Can Your City Stand to Lose Afterschool Funding?

The president’s budget proposal includes a $1.2 billion cut to school programs that will impact more than 1,600,000 children and their families.

There are a number of ways city leaders can strengthen partnerships and build public will to support afterschool initiatives like the 21st Century Community Learning Center program. (Getty Images)

This April recess, NLC is encouraging city leaders to engage with their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts for two weeks. Don’t let Congress leave America’s cities behind — join us as we #FightTheCuts proposed in the administration’s budget.

This post was co-authored by Nan Whaley and Bela Shah Spooner. It is part of a series on the 2018 federal budget.

Last month, President Donald Trump released his 2018 federal budget proposal, which contains across-the-board cuts to programs that are critical to cities. Included in those cuts was the elimination of the only federal funding stream dedicated to supporting quality afterschool and summer learning programs for 1.6 million children across the country who attend high-poverty, low-performing schools — the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grants.

The programs funded through 21st CCLC grants provide essential academic and enrichment supports to children and young teens after school and during the summer while also providing a critical value to working parents, businesses and city leaders. Programs run from the time when school lets out around 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., enabling parents to stay at work knowing that their children are safe and learning. Kids in these programs also often receive an after-school snack or meal through additional federal funding that originates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; sometimes it’s the only meal they will have until the next morning.

For working parents, these afterschool programs are a lifeline, helping them work those extra few hours each day to pay the bills and providing their children a nutritious meal. For businesses, these programs mean employees with children are more likely to have peace of mind when their children are out of school, keeping productivity high. For cities, these programs keep their communities safe, incentivize businesses to locate in places where employees have supports, and engage children in learning and on a path to graduation — all while helping the future generation develop key skills to land a job and support the local economy in the future.

Municipal leaders all know that successful, productive young people equal a successful city. Without these essential programs on which kids, families and communities rely, cities will be faced with hundreds or thousands of kids with no place to go after school. No one needs to tell a mayor, city councilmember, police chief or chamber of commerce executive how much of a problem that could be.

These programs also provide a critical service to parents and caregivers, allowing them to continue to work during these hours and thus contributing to the local economy and their own economic mobility.

National Demand for Afterschool Programs

There has long been a national demand for federal funding for afterschool programs. Congress first authorized the 21st Century Community Learning Center program in 1998 for $40 million. Based on documented need and demand, it was reauthorized in 2002 through the No Child Left Behind Act for $1 billion, transferring the administration of the grants from the U.S. Department of Education to state education agencies. The 21st CCLC program was again reauthorized in 2015 through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for $1.167 billion, showing bipartisan support and recognition of the importance of this funding stream for afterschool programs. Each state receives a fixed amount of 21st CCLC dollars, based on its share of Title I funding for low-income students, and afterschool programs at the local level apply for these dollars.

Even with this funding, hundreds of applications in each state are denied each year due to lack of funds. National data show that, while 10.2 million children participate in afterschool programs, almost 20 million children are waiting to get in. Cutting another million children out of programs puts our cities and families at risk.

In Dayton alone, 12,000 additional children would benefit from access to 21st CCLC afterschool and summer programs that currently support 40,000 children across the state of Ohio. This story is not unique to Dayton or any one city or town.

Nationwide, cities need these programs. As part of its City of Learners initiative, the city of Dayton has committed to preparing its young people for success in life and careers through afterschool and summer learning programs that help children and youth develop the skills that will put them on a path to success. It is vital for municipal leaders to understand the importance of federal funding for afterschool programs and the real impact they have on the lives of children and families in our communities. A tremendous burden will be on cities to respond if these funds are cut.

Lending Your Voice

The National League of Cities (NLC) has joined with the Afterschool Alliance, 139 national and more than 1,000 state and local organizations calling on House and Senate appropriators to reject the president’s proposed budget and fund the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative at or above its current level of $1.167 billion. Now is the time for you to lend your voice to this effort. Contact your member of Congress to ensure that they know the direct impact these proposed budget cuts will have on their communities and in their state. Here are four easy ways you can help:

  • Find out how many children in your state need afterschool programs and connect with your statewide afterschool network to learn how many kids are served by 21st CCLC programs in your community. Share those numbers with your representatives, either in a face-to-face meeting in your district or through a phone call to their office. Adding local stories to these numbers is critical.
  • Visit a 21st Century Community Learning Center in your city or town and hold a press conference about its value and how the proposed budget cuts could eliminate this critical program. Galvanize support in your community to contact your representatives to save the program.
  • Write an op-ed in your local newspaper on the importance of this program to your city and community. Send the article to your representative as well.
  • Contact Bela Shah Spooner at NLC to share your concern and learn more about NLC’s efforts to fight these cuts. NLC staff are always prepared to support you in your efforts to advocate for programs that are important to cities.

The Afterschool Alliance and the Senate Afterschool Caucus invite you to attend Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs: Preparing Young People for 21st Century Success, a briefing on Friday, April 21 at 1:00 p.m. EDT in room 385 of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. NLC is co-sponsoring the briefing; please contact Bela Shah Spooner for more information.

About the authors:

Nan Whaley is the mayor of Dayton, Ohio.

 

Bela Shah Spooner is the program manager for expanded learning at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Beyond Buzzwords: How West Palm Beach Is Creating a Lasting Resiliency Strategy

As part of NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience Program, the city of West Palm Beach, Florida, conducted a STAR Communities workshop aimed at identifying and prioritizing actions to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and the well-being of the people living in the community.

The city of West Palm Beach has set a goal to be the most resilient city in the state of Florida, and recently adopted a climate and resiliency policy which requires all internal decisions to consider the latest climate change research. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Cooper Martin and Lacey Shaver.

The city of West Palm Beach, Florida, is no stranger to the future impacts of climate change. Over the next few decades, the region’s sea level is projected to rise by up to 26 inches, and the entire state faces a number of hazards including flooding, extreme precipitation, hurricanes, thunderstorms and extreme heat. As the regional temperature continues to increase, it is expected to greatly impact public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture and forestry.

NLC supported the Sustainable West Palm Beach workshop in partnership with STAR Communities. Pictured from left to right are David Abell and Lacey Shaver of STAR Communities, NLC Senior Associate for Leadership in Community Resilience Shafaq Choudry, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, West Palm Beach Sustainability Manager Penni Redford, and NLC Sustainable Cities Institute Director Cooper Martin. (NLC)

In response to these threats, West Palm Beach has set a goal to be the most resilient city in the state for its residents and businesses. The city took a big step toward that goal earlier this week at a workshop supported by National League of Cities’ (NLC) Leadership in Community Resilience Program. The event was hosted in partnership with STAR Communities, and brought together city staff across multiple departments as well as key stakeholders in the community for a series of engaging, hands-on exercises aimed at identifying and prioritizing appropriate and high-impact actions for the city and residents to take over the coming years.

In December 2016, STAR Communities, a nonprofit organization that works to evaluate and certify sustainable communities, awarded West Palm Beach a 4-STAR Community Rating based on a number of factors, including reduced energy consumption, economic growth, accessibility of public parks, and increased food security. Now, after identifying gaps and areas of opportunity to improve their overall resiliency, the city is integrating STAR metrics into its comprehensive plan and working toward a 5-STAR rating.

The Sustainable West Palm Beach workshop. (NLC)

The city hosted the workshop to engage community leaders in the discussion around resilience in West Palm Beach. The workshop was attended by more than 70 community leaders from city departments, the county, state agencies, local businesses, nonprofits, schools, utilities, neighborhood associations and other civic groups. Attendees focused their discussions on low-performing topics from the city’s STAR baseline assessment, such as transportation choices, quality jobs and living wages, environmental justice, green infrastructure and greenhouse gas mitigation.

By the end of the day, workshop participants had identified more than 40 priority actions for the community to tackle over the next three years. The actions are based on best practices from the STAR Community Rating System, and include adopting new city policies, creating new community partnerships, and conducting outreach campaigns to educate residents and businesses about sustainability.

In addition to resilient initiatives already in place to increase the city’s tree canopy, encourage alternatives to cars, and utilize renewable energy, city staff and members of the community proposed many new strategies for reaching its resiliency goals. Some of these include focusing on workforce retraining, ensuring sustainable food systems are in place, and supporting current efforts to implement a storm water master plan and update building and land use regulations.

The efforts are part of a larger vision led by Mayor Jeri Muoio and Sustainability Manager Penni Redford to be the most resilient city in the state. Earlier this year in her State of the City address, Mayor Muoio laid out her plans to “all but eliminate” greenhouse emissions by 2050 and drive the city toward equitable development, increased economic opportunities, data collection and mobility. These goals have successfully attracted partnerships with NLC, the Knight Foundation, the Van Allen Institute, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative, and Gehl Design Studios.

About the authors:

cooper_martin_125x150Cooper Martin is the program director of the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

 

Lacey Shaver is the community engagement manager at STAR Communities.

How Cities Can Acquire Free Land to House and Serve Homeless People

This webinar on April 25 will discuss the release of a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for vacant federal properties that can be used to help the homeless in your city.

One largely untapped resource for addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis is vacant federal property. (Getty Images)

Cities across the country are struggling with rising housing costs and shrinking federal supports, leaving millions of people homeless or at risk, including a record 1.4 million children of school age. With city budgets stretched to their limits, it is critical that local governments make full use of all available resources — and vacant federal property is a largely untapped resource.

The federal government is the largest single owner of real estate in the nation. Every year, the federal government determines that thousands of properties — including warehouses, office buildings and vacant land — are no longer needed. When such a determination is made, a federal program authorized under Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides local governments and nonprofit organizations with the right of first refusal to these properties to serve homeless people. Better yet, these properties are transferred to eligible homeless service providers for free.

Approximately 500 buildings and nearly 900 acres of land have been transferred to cities and other eligible homeless service providers in more than 30 states under Title V, with over two million people served each year. Federal surplus property is used to create emergency shelters, transitional housing for domestic violence survivors, and permanent supportive housing for mentally ill veterans, in addition to office and warehouse space.

Recently, the law was amended to clarify that surplus federal properties can be used for permanent housing with or without supportive services. This important clarification to the law will allow cities access to millions of dollars in federal real property assets to reduce or even end homelessness in a sustainable and cost-effective way — without paying for title to the properties.

On April 25, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) will release a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for properties under Title V and will host a webinar to discuss the toolkit at 2:00 p.m. EDT. You can register for the webinar here. The toolkit will be available on the NLCHP website.

(NLCHP)

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

City Leaders – Here’s Why the Better Buildings Summit Should Be on Your Calendar

More than 900 participants at the Department of Energy’s 2017 Better Buildings Summit will share proven approaches to cutting energy use in their buildings over the next 10 years.

Among other offerings, the Better Buildings Summit will provide city leaders a sneak peak of cutting edge and emerging clean technologies that will increase energy efficiency in buildings and infrastructure. (Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is hosting the Better Buildings Summit May 15–17 in Washington, D.C. The Better Buildings Summit is a national meeting where leading organizations across key sectors showcase solutions to cut energy intensity in their buildings portfolio-wide by 20 percent over the next ten years. As one of the premier events for energy and sustainability professionals, the summit is the forum to engage with peers, explore innovative organizational strategies, learn about financing and technology trends, and much more. Check out the agenda for a list of all the sessions and watch this video to learn more.

The summit features numerous sessions and workshops designed to give city leaders fresh insights, inspiration and practical advice. They include:

All-In: States, Localities, Utilities and Nonprofits Creating Solutions for Underserved Communities

DOE is partnering with states, localities, utilities, housing agencies and nonprofit organizations to support the planning and implementation of clean energy programs in disadvantaged communities as part of its Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator. Session attendees will gain a better understanding of the diverse opportunities to ensure equitable and affordable access to energy efficiency and solar energy in American communities.

An Electrifying Transition: Electrification Barriers and Opportunities

A shift toward greater electrification is needed to effectively reduce energy waste and costs, increase energy independence, strengthen industry, and create jobs. This three-hour workshop explores the opportunities and barriers for state and local governments to electrify their transportation sectors, building technologies and ports. Join the workshop to discuss the latest trends, success stories and innovative strategies in electrification.

Expect the Unexpected: Planning Energy-Resilient Communities

The nation’s energy sector is subject to an increasing number of threats from natural and human events. Greater resilience is required to confront these risks, including a comprehensive plan and infrastructure with the ability to avoid disruptions, minimize impacts, and recover from and adapt to a changing environment. Attend this three-hour workshop to learn about the technologies, planning and partnership approaches governments are pursuing to overcome these challenges.

Shedding Light on LED Street Lights

The Better Buildings Outdoor Lighting Accelerator dove deeply into the deployment barriers of LED street lights, a performance technology with evidence-based energy savings and other benefits for many cities. Partners will share advice for overcoming the challenges for successful LED street lighting conversion projects. Attendees will leave with actionable information and resources to plan their own projects.

Reimagining Cities! Achieving Efficient, Resilient and Sustainable Communities Through Zero Energy Buildings

Exemplary Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) are setting the standard for more sustainable communities. Over the last year, ZEB projects grew by 74 percent and have covered every climate zone in the U.S. This session will cover the planning, innovative technologies and processes that make Zero Energy Buildings a reality while highlighting ZEB projects in Denver and Washington, D.C.

Addressing the Energy-Water Nexus: The Next Wave of Challenges and Solutions

Our nation’s energy and water systems are inextricably linked. Solutions that address the interdependencies of these systems are growing in importance as concerns over water scarcity continue to rise. In this session, experts from the public and private sectors will share their perspectives on key technology, business and policy solutions that address the energy-water nexus.

There are also great opportunities to tour high-performance buildings, speak with technical experts from national labs, and network with public sector peers:

  • Monday, May 15: Local government meet-up and post-summit networking event
  • Tuesday and Wednesday, May 15 and 16: Ask-an-Expert between sessions to get technical advice on building technologies or reserve a meeting to get one-on-one assistance with your community’s energy performance data
  • Tuesday May 16: Meet & greet with attendees during an evening networking event

Register now and get an invite to join the summit app community!

Financial assistance is available. A limited number of travel stipends and registration scholarships are available upon request for representatives from state or local government energy/sustainability offices that do not have administrative funds available for such purposes through an existing federal funding agreement with DOE or another federal agency. Please submit financial assistance requests through the registration website.

The Better Buildings Summit is produced by the U.S Department of Energy.

About the author: Nick Kasza is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. He is part of a team that administers the SolSmart program and helps deliver technical assistance to cities pursuing SolSmart designation.

Racing to Be First: How Autonomous Vehicles Will Affect Our Communities

A new National League of Cities report addresses the most pressing questions that local officials might have concerning self-driving vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles are already on our city streets — and for the foreseeable future, a variety of vehicles will operate on our roads with varying levels of automation. (Getty Images)

The full version of this post can be found on Route Fifty

The race towards fully autonomous vehicles has shifted into overdrive. In the past year, major partnerships and acquisitions between tech firms and traditional automakers have signaled the race is heating up for the future of transportation — and the stakes are high.

Traditional automakers like GM, Ford, Daimler and Fiat are taking the competition posed by Google’s Waymo and Elon Musk’s Tesla seriously — partnering with car-sharing platforms like Uber and Lyft as well as acquiring their own autonomous capabilities in firms like Cruise Automation. Nearly every major auto manufacturer has set a target for full autonomous production by 2021 or before, while autonomous vehicles are already on the streets of Pittsburgh and Tempe, Arizona. If major investments by the sector’s most prominent firms are anything to go by, producers are betting that the future of mobility, especially urban mobility, will be in autonomous fleets of shared vehicles collecting reams of data as they drive through our city streets.

Read the full version on Route Fifty.

About the authors:

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.

Elias Stahl is the urban innovation intern in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research.

NLC, LinkedIn Use Data to Help Six Cities Expand Access to Higher Education and Workforce Development

“Cities will be able to look at the broader landscape of employers, higher education institutions, jobs and local skill sets, and connect these data points to better understand the trends showing how individual residents are connecting to education and gaining meaningful employment.”

Together with the Kresge Foundation, NLC is working to create opportunities in education and employment by partnering with LinkedIn to use data-driven solutions to support local economies. (Getty Images)

As part of the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Kresge Foundation-funded work, the National League of Cities (NLC) has teamed up with LinkedIn to provide six cities data support in their efforts to increase postsecondary and workforce success in their communities.

The partnership gives the cities — Austin, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Corpus Christi, Texas; Houston, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; and Nashville, Tennessee — access to LinkedIn data and resources such as the LinkedIn Workforce Report. These insights include whether hiring in the city is up or down, which skills workers have and employers need most (and the gap between the two), and how many people are moving in and out of cities (and what their skills are).

”Cities will be able to look at the broader landscape of employers, higher education institutions, jobs and local skill sets, and connect these data points to better understand the trends showing how individual residents are connecting to education and gaining meaningful employment. We define skills gaps as the mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills employers need. Skills gaps are local, and specific to individual cities. When cities know which skills are in local demand, they can create workforce development programs that are responsive to the needs of both workers and employers, and ultimately boost employment and productivity,” said Nicole Isaac, LinkedIn’s head of U.S. policy. “We are excited to be able to share these types of insights with our partner cities.”

NLC believes its partnership with LinkedIn and the structure of the city teams participating in the technical assistance cohort will help local stakeholders, including city governments, to come together to find meaningful and sustainable solutions for their communities.

“Over and over again, we stress to our cities the importance of using data to develop and strengthen policy, as well as the need for critical partnerships with local stakeholders,” said National League of Cities CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. “Our partnership with LinkedIn in this Kresge-funded work epitomizes this approach. City leaders working with teams that include higher education and Chamber of Commerce partners, as well as NLC and LinkedIn experts, will be able to use local data to craft programs that ensure their residents have equitable access to postsecondary education and workforce success.”

To participate in this NLC technical assistance cohort, city teams are required to include representatives from local institutions of higher education and the local chamber of commerce. In understanding the role of cities as economic engines, mayors and their partners will work together to ensure pathways exist for all citizens to earn both education and employment, with the ultimate goal of building vibrant local economies.

“The partnership with the NLC comes at a great time — really, an ideal time — to connect the dots on what we’re already doing around the city,” said Gilda Ramirez, vice president of small business and education for the United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. “We have such a wonderful economic forecast, so we’re setting out our career pathways and preparing our workforce.”

These civic leaders from government, business and higher education know that a college-educated community brings both personal and citywide benefits. On average, an individual who earns a four-year degree contributes $278,000 more over their lifetime to a local economy than a high school graduate, and an associate’s degree earner contributes $81,000 more, according to the Brookings Institution and an analysis of U.S. Census data. NLC is well positioned to create pathways to opportunity, working alongside local government, chambers of commerce and higher education to increase postsecondary and workforce success, and through this partnership with LinkedIn looks to find scalable solutions for cities beyond the six taking part in the technical assistance cohort.

Learn more about NLC’s work in this arena and get the latest updates here.

About the author: Dana D’Orazio is the program manager for postsecondary education at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Why the City of Austin Created a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Director of Parks and Recreation Sara Hensley won the unanimous support of the city council when they recently created the document as part of a larger strategy to connect children to nature.

The city of Austin created the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights as part of a larger plan which aims to help city leaders foster key strategies that will provide more equitable and abundant connections to nature for all children. A primary focus of the plan is on greening school yards and creating a new network of school parks. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Steven Adler and Sara Hensley. This post is part of a series celebrating parks and nature during National Parks Week.

Over the last decade, the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) of Austin, Texas, has been a leader in the rapidly expanding grassroots movement of organizations dedicated to getting more kids outside and educating parents, teachers and healthcare providers about the benefits of frequent connections with nature. When the Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) Initiative — a partnership between the National League of Cities and the Children and Nature Network — was launched, Austin’s Children in Nature movement was poised to take the next step to elevate its message and work toward a more impactful interdepartmental and cross-sector scale citywide.

Concurrently, Mayor Steve Adler launched the Spirit of East Austin equity initiative to focus new energy on breaking down barriers along Austin’s eastern crescent, historically a dividing line for race and economic prosperity. The CCCN Implementation Plan, which aims to help city leaders foster key strategies that will provide more equitable and abundant connections to nature for all children, offered the perfect opportunity to bridge the missions of PARD and the mayor’s office by focusing on issues of nature access in areas of Austin that have been historically underserved.

Since research shows that children who learn and play in nature are healthier, happier and perform better in school, Austin’s CCCN Plan focuses on greening school yards and creating a new network of school parks. Austin’s CCCN Plan seeks to provide daily access to rich nature environments for tens of thousands of underserved students and strengthen communities with nearby nature across our entire city. This collaborative effort has produced a three-year implementation plan that not only connects and reinforces goals shared by PARD and the mayor’s office but also brings together multiple city departments, Austin’s Independent School District, dozens of nonprofit organizations, and the health sector.

To launch this plan, the Austin CCCN team developed the Austin’s Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights (COBOR) Resolution to serve as a public-facing symbol of the overarching goals Austin has for its children. The resolution states that children of all backgrounds and abilities have a number of inherent rights:

(City of Austin)

With strategic guidance from Austin Councilmember Leslie Pool as well as Mayor Adler, PARD built support for the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights resolution, resulting in a pledge signed by more than 1000 citizens, an official endorsement by the Austin Independent School District as a supporting partner, and the Austin City Council’s unanimous vote of approval on January 26, 2017.

City actions to bring the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights to life include the immediate implementation of the Green School Parks Project in areas of Austin with low “nature equity.” The goal of this project is to create nature-rich environments on school campuses that are co-owned by PARD and the Austin Independent School District. These school parks will serve as natural outdoor spaces for students to learn, play, and grow while at the same time providing nature-rich environments to the surrounding community outside of school hours.

The Green School Parks Project kicked off in January 2017 at Barrington Elementary and is currently in the Community Engagement Phase, taking input via a photo survey from teachers, students, parents and community members about the kinds of nature features they would like included on the school grounds. Design plans should be finalized this May, and build-out will be complete by fall 2017, in time for the new school year.

Moving into 2018 and 2019, the project will be expanded to nearby Wooldridge Elementary and Cook Elementary, with the goal of expanding the model across the Austin Independent School District over the next five to 10 years. Schools will be prioritized based on need with an innovative “Nature Equity Map” that layers nature, economic opportunity and health factors to create a “Nature Equity Score.” This map will continue to be updated and revised using the best available data to ensure nature access is being created where it is most needed in Austin.

As we continue to expand the Green School Parks Project, the Austin Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights will serve as a key communication tool across a diverse array of partners striving to promote equitable and abundant nature access in Austin. The Outdoor Bill of Rights can be adopted by any person or organization. The extent of the impact of the Outdoor Bill of Rights and the larger CCCN Plan on Austin children will depend upon PARD’s sustained support and a robust network of partners working daily to ensure that every child in Austin has the opportunity to experience nature. With this commitment in place, the city of Austin will continue to lead in connecting children to nature and improving equity across our city.

About the authors:

Steve Adler is the mayor of Austin, Texas.

 

Sara Hensley is the interim assistant city manager and director of parks and recreation for the city of Austin.

President’s Budget Threatens Cities’ Ability to Act on Environmental & Infrastructure Issues

Cuts in the administration’s budget proposal threaten funds that cities rely on to invest in water management, clean energy and revitalization efforts across the country. Here’s how these cuts could impact your city.

Proposed cuts to regional water restoration programs would cost local governments $427 million in funds to help clean up waterways and natural environments like the Chesapeake Bay. (Getty Images)

This April recess, NLC is encouraging city leaders to engage with their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts for two weeks. Don’t let Congress leave America’s cities behind — join us this week and next as we #FightTheCuts proposed in the administration’s budget.

This post was co-authored by Mayor James Diossa, Peter Friedrichs and Will Downie. It is part of a series on the 2018 federal budget.

Proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) threaten the funds that cities of all sizes rely on to invest in water management, clean energy and revitalization efforts across the country, with many of the programs directly benefiting the most vulnerable members of society. Here’s how these cuts could impact your city.

Water

While President Donald Trump’s proposal increases funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs and calls for level funding for WIFIA — a loan and loan guarantee program for large water infrastructure projects — it eliminates the Rural Utilities Services’ Water and Waste Water Loan and Grant Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program provides critical funds for rural communities across the country to maintain water infrastructure and address their unique water needs. Together, these water infrastructure programs helped small cities like Garber, Oklahoma, (population 842) protect their community’s drinking water by replacing aged water pipes and large cities like Boston (population 645,966) complete a landfill closure and reduce rainwater infiltration.

Regional water restoration programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Initiative are also slated for elimination — a move that would cost local governments $427 million in funds to help clean up waterways and natural environments. These funds allowed the village of Shorewood, Wisconsin, to reduce contamination at Atwater Beach by investing in improved sewer systems and the city of Port Huron, Michigan, to restore 5,000 square feet of fish habitat and provide recreation areas for residents. Even if funding is slashed, cities will still have to meet the federal requirements for pollution reduction, creating an unfunded mandate.

Land

Although not specifically mentioned in the proposal, two key programs that help local governments establish local parks and greenways and revitalize abandoned properties may face cuts: the Land Conservation Fund and the Brownfields Redevelopment Program. The DOI Land and Water Conservation Fund helped the city of Seattle develop its now famous Gasworks Park. Without the assistance, the city would not have been able to transform an old gasification plant and its surrounding area into one of Seattle’s landmark public spaces. Meanwhile, the city of Central Falls, Rhode Island, was able to use a $200,000 EPA Brownfields grant to restore an abandoned mill building into successful mixed-use retail and business space. Together, these programs grow local economies by creating jobs, increasing property values, and attracting businesses and private capital.

Energy

The DOE Weatherization Assistance Program and the State Energy Program — which together provide over $300 million in assistance to local governments to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, including assistance to low-income residents to help lower their energy bills — are proposed to be eliminated. These programs allowed the city of Philadelphia to invest in innovative weatherization ideas that led to an increase in the total number of weatherized homes in the city, a reduction to the weatherization cost per home, increased energy savings, and new weatherization jobs in Philadelphia.

Air and Climate

The president’s proposed budget also targets programs that help cities reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and meet their climate action goals. The EPA Diesel Emission Reduction Program encourages cities to switch to cleaner-burning diesel vehicles. Last year, the program provided $7.7 million to 90 different cities to provide safer and cleaner school buses through replacement and retrofitting rebates. In addition, the proposed budget would eliminate climate change research and partnership programs totaling $100 million that cities rely on for data and information on climate change impacts on their communities.

Personnel

Out of all the federal agencies, EPA faces the biggest hit overall with a proposal to cut funding by 31 percent and eliminate 3,200 jobs, or 20 percent of its employees. These staff cuts will have a negative effect on EPA’s role as a regulator and will impede the ability of local elected officials to do their jobs. EPA approves a variety of permits and facilities that local governments rely on, like wastewater treatment plants. A “slimmed down” EPA will still have to process permits and projects, but a smaller staff will lead to delays and reduced technical assistance and will hurt local governments’ ability to provide the safe and clean environment they are entrusted to maintain.

Cities across the country will suffer under the White House’s budget plan. The president’s proposal will see cities large and small working with fewer funds and a less responsive regulatory regime, crippling their ability to provide vital services and infrastructure to their citizens. These cuts are bad for every city in the country, and pose a threat to the environment, our economy and our future.

Learn more about NLC’s #FightTheCuts campaign here.

About the authors:

James Diossa is the mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

 

Peter Friedrichs is the director of planning and economic development for the city of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

 

Will Downie is an intern with the National League of Cities’ Federal Advocacy team.

How One Park District in Illinois Is Making Smarter Parks

In many cities, one of the most popular services utilized by the community is open space, including parks and playgrounds. Unfortunately, park use is also one of the hardest things for cities to measure.

Park visitation can be impacted by rentals, holidays, weather and construction, as well as the number of attendees at special events. Cities can use data on these impacts to improve park operations and drive project outcomes. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Bobbi Nance and Edward Krafcik. This post is the first in a series celebrating National Parks Week.

With the abundance of startup companies interested in partnering with local governments — and the variety of new technologies designed specifically for this purpose — there has emerged a decision paralysis which inhibits city leaders to act quickly and effectively on any one innovation project. This is only natural — after all, with so much available on the market in terms of technologies and ideas, and with little evidence to show what works and why, it is reasonably challenging for city leaders to decide where to invest when the upside and downside are not yet fully measurable.

In this sneak peek into a case study from the Park District of Oak Park, Illinois, we profile how Oak Park is collaborating with a startup company called Soofa from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. By working together in a highly collaborative and iterative manner, both organizations achieved their goals simultaneously while maximizing the value the new technology provides to the citizens of Oak Park. This case study provides a working example for how innovative public-private projects can succeed, and offers advice on what to look for in a partnership with a startup company and how best to manage the associated risks.

The Park District of Oak Park first contacted Soofa in March of 2016 looking for ways it could count the number of people who use its parks with sensor technology instead of counting manually by hand. Specifically, the district’s goals were to compare the pedestrian use of its parks to inform capital planning decisions, measure the success of event programming and marketing activities, and tell a more complete story of how its parks are used and how valuable they are to the community.

As Bobbi Nance, senior manager of strategy and innovation for the Park District of Oak Park, described, “at any parks and recreation agency, the most popular service utilized by the community is open space, including parks and playgrounds. Unfortunately, park use is also one of the hardest things for park providers to measure. The technology in Soofa products was appealing to us as a data-driven organization because it allowed us for the first time to have consistent data about how our parks are being used, all while providing the added benefit of free solar-powered charging stations to our park visitors.”

A Soofa Core station installed in Oak Park, Illinois. (Soofa)

Soofa makes smart outdoor furniture, like park benches that use solar power to provide phone charging for the public and sensor data collection for public agencies and local governments. Oak Park is one of Soofa’s first smarter parks beta partners, meaning it engaged in a pilot project with the intention of co-creating a technology product that would closely meet its needs.

The network of beta partners also includes agencies like NYC Parks, Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County, Maryland, Parks and Recreation, and dozens of other forward-thinking city departments and agencies. You can read more about Oak Park’s installation in this Chicago Tribune article and learn more about how they engaged their community with the new technology by designing a fun QR code scavenger hunt called SpotTheSoofa.

Nance further illustrated how being a beta partner has provided the district with critical data during the first stages of the project. “In the first six months, we’ve already been able to spot differences in usage patterns in the four parks where a Soofa Core station was installed, and we are starting to see how park visitation is impacted by rentals, holidays, weather and construction, as well as the number of attendees at a special event or the number of people that take advantage of temporary offerings like outdoor ice rinks or art installations.”

Data Collection and Interpretation

Pedestrian count data is provided to the Park District of Oak Park in comma-separated value files which provide the district flexibility to study how park use is impacted by events, weather and more. Nance imports this data into her agency-wide dashboard, which is powered by iDashboards. The dashboard enables different types of correlations, including how temperature and events impact park use, and it can evaluate the success of different marketing strategies and tactics by revealing how many people visit the district’s parks based on a particular marketing initiative or advertised event.

While not every city or agency is using a dashboard as comprehensively as the Park District of Oak Park, the main lesson to be taken from this example is that being able to correlate data is crucial. When considering or comparing different technology products, services or companies, cities should ask tough questions about how data sets can be correlated with others, how open a particular data set is (meaning how easy it is to access and share), and how flexible and adaptive it is.

Data Usage Goals

A graph showing the impact of the 2017 Super Bowl game on park visitation. (Soofa)

The wealth of data gathered by Soofa’s sensors in the four parks across the Oak Park district is only beginning to be tapped into. The project has been live for nine months, with plans for expansion underway to increase the total number of sensors in the district’s parks. Further data use goals that will be explored in the coming months include:

  • Use pedestrian traffic data to improve park operations
  • Inform capital improvement schedules based on knowing how often different parks are actually being used — a goal which ultimately saves money on excessive improvements
  • Become more efficient in offering (and pricing) permits for events
  • Sync up with nearby business improvement districts and share the data to be able to quantify how public programming impacts park use and neighborhood activity in general
  • Measure the impact of park improvement projects by knowing how many more people visit the park after the improvements are complete

Accelerating the Process and Driving Outcomes

The original idea to bring Soofa benches to the Park District of Oak Park was presented in March 2016 by Bobbi Nance to her team via the district’s intranet, where district employees share innovative ideas. In just five months, Soofa technology was installed in four of the district’s parks. How did this happen so fast? Oak Park made a few recommendations on how to innovate efficiently:

  • Figure out early if you want to start with a pilot project or widespread deployment, and align all internal stakeholders accordingly
  • Insulate innovation projects from traditional processes and funding sources
  • Don’t overlook the value and the opportunity that comes from the innovation itself, like being able to co-develop a product that really meets your needs

To learn more and see data visualizations prepared by the Park District of Oak Park, read the full case study here.

About the authors:

Bobbi Nance is the senior manager of strategy and innovation at the Park District of Oak Park. Bobbi oversees the agency’s strategic plans and serves as a catalyst for innovation, moving ideas from concept to reality and accelerating the pace at which her agency implements improvements.

Ed Krafcik is the director of partnerships at Soofa and is an advisory board member for Parks and Recreation Magazine. He collaborates with cities and parks departments across the country to solve problems using new types of data.

How the President’s Budget Proposal Could Stop the Transit Revolution in Its Tracks

Included in the administration’s first budget proposal is a $499 billion cut to one of the federal government’s most successful transportation funding programs: TIGER Grants.

TIGER Grants fund innovative transportation projects such as this light rail system in Seattle. (Getty Images)

This April recess, NLC is encouraging city leaders to engage with their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts for two weeks. Don’t let Congress leave America’s cities behind — join us this week and next as we #FightTheCuts proposed in the administration’s budget.

This post was co-authored by Michael Wallace and Sam Warlick. It is part of a series on the 2018 federal budget.

While on the campaign trail, President Donald Trump often spoke like a true champion of American infrastructure. “Our airports, bridges, water tunnels, power grids, rail systems — our nation’s entire infrastructure is crumbling,” he wrote in 2015, “and we aren’t doing anything to fix it.”

His first three months as president have told a different story. Included in the administration’s first budget proposal is a $499 billion cut to one of the federal government’s most successful programs: TIGER Grants.

Created in 2009, TIGER Grants fund innovative transportation projects like light rail, regional buses, bicycle networks and new freight systems. The process is competitive, transparent and application-based, meaning that the grant winners must demonstrate outstanding economic and community benefits.

Over the past eight years, TIGER grants have supplied $5.1 billion in new funding to some of America’s most innovative urban and rural transportation projects. They include:

  • The QLINE Streetcar in Detroit, which will link the city’s resurgent downtown to some of its most economically-challenged neighborhoods
  • The Texas Rural Transit Asset Replacement project, which upgraded facilities and buses serving low-income, elderly and disabled riders across the state
  • Montana’s Poplar Airport Regional Access Project, which improved bike/pedestrian access and economic development opportunities in rural and tribal communities
  • The nationally-renowned Atlanta Beltline Trail, a green pedestrian and bicycle corridor redeveloped on an abandoned rail corridor

Under the White House’s “skinny budget,” the TIGER Grant program would be crippled. It would cut off the flow of federal investment in innovative transportation infrastructure — a key investment that has helped drive our nation’s economic recovery.

The ball is now in Congress’s court. With two weeks left to present a full budget for adoption, the House of Representatives can keep their promise to reinvest in infrastructure and create prosperity for all communities.

On behalf of city leaders, we strongly encourage Congress to stand with cities across the country and stop cuts to successful, valuable federal programs — including TIGER grants.

About the authors:

mike_wallace_125x150Michael Wallace is the Program Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

 

Sam Warlick is a Senior Communications Associate at the National League of Cities.