The State of America’s Cities in 2017, According to Mayors

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While the national outlook in America has changed drastically in just a short period of time, one thing has remained constant: mayors are focused on achieving real results for their communities by lifting up their constituents in spirit and increasing their opportunities for success.

Each year, mayors across the country deliver State of the City addresses. A State of the City speech is a reflection of the mayor’s priorities as well as the city’s accomplishments, challenges and roadmap for the future.

To better understand the current state of cities in America, the National League of Cities (NLC) conducts an annual analysis of mayoral State of the City addresses. For our 2017 State of the Cities report, we read transcripts of 120 speeches. Here are our takeaways:

Cities are leading the way.

Mayors focus day in and day out on improving the quality of life of their residents. In their speeches, we hear mayors discuss new amenities, neighborhood revitalization and talent attraction. From parks and recreation programs to trash collection, city leaders work to seamlessly provide the services residents need and desire. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg summed it up by saying, “It is in cities and towns across America that the most sensitive and important issues actually play out, from police-community relations to the development of our infrastructure.”

Equity is a key concern in cities.

Issues related to affordability and poverty affect many aspects of city living. Cities, especially the largest ones, still grapple with the need to provide affordable housing. “This affordability crisis threatens who we are, threatens the very soul of this city,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mayors also spoke about investing in residents through workforce development. “We are reaching out to our public schools, institutions of higher learning, and nonprofits to work together to strengthen already-existing workforce development opportunities,” Lynchburg, Virginia, Mayor Treney Tweedy explained.

The top 10 issues discussed by mayors in their 2017 State of the City addresses. (NLC)

Federal and state challenges continue to grow.

This year, we heard mayors speak with more uncertainty about relationships with higher levels of government. “Different cities have different values and priorities, and it is the job of local elected officials to do the best they can in representing their community’s values and priorities,” said Burleson, Texas, Mayor Ken Shetter about preemption (a state limitation of local authority). Mayors also worried about losing a partner at the federal level. “The anger and anxiety of last year’s bitter and contentious presidential election slowly descended upon us like an unwelcome fog — and as our new president settles into office, communities like ours are faced with a new set of challenges, and the urgent need to develop successful strategies for navigating through unfamiliar terrain,” said Mayor Denise Simmons of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mayors are champions of the future.

Despite inaction at the federal level, cities are focused on preparing for changes in climate, technology and demographics. “We’ve been hard at work to put into place programs and policies that are laying the foundation for new generation that will help position us for economic growth and success well into the future,” said Mayor Andy Hafen of Henderson, Nevada. Mayors announced in their speeches plans to build more resilient communities and plans to train the workforce of tomorrow. Some city leaders are even thinking about the prospects of driverless cars, trucks and buses in the future. “This technology will improve pedestrian safety, address traffic congestion, improve transit operations, and prevent wrong-way crashes,” said Tampa, Florida, Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

While the national outlook in America has changed drastically in just a short period of time, one thing has remained constant: mayors are focused on achieving real results for their communities by lifting up their constituents in spirit and increasing their opportunities for success.

Read the full 2017 State of the Cities report here.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the research associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.