to facing the deteriorating state of America’s existing infrastructure, city leaders are faced with the added complexity of investing in new, smarter infrastructure that can support and augment a 21st century economy.

(Getty Images)

“There is something wrong with our infrastructure.” said Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, New Jersey, in his state of the city address. “We need to do something now.” (Getty Images)

The Challenge

The United States’ infrastructure is in deplorable condition. Several factors — including a significant decline in federal investment, less predictable funding from states, and the pending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund — have contributed to this problem, putting more of the onus on state and local policymakers to find the cash for these projects in already challenging times. This has left the U.S. with what is commonly referred to as an “infrastructure deficit” or a significant gap between what we spend on infrastructure and what we need to spend to get our existing infrastructure up to par.

Figures on this growing price tag vary, but they are daunting any way you slice them. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives America’s infrastructure a D+, and estimates that approximately 3.6 trillion dollars would need to be invested by 2020 in order to get the nation’s infrastructure to a good place.

Cities Take Responsibility for Providing the Essentials and Investing in the Future

There is no denying that infrastructure is important. We need roads and bridges to move people and goods. We need water to survive. We need internet access to function in the 21st century economy.  City leaders recognize the essential nature of these services, and how critical they are to building and maintaining a strong, functional community.

To that end, it’s no surprise that NLC’s analysis of state of the city addresses showed that almost half (48 percent) of the leaders sampled mentioned infrastructure priorities. Additionally, infrastructure is among the top five issues consistently mentioned in mayors’ state of the city speeches. City leaders addressed a wide array of types of infrastructure – 45 percent of the speeches in our sample addressed roads, 32 percent addressed bicycle infrastructure 23 percent addressed sewers or wastewater infrastructure, 22 percent addressed internet and broadband infrastructure, and 18 percent addressed buses.

While transportation infrastructure is still at the top of city officials’ minds, this data suggests that policymakers are beginning to pay more attention to other important types of infrastructure, such as internet connectivity and water and sewers.

Mayor Michael Brown of Grand Forks, North Dakota, underscored the importance of generating revenue for both new projects and maintenance of existing infrastructure alike, asserting that the community “must focus on maintenance and future investment now so we perpetuate a strong economy.” In order to generate local funding, and retain local control, the city administration will facilitate a community conversation about a new infrastructure sales tax.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer of San Diego also expressed a desire to see more of the city’s tax dollars go toward community improvements, encouraging support of a ballot measure so that “voters can guarantee funds for neighborhood infrastructure decades into the future.”

Mayors of two different cities in Indiana, Greenwood and Nappanee, revered the successes of their Tax-Increment Finance (TIF) districts. Mayor Mark Myers of Greenwood highlighted the road improvements and job creation made possible by two different TIF districts in his community. Mayor Larry Thompson of Nappanee lauded the long term economic benefits enabled by the city’s TIF, explaining that the “community’s consolidated Tax Increment Finance (TIF) areas provide an added revenue source that allows additional funding for infrastructure and improvements that contribute to more economic-growth-added amenities.”

Infrastructure of the Future

In addition to facing the deteriorating state of America’s existing infrastructure, city leaders are faced with the added complexity of investing in new, smarter infrastructure that can support and augment a 21st century economy.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledged this, asserting that “a robust broadband infrastructure is absolutely vital to our city’s future.” She proposed that “creating such a network is the great infrastructure challenge of the 21st century.”

Many other city leaders across the nation agree with this sentiment, and have broadened to scope of the infrastructure discussion beyond transportation and water, to include broadband internet service. Mayor Will Sessoms of Virginia Beach, Virginia, highlighted the economic implications associated with broadband access:

“Connectivity is more than meeting our growing regional transportation needs. It’s ensuring our excellent public schools and institutions of higher learning provide educational pathways into high-demand careers. It’s ensuring that growing industries bring jobs and services to Virginia Beach. It’s ensuring the broadband capacity that our businesses need for global commerce and 21st century job growth.”

City leaders in Lexington, Kentucky, are also focused on economic competitiveness, recognizing that an important step to branding Lexington a 21st century city and encouraging economic prosperity is becoming a gigabit city. Mayor Lioneld Jordan of Fayetteville, Arkansas, announced the initiation of a Broadband Strategic Plan, and reinforced the importance of digital inclusion and access to online learning and job banks for all the city’s residents.

In addition to keeping up with the needs of older “hard” infrastructure, local leaders are recognizing the importance of 21st century “smart” infrastructure and taking the initiative to make sure that their communities remain competitive.

Infrastructure Matters

While it often struggles to rank among more exciting political issues, it is clear from our State of the Cities 2016 analysis that city leaders understand the importance of infrastructure. It moves us from place to place, gives us access to information, carries goods, and ensures that we have access to water. It keeps our cities running efficiently, ensures their competitiveness in the global market and enables them to attract new talent and businesses.

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 health care.

About the Author: Nicole DuPuis is the Principal Associate for Urban Innovation in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.

State of the City Speeches Reveal Push for Inclusive Economic Development

This year’s National League of Cities analysis of State of the City speeches reaffirms that mayors are optimistic about the growth of their local economies, and also that cities are developing economic development agendas to ensure this prosperity is widespread.

Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth, Minnesota, said in her speech, “We intend to expand the number of local businesses in our purchasing pool, and make renewed efforts to ensure that local area businesses know about bid opportunities. We’ll lead an effort to identify local vendors (particularly minority and women-owned businesses) who want to be notified by the city about purchasing opportunities. And then we’ll mentor those businesses on how to navigate the city’s contracting process.” (Getty Images)

Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth, Minnesota (pictured above), said in her speech, “We intend to expand the number of local businesses in our purchasing pool… we’ll lead an effort to identify local vendors who want to be notified by the city about purchasing opportunities, and then we’ll mentor those businesses on how to navigate the city’s contracting process.” (Getty Images)

It makes sense that mayors are feeling positive about the state of their cities. Municipal budgets in many regions are returning to pre-Recession levels. Jobs gains and business growth are on the rise. Overall, crime is down, and local housing markets are improving. However, recent studies about the income inequality and socioeconomic disparity in cities are worrisome, and likely the driving force behind the mayoral push we’re seeing for more equity and inclusion, particularly in economic development.

More than half (55 percent) of the mayors referenced recent job gains as an economic win for their cities. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Mayor Kip Holden said, “Today, we’re at a record level of jobs in our parish. I could tell you about the more than 7,000 jobs created, or the $327 million in new payroll.” Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington, D.C., acknowledged local employment growth reached 1,000 new jobs in her city. Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts, touted that the workforce in his city grew by 15 percent in the last year.

At the same time, mayors of nearly one third (30 percent) of cities described workforce development efforts to help fill these new employment opportunities, often with the goal of inclusive job readiness. As San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer explained in his speech, “The impact of this skills gaps is particularly harsh on low income communities – especially for our young adults.” Apprenticeships and on-the-job training, vocational programs, and alternative education were put forth by mayors as policy solutions that will help level the playing field in terms of accessing well-paying jobs in their communities. Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther summarized this approach well by saying, “[A] college degree is not the only road to the middle class. There are many different paths to success.”

A large number of state of the city speeches also highlight the strength of local business environments, and feature city programs proactively ensuring minority and female small business owners are thriving in this period of growth. Overall, business growth was mentioned by a third (33 percent) of mayors, and 22 percent of speeches highlighted local small businesses. In particular, mayors shared how their cities are becoming more business-friendly by streamlining processes and providing more business services online, such as business license applications. In Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Stephen Benjamin shared in his speech, “We will be expanding our online offerings for business — where now, for the first time ever, business licenses can be acquired through our city’s website, and soon, the entire building permit process will be available in a single, seamless online system.”

In this current climate where businesses are opening and expanding, mayors are cognizant that all businesses should have an equal chance at success. That’s why several cities are implementing procurement programs that encourage local businesses to apply for city contracts. Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth, Minnesota, said in her speech, “We intend to expand the number of local businesses in our purchasing pool, and make renewed efforts to ensure that local area businesses know about bid opportunities. We’ll lead an effort to identify local vendors (particularly minority and women-owned businesses) who want to be notified by the city about purchasing opportunities. And then we’ll mentor those businesses on how to navigate the city’s contracting process.”

In Jersey City, New Jersey, Mayor Steven Fulop noted the city’s new Office of Diversity and Inclusion would spearhead similar efforts to assist minority and women-owned businesses with accessing city contacts. Mayor Fulop said in his speech, “It is our hope that this initiative will encourage the growth of our minority and women-owned businesses, while also working to foster inclusive neighborhoods and increase the diversity of the city’s small businesses.”

As the 2016 State of the Cities report describes, these mayoral speeches help forecast the future priorities of cities. It’s welcomed news that so many local economic development agendas are giving attention to equity and inclusion. It is our hope that even more cities join this movement and strive to do what Syracuse, New York, Mayor Stephanie Minor calls “creat[ing] a concentration of opportunity to combat our concentration of poverty.”

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 infrastructure.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.

3 Ways Cities Can Navigate the ‘Silver Tsunami’

Cities are now five years into a demographic change that will impact nearly every family in America from now until well beyond 2030. In the face of this change, how can city leaders meet the challenge of connecting available resources to the elderly?

(Photo courtesy of the Home Depot Foundation)

Team Depot volunteers are key partners with nonprofits that rehabilitate homes in the Miami area. (The Home Depot Foundation)

The so-called ‘silver tsunami’ has become a relatively well-known form of shorthand for the demographic fact that roughly 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old every day. This reality began in 2011 and will continue until 2030. For key lessons from an area with a large population of senior citizens, let’s look at the area around Miami, Florida.

In the City of Miami Gardens, Navy veteran Gary Brown illustrates the need facing seniors and their communities. Mr. Brown served in the Navy during the Vietnam War as an engineer. Trained as an air-conditioning technician and electrician, he worked as a handyman and carpenter until he was forced to retire due to numerous disabilities including hip and knee problems that led to replacements, limited vision in his right eye and complete blindness is his left.

Mr. Brown’s disabilities left him unable to maintain his home, resulting in substantive safety hazards. Most notably, the home’s roof had been leaking since 1992, causing extensive interior damage. Thanks to the support and partnership of Rebuilding Together with The Home Depot Foundation and the Team Depot from a near-by store, Mr. Brown’s home received a new roof, kitchen and bathroom renovations, plumbing repairs, new flooring, doors and drywall, as well as painting and landscaping.

With many seniors facing circumstances like Mr. Brown, how can cities more systematically ensure services are delivered in a coordinated and collaborative manner?

  1. Use data to identify gaps in service.

The primary funding that supports seniors comes due to the Older Americans Act through Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs). In Miami-Dade County, the AAA is the Alliance for Aging. Their work provides a “no wrong door” approach for seniors. To better understand what seniors needed, the Alliance not only held public hearings, but they surveyed front-line staff and looked at client assessments. It was recognized that a quarter of elders reported “problems” with their home, and like Mr. Brown, more than half of these seniors identified issues related to major or minor repairs, including roofing or plumbing issues.

At the core of ensuring we meet the needs of seniors is access to safe and stable housing. Cities must be able to provide seniors with the ability to not just “age in place,” but to “age in community.” The installation of wheelchair ramps, grab-bars, the lowering of counters and cabinets, widening doorways and modifying bathrooms with roll-under sinks can help seniors stay in their homes, remain as independent as possible and avoid costly long-term care facilities.

  1. Build and support partnerships that reflect your community.

To most effectively meet these housing needs of seniors, the area’s leaders recognized the needed to strategically cultivate relationships based on key population characteristics. For example, local leaders recognized that a significant number of veterans lived in the area, so they connected with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center around the VA’s Veteran Directed Home and Community Based Services program. In addition, it was recognized that low-income seniors were over-represented in specific geographic areas. To help reach these individuals, connections were made with community action agencies to help leverage resources such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Finally, the diversity of the community was reflected through partnerships with immigrant organizations and faith-based groups such as Catholic Charities and Jewish Community Services of South Florida. Through these partnerships, the AAA identified three groups to provide home modifications and/or repairs. The experience and histories of United Home Care, Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers, and 1st Quality Home Care uniquely reflect the area’s population.

  1. Understand and document the cost-savings.

In the ever-present reality of limited resources, it is critical for communities to work together so they can document the cost implications of their service coordination. Not only can this information be used to show the fiscal implications of program investments as a means of educating state and federal officials, the data can also be used as a way of exploring the potential of innovative financing mechanisms. Through its services alone, the Alliance for Aging reports the prevention of 50,359 months of nursing home care at a savings of about $201,435,168 and a rate of nursing home use per Medicaid eligible elder that is 33 percent lower than the state average.

By working with AAAs to document these impacts, cities can better target their resources to ensure they are being as effectively used as possible. In April, the Older American Act was re-authorized. Importantly though, a key section for services has received level funding ever since overall cuts that were implemented as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. This is particularly concerning in the face of the rising number of seniors in communities.

If funding is not administered through your city, it is essential that local leaders connect with the administrating entity so area residents can be directed to the existing systems in place to meet their needs. To learn what organization is the Area Agency on Aging for your community, visit

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.

5 Lessons You Can Steal to Crowdsource Creativity in Your City

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, former Councilmember Scott Meyer gives a fascinating talk about cultivating a welcoming, inspiring and forward-thinking community, and shares tools and resources that have helped turn his small city into the “Creative Capital of the North.”

Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Brookings, South Dakota, former Councilmember Scott Meyer talks about the benefits of inviting all members of the community to creatively solve problems together.

Community leaders in Brookings, South Dakota, sought ways to jump-start economic development, boost public spiritedness, and unleash the creative ideas of residents in the city and the region. The resulting Creativity Week festival, begun in 2014 and continued in 2015, gives credence to the city’s claim as “Creative Capital of the North.”

What are the goals?

With a goal of “crowdsourcing creativity,” Brookings adopted a model familiar to anyone who has ever watched a TED talk. In the case of Brookings, the Creativity Week festival was not just one event in one venue. Rather, the festival, showcasing the creativity and innovation of the local community and region, encouraged individuals to hold their own events ranging from TED-style talks to music and arts performance.

At the heart of the effort was a recognition that a community vision and the energy to achieve that vision starts at the grassroots. Whatever big challenge may confront residents of Brookings, whatever outcomes they wanted to achieve, the solutions can be found through the innovative ideas of residents, business owners, neighborhood leaders, high school students, and grandparents. Participation in the Creativity Week events has proven to be a catalyst for idea sharing that engaged a significant portion of the community.

How is the project being executed?

With just $20,000 in financing, the city launched its first “Creativity Week” in 2014.  Although the city manages the event, citizens host the local sessions which helps keep costs down. The city has committed funding to the 2016 event and accepted donations and sponsorships for the 2015 event. In fact, the 2015 event is financed almost entirely with donations from the Bush Foundation, local businesses, and the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

What are some of the results?

Combined unique attendance in 2014 topped 4,500 attendees. YouTube videos of the event gained more than 75,000 views. The experience has also taught us the following lessons:

  1. Find community members who naturally lead, and let them lead; let them organize events and be heard
  2. Be radically inclusive in all events and activities; show off an interesting, welcoming community to outsiders
  3. Take risks and think big; possibilities are unlimited
  4. Infuse the arts into your events; music, dance, painting, and performance inspire creativity; utilize fewer hotel conference rooms, and more interesting spaces with local flavor
  5. Capture what is learned, share it widely, and build on the things that capture people’s imagination


Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Former Councilmember Scott Meyer, Brookings, South Dakota –
NLC contact: Brooks Rainwater, Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities –

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

This Week in Urban Affairs: Autonomous Car Guidelines, Body Cameras, & Highway Protests

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

(Getty Images)

Body cameras are designed to increase police accountability, a key component of effective police-community relations – but some state governments are pushing back against the trend with new laws that limit or deny the public’s ability to access the footage, a move that could work against attempts to build increased trust between police and city residents. (Getty Images)

Affordable Housing & Homelessness
Next City: Should Seattle Be Building Tent Cities for the Homeless?
July 11
The city of Seattle has sanctioned five homeless encampments, and directly funds three of them, as part of its policy to deal with its homelessness crisis. Proponents say that the tents are a temporary solution that allows homeless individuals and families greater flexibility and self-determination while they seek stability. Opponents such as Barbara Poppe, former head of the Interagency Council on Homelessness and consultant to Seattle on solving its homelessness crisis, has condemned the encampments. She claims they sap the resources and political will from finding long-term solutions.

Climate & Sustainability
GreenBiz: Renewable Energy’s New Dance Partners: Banks, Pension Funds
July 19
Banks and pension funds are increasingly looking to invest in renewable energy projects. The issuance of green bonds in 2016 is on track to double that of 2015, with institutional investors, corporate treasuries and sovereign and municipal governments increasingly purchasing them.

Economic Development
Next City: $65 Million Reasons to Stop Roadblocking City-Driven Job Creation
July 20
City officials in New Orleans, Cleveland and Nashville are all scrambling to defend “local hire” policies from their respective state governments. The row between states and local governments over local hire policies that are meant to solve local unemployment issues and build community wealth are the latest example of state governments blocking city governments’ attempts to deal with issues of economic and racial inequality.

Governance & Data
Government Technology: States Take Varied Approaches to Regulating Body Camera Footage
July 19
Some states are pushing back against the increased public accountability that was meant to come with the use of police body cameras with new laws that limit or deny the public’s ability to access the footage. Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina signed House Bill 972 into law on July 11, which cuts off public access to the videos taken by officer-worn devices and dashboard cameras. Similar legislation is currently going through the legislatures of Ohio and Kansas, and the New York City Police Department is soliciting public feedback on their use of body cameras.

Governing: Participatory Budgeting’s Promise for Democracy
July 19
The participatory budgeting movement is spreading quickly in North America, now with 63 processes occurring in 22 cities throughout the US and Canada. PB offers a new vision of citizen participation in local government, with participants choosing how to spend some of the capital funds available for their communities. A new report from Governing details outcomes from PB processes across the US, finding a wide variation in methods of community outreach and participation among people of color and disadvantaged communities.

Washington Post: Why Highways Have Become the Center of Civil Rights Protest
July 13
This piece explores the nature and the significance of the recent anti-police violence protests across the country that involved blocking freeways. Not only do such protests impede the economic life of an urban region, they also draw attention to how highways have historically segregated black and white communities.

Planning & Development
Fast CoDesign: How Urban Design Perpetuates Racial Inequality – And What We Can Do About It
July 18
The techniques of architecture, urban planning and policymaking have often been used to exacerbate and reinforce racial inequality and hierarchy. This article offers perspectives from architects, urbanists, planners and others on how these professions can be used to create more equitable urban environments. Some suggestions include increasing the racial diversity of the design professions, expanding and deepening public engagement in cities, and changing the way governments’ make decisions.

Public Safety
Planetizen: Pedestrians Need Protection from Motor Vehicles Used as Deadly Weapons
July 16
This piece argues that, in the wake of the Bastille Day truck massacre in Nice, France, public officials need to find ways to protect public spaces where large groups of people congregate from motor vehicle attacks.

Tech & Innovation
Government Technology: Federal Guidelines for Autonomous Cars on the Horizon
July 20
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that his agency will release new safety guidelines on autonomous vehicles this summer. The Transportation Department has been working with Google, BMW, General Motors and other companies to adapt existing safety rules to the new autonomous vehicle technology. Secretary Foxx also announced that his department will create a federal advisory committee to help plan how to “approach autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence more generally” and work with states to come up with approaches to regulation.

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

Webinar: How to Address Racial Inequities in Your City

In response to the tragic events that occurred recently in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, NLC hosted a webinar to help cities deal with the challenges of race and equity in their communities – and commit to solutions. The webinar shares ideas for city responses, highlights what’s working in several cities, and offers tools and resources from both NLC and the federal government that are available to all cities.

The webinar, hosted by NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative, highlighted the following steps city leaders can take to address racial inequities in their communities:


Bring people together. Work with police departments to build relationships within communities of color. Build trust and increase accountability. Make connections across city government to address root causes of racial and social divisions. Mayors can make a conscious choice to be vocal proponents in their communities for racial equity policies, programs, and practices.

Host a convening.

NLC and U.S. Conference of Mayors are working with the White House to encourage local officials to convene 100 community conversations on race relations, justice, policing and equality. Bringing communities together in constructive, civil discourse is a key step in achieving shared goals such as keeping our neighborhoods safe and expanding opportunities for our residents. Many local officials are already leading. NLC seeks to learn from cities who are out front these issues and encourage more cities to join these important efforts.

City leaders can create safe spaces for people to talk about race and develop strategies for achieving equity. People most affected by these issues (e.g. residents in communities of color, police officers, local leaders) have good ideas for solutions. Invite city officials, faith leaders, protest leaders, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, Natives, educators, coaches, youth, local media outlets, professional athletes, community leaders. Here is a guide for community conversations on race from our partners at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and a great example Project PEACE from Tacoma, WA. Tell us how we can support you.

Make change.

Consider policy reforms that could work in your city. Work with police departments to implement the recommendations of President’s Task force on 21st Century Policing. Be a vocal proponent in your community for racial equity policies, programs, and practices. “Mayors can ensure that the leadership in the police force push for just outcomes,” said Pittsburgh Chief of Police Cameron McLay. Resource Guide and toolkit  for government officials and lessons learned from community leaders.

Build sustained relationships.

Work with police departments to build long term relationships with key community stakeholders. Set up standing meetings with key stakeholders. Relationships need to be established before the crisis. “We’ve had peaceful protests and dialogues in Pittsburgh. That doesn’t happen automatically… it starts at the top with leadership from the mayor and with the police chief taking risks and building relationships,” said Chief Urban Affairs Officer for the City of Pittsburgh Valerie McDonald-Roberts. Chief McLay agreed, sharing his assessment that trust is developed over time, not at the first meeting, and perhaps not even the 5th meeting. “Real trust comes about through longer term work together and relationship building over time. Conversations have to happen before the crisis. It has to be a priority, with particular attention where trust gaps are the widest,” said Chief McLay. It is possible to purposefully, intentionally build genuine human relationships of mutual respect over time.

Examples: Community ambassador program in St. Paul, Minnesota. Police – Youth basketball program in Roanoke, Virginia. Books and Bears program in Rochester, New York.

Build trust, and promote police legitimacy and accountability.

Reflections from Chief McLay: Police executives have to earn legitimacy by holding ourselves accountable to highest standards for ethical performance. We are changing the question from whether the use of force or pursuit was consistent with the law to whether performance is consistent with best practices. Though no one size fits all solution exists, the 21st Century Report provides a great template for changing standards, policies and practices accordingly.

“It’s critically important to have the moral courage to say sorry. I’m sorry for the shared history. I’m sorry for the role my profession has played in the harm that has been caused to our communities of color. And I’m sorry for the days where we didn’t have our best day but I’m going to hold myself accountable for making sure that from now on that we’re going to try to work together with you to find more just ways to deliver our police services. Trust is something we have to earn.” – Chief McLay

An example of shared accountability in Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations and Citizen Police Review Board work together to investigate citizen complaints about improper police conduct and hold police accountable to high standards of conduct and performance.

Get the facts about racial disparities in your city.

Do you know how many arrests, fines, tickets, violent encounters, and citizen complaints are issued to or by each racial group in your community? Getting real data on police-community interactions disaggregated by race is an important first step to developing solutions that will work for your community. The White House Police Data Initiative can provide technical assistance to your community.

Keep in touch, and set an example for other cities.

We want to hear about what you’re doing and highlight your best practices with other city leaders. If you have started to have community conversations, email us and tell us all about it.

About the Author: Leon T. Andrews, Jr., is the Director of the Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative at the National League of Cities.

How NLC Prepared Me for the Classroom

As I start a new career as a preschool teacher here in Washington, D.C., I leave the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families with a unique set of skills I’ll be able to utilize in my classroom and beyond.

African American boy with friends and building blocks

NLC’s early childhood work has shown me the importance of early childhood systems building. (Getty Images)

Although my background is in early childhood education, the National League of Cities (NLC) has given me direct insight into the structure and function of municipal government. I have discovered that mayors yield great influence over the direction of city priorities, and that city staff play an integral role in carrying out the work itself. I have built relationships with key city staff who have implemented early childhood awareness campaigns, ran mayors’ book clubs, and found creative ways to utilize city resources, such as leasing out city space to use as an early learning hub.

As the early childhood team wraps up its nearly three-year project on educational alignment for young children (you can see the 10 elements of alignment here), there are few key lessons I will bring with me in my metaphoric school bag.

Parents are not, and never have been, “hard to reach.” It is easy to say that family engagement isn’t working in a community because parents aren’t at the table. Cities’ efforts combined with national family engagement strategies – such as the Community Organizing and Family Issues and the Parent Leadership Training Institute models being used in Rochester, New York – prove that families can (and want to) be involved in their children’s education and learn skills to be advocates in their communities. There will be times in my classroom where I will feel frustrated with a lack of engagement from parents or a lack of opportunities for engagement for my students’ families. The educational alignment for young children framework has taught me that, while no model or approach is perfect, the best thing I can do is meet parents where they are.

Transitions are difficult! The transition from pre-K to Kindergarten is difficult not just for students but also parents, teachers, and administrators. Children may be going from four years of informal, patched-together care from family, friends and neighbors to full-time Kindergarten at a public elementary school. Summer pre-K transition programs, such as Pittsburgh’s Kindergarten Clubs, provide an opportunity for both parents and children to get a glimpse of what kindergarten will look like.

Administrators also need a way to share data across systems so that Kindergarten teachers are not starting from scratch on day one and can use data to inform their work. For example, the Early Learning Coalition of Duval, in partnership with the City of Jacksonville and Jacksonville Children’s Commission, is establishing a data-sharing agreement to share common birth-to-5 data. As a teacher, I need to ensure I support families as they prepare for this transition. In addition, I need to be knowledgeable on all of the different systems to which my students are transitioning in a city with so many choices. In one classroom, I could have students signed up to attend kindergarten at their neighborhood DCPS school, at one of the many charter schools in the city, or at a magnet school, for example. Understanding how to adapt for each of these scenarios so that each child and family is ready is crucial for each student’s success.

Support for early childhood educators comes in many forms. Last year’s Institute of Medicine report promoted requiring bachelor’s degrees for all early childhood lead teachers. But there is more to early childhood educators’ success than just a degree. Teachers need personal and direct support in the classroom. Hartford has collaborated with FirstSchool to train coaches in supporting teachers’ use of data in their classrooms to build on successes and address gaps. This model provides opportunities for collaborative professional development among school district-based educators and community-based educators.

However, exceptional professional development opportunities do not make up for the fact that the median annual wage for preschool teachers is just $28,570 versus $51,640 for kindergarten teachers – the U.S. Department of Education released a fact sheet on this pay gap just last month. San Francisco’s Department of Early Care and Education is attempting to close this gap through its C-WAGES program, which provides funding to early childhood educators working in center and family-based care programs. I understand the importance of the professional development opportunities my school is able to offer me as well as seek out others on my own. And, while I can’t increase the wages of all early childhood educators in the country, I am fortunate to be teaching in a program that recognizes the value in paying its educators a living wage as well as providing multiple chances for professional development and growth, setting an example for other programs.

There are a million things I will not be prepared for on my first day in the classroom, but my time at NLC has taught me the importance of educational alignment and local level work. I am looking forward to this next step in my career and am grateful for the lessons learned from the National League of Cities.

Lauren RobertsonAbout the Author: Lauren Robertson has worked for the past year on the early childhood team at National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education & Families. She is leaving her position at the end of July to pursue a teaching career with AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

How the City of Fort Collins is Making Community Resiliency a Reality

“Our city’s leaders believe that assessing and improving resilience offers assurance to our citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders that our community will be stronger and a better place to live.”

(Getty Images)

Guided in part by a new resilience planning guide, the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, has made a commitment to consider the impacts of policies and regulations on the economic, environmental and social health of the community. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Fort Collins, Colorado, Mayor Pro Tem Gerry Horak.

Fort Collins has learned some valuable lessons about resilience owing to its exposure to extreme weather events that reinforced our vulnerability to the forces of nature, including climate change. These events have reminded us just how important planning can be in confronting potential disasters. Heeding the warnings, we are in the midst of comprehensive resilience planning efforts and taking actions to improve the quality of life and avoid the loss of lives and livelihoods. Our efforts also may help other communities in dealing with natural, technological, and human-caused hazard events that could become disasters.

Why Communities Need Greater Resiliency

In 1997, a devastating Spring Creek flood killed five people in our community.

In 2012, the High Park Fire on the edge of our community was recorded as the third worst fire in the state in one of the hottest years on record.

One year later, the community – and entire region – experienced flooding of biblical proportions with 12 inches of rain in two days. We normally receive about 17 inches a year. The wildfire scarring from the 2012 fire exacerbated the impact of the flooding in 2013. Fortunately, we had taken action after the 1997 flood; Fort Collins upgraded culverts, built pre-sedimentation basins to separate particulates from raw water before it entered the water treatment plant, and integrated our Flood Management Plan with strong local regulations. Those efforts paid off. We sustained only minor property damage after the 2013 event, despite its magnitude.

In 2014, a study showed that the number of our extremely hot days has increased over 20 years. It revealed that Fort Collins had experienced twice as many 90-degree days in the past 14 years as it had in the previous 39 years – a wakeup call for how the city and our citizens will need to adapt to a changing climate.

resilience_plan_500x1250Fort Collins is Taking Action

Clearly, we needed to do something to deal with prospects of future weather- and climate-related challenges that put our community at greater risk.

“We learned many important lessons from the 1997 Spring Creek flood that devastated our community,” says Mike Gavin, Emergency Manager for the City of Fort Collins and Battalion Chief for Poudre Fire Authority. “We worked hard to mitigate future impacts by improving our processes and infrastructure, but must be vigilant to reduce risk when possible. The more tools we have, the more versatile we will be when something happens. From different resiliency and risk management models, we’ll pick and choose new methods or upgrades for components and systems to assist continuous improvement,” according to Gavin.

All communities rely on an evolving and interconnected network of buildings, energy, communications, transportation, and water and wastewater systems. Because of the high cost of recovering from disruptions and disasters, the need for communities to be more resilient is not just a local issue, but is also important at the regional, state and national levels.

Communities that are more resilient experience less physical, financial and psychological impacts from events – and they have a shorter and smoother recovery. Our city’s leaders believe that assessing and improving resilience offers assurance to our citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders that our community will be stronger and a better place to live. It’s part of the “resilience dividend.”

Building on previous steps to reach the next level, in 2016 Fort Collins was one of only 12 areas selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to receive a Regional Resilience Assessment. This planning process considers impacts and mitigates risks to our buildings and our critical infrastructure from natural, technological and human-caused hazards.

Multiple partners are involved to assist Fort Collins through this process, including:

  • DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection
  • Idaho National Laboratory
  • Larimer County
  • Colorado State University
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Working with NIST

Unifying this process, Fort Collins is using the NIST Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems in a pilot program to develop a long-term resilience plan. We are among the first to test the full NIST six-step planning process.

A sample of how a community might use the NIST guide.

A sample of how a community might use the NIST guide to assess the recovery time of its critical facilities.

The NIST process is intended to help communities by:

  • Setting performance goals for vital social functions, like healthcare, education and public safety, and supporting buildings and infrastructure systems – transportation, energy, communications, and water and wastewater.
  • Recognizing that the community’s social and economic needs and functions should drive goal-setting for how the built environment performs.
  • Providing a comprehensive method to align community priorities and resources with resilience goals.

This vision fits Fort Collins’ commitment to the triple bottom line – to consider the impacts of policies and regulations on the economic, environmental and social health of the community. Working with our partners on this project we expect to obtain a complete characterization of the community’s built environment, dependencies among social services, and identification of prevailing hazards. This should lead to the development of long-term goals for improving community resilience and an action plan with identified strategies and periodic progress evaluation. Importantly, this plan will be integrated with our other community planning efforts.

We don’t expect overnight miracles, and our resources are limited. We know that resilience takes place over time. Fortunately, hazards are not an everyday occurrence, and actions to improve resilience can offer immediate dividends beyond resiliency. That’s why we are planning now and moving forward in ways that reflect our community’s priorities. The NIST Guide is a very helpful tool for doing just that.

Click here for more information about the NIST process.

Gerry Horak is Mayor Pro-Tem in Fort Collins and a member of the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He can be reached at

How This Mayor Improved Traffic Congestion Problems in His City

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, Mayor Clint Folsom shares how a revolution in transportation infrastructure, a diverging-diamond interchange, reduced traffic and accidents along a busy highway in Colorado.

Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Superior, Colorado, Mayor Clint Folsom talks about an innovative new highway interchange design known as a diverging diamond interchange, which saves time and money in construction, uses less land, and improves the flow of traffic.

What are the goals?

The existing interchange at McCaslin Boulevard and US Route 36, which lies between the Colorado towns of Superior and Louisville, cannot accommodate the increasing traffic of the growing Denver suburbs. Faced with budget cuts and limited options, rebuilding the intersection was not an option. The chosen solution: retrofitting the existing overpass into a diverging diamond interchange.

The new interchange alleviates congestion by temporarily crossing the parallel directions of traffic on the overpass as the span traverses the interstate and then allowing the traffic to return to its appropriate side after exiting the overpass. Such a system eliminates the need for left-hand turns that cross the flow of traffic; a major cause of both congestion and accidents. Additionally, the design uses less land by eliminating the need for special turning lanes, allowing for expanded space for pedestrians and traffic flow.

How is the project being executed?

The cities of Superior and Louisville, Colorado initially conducted studies to find a solution to the McCaslin bridge bottleneck that separated the two communities. Both cities joined forces with Colorado Department of Transportation and the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) to finance the $12.5 million project. Superior is financing the largest share of the project with a $5 million municipal contribution. The project avoided high costs, by preserving and repurposing the existing infrastructure.

Additional Features

In addition to improving traffic flow, Colorado’s newest DDI will have several other features to alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety. A series of bike paths and shortened crosswalk crossings will lower the risk of accidents involving pedestrian. A new RDT stop, the Denver Metropolitan Area’s bus service, will avoid the interchange all together through the use of special ramps, saving commuters an average of 3 minutes each way.

Route 36 Commuting Solutions

Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Mayor Clint Folsom, Superior, Colorado –
NLC contact: Brooks Rainwater, Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities –

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

Los Angeles, Caltrans Team Up to Provide Job Opportunities for City’s Former Inmates

A new agreement in California shows how cities can improve public safety and help communities by supporting people returning from detention in jail.

(Getty Images)

Former inmates are less likely to commit crimes that cause them to return to prison if they become gainfully employed. Studies suggests that providing job training, money to get started in legitimate work, and employment opportunities could help curb repeat offenses. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino. This post is part of a series that previously featured Charlottesville, Virginia, Councilmember Kristin Szakos during National Reentry Week in April.

Up to 1,350 formerly incarcerated Angelenos will receive job training and a path to permanent employment with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) over the next three years, thanks to an agreement announced in June by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The $8.93 million pact between Caltrans and the Mayor’s Office of Reentry will provide formerly incarcerated people on probation or parole with immediate, transitional employment as workers on Caltrans work crews. During the transitional employment time frame, participants will also receive training in employability, life skills and financial literacy, as well as cognitive behavior therapy and other services. At the conclusion of the transitional job period, they will be placed in permanent employment. The same service provider who will assist individuals with supportive services during their transitional Caltrans employment, will also help place individuals – when they are ready – into permanent employment in a variety of sectors including some positions with Caltrans.

The recidivism rate in Los Angeles is nearly 70 percent when individuals do not have a job and less than 3 percent when they do have a job and are working towards investing positively in their lives.

As a former Los Angeles Police Department officer for over 15 years, I know firsthand that nothing stops a bullet like a job.

Removing barriers to employment is a key priority in Mayor Garcetti’s administration. In April, the Mayor signed an Equitable Workforce Executive Directive, instructing city departments to prioritize L.A.’s most underemployed communities – including veterans, the formerly incarcerated and disconnected youth – in the hiring of about 5,000 new workers over the next three years. He has also launched a Blue Ribbon Commission on Employment Equity, an alliance of private and public sector employers committed to providing opportunities for the formerly incarcerated and others who have been historically excluded from upwardly-mobile jobs.

It’s no surprise that there is a spectrum of lasting effects from a surprisingly simple and relatively low-cost intervention: a job. Former inmates are less likely to commit crimes that cause them to return to prison if they become gainfully employed. Studies suggests that providing job training, money to get started in legitimate work, and employment opportunities could help curb repeat offenses.

Unemployment rates in four communities – Watts, South Los Angeles, Pacoima and the Harbor Gateway – are often three to four times greater than the city average. This is why we must take every opportunity make jobs a legitimate alternative to recidivism.

Our city’s Economic Workforce Development Department operates 17 Worksource Centers across the city, including the Watts and Harbor Gateway Centers in the 15th District that I represent.

I am proud to support the efforts of our city’s Workforce Development Board, in particular their innovative LA RISE program. This program provides a supportive work environment that offers on-the-job training and skill development for hard-to-serve populations.

It provides access to career and training services, such as vocational workshops, financial and computer literacy, and soft skills development, including resume building, interviewing techniques, and conflict resolution. In addition, the program helps participants stabilize their lives and improve their ability to keep a job. It does this by providing case management, goal setting, healthcare, childcare, and transportation assistance, as well as financial literacy training and a social support system.

These entry level job programs provide a pathway towards stability for individuals, families and neighborhoods.

Chef Roy Choi, the father of the food truck revolution in Los Angeles, recently opened LocoL, the first sit-down restaurant in Watts in 50 years, and a healthy alternative to cheap fast food. He hired 35 employees, many of them residents from the Jordan Downs Public Housing development. He provided them an opportunity, giving many of them with a troubled past a second chance.

This new pact with Caltrans is a big step towards positively empowering those who need it the most. These efforts provide stability and hope. They also provide not just a job opportunity, but a ladder leading to a career that changes an individual’s life and help to positively transform our neighborhoods.

As part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, the City Leadership to Reduce the Overuse of Jails for Young Adults initiative launched by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will introduce cities to this and other ways to support young adults involved in the criminal justice system at an upcoming Leadership Academy.

joe buscainoAbout the Author: Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino represents over 250,000 constituents from the Port of Los Angeles to Watts and serves as the Chair of Los Angeles Public Works Committee and on the NLC Board of Directors.