Meet Your City Technology and Communications Advocate

“It can seem tempting to default on the side of industry in the hopes of spurring innovation, but obviously you cannot prioritize the needs of one entity or company over those of all the other actors in the room – namely, local governments.”

Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference, we will continue to feature “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlights as part of a series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team. This week, I sat down with Angelina Panettieri, principal associate for technology and communications advocacy at NLC.

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Angelina Panettieri is the principal associate for technology and communications at NLC (Brian Egan/NLC).

Name: Angelina Panettieri
Area of expertise: Technology and Communications
Hometown: near Winchester, Virginia
Federal Advocacy Committee: Information Technology & Communications (ITC)

Angelina, thanks for your time today. To start off, can you tell us about your background?

I grew up out in the country near Winchester, Virginia. So, fun fact: I never lived in a real city until college. Undergrad was the first time I lived in a place with sidewalks. I earned a BA and an MPA from George Mason University. I always knew I wanted to work in policy, and have worked for several other organizations before joining NLC. One of my first jobs was with a group that represented smaller chemical companies. I later joined an association that works with pharmacists. Now I work in technology and communications policy for cities, so you can see that I’ve always been interested in wonky technical topics. I started at NLC a few years back, working in grassroots advocacy.

So what specifically attracted you to technology and communications policy? 

It always interested me. It’s an area that seems to be growing. Technology and communications are areas that will likely shape our lives the most over the immediate future — and that means a lot for cities. Technology is starting to determine how we move around, what our housing looks like, what are jobs are, how we treat our patients.

There’s something we often say — broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. I compare it to the rural electrification project. Like the families that remained off-the-grid in the first half of the 20th century, we’re rapidly moving toward a world where internet is a necessary ingredient to success. Many people don’t realize that a huge portion of NLC’s members are small cities, and these are the places that are still working to get online. It’s exciting for me to advocate for them.

What do you think 2017 has in store for technology and communication policy, as far as cities are concerned?

I think this year will be interesting. We haven’t heard a lot from the president about where he wants to take tech policy – other than outspoken support for infrastructure and manufacturing, which will inevitably involve technology. Congress has had a backlog of technology-focused bills that they were not able to pass last year; I expect they will have more success this year. These bills are largely noncontroversial: expanding available spectrum, incentivizing infrastructure that includes broadband, etcetera. There are two places, however, that I think we should focus on: the FCC and state legislatures.

The new FCC chair, Commissioner Ajit Pai, has already indicated that he will shake things up over there. Our goal is to maintain a dialogue with all the commissioners and ensure that major policy changes are only made after the needs of cities have been considered. It can seem tempting to default on the side of industry in the hopes of spurring innovation, but obviously you cannot prioritize the needs of one entity or company over those of all the other actors in the room, namely local governments.

On the state side of things, we are seeing telecom and other technology bills moving very quickly through state houses. NLC doesn’t lobby state legislatures, but in this policy area in particular, we are seeing states drive a lot of what’s happening on the ground. I think Congress will continue to watch what’s happening in states as inspiration for federal policy in the future. But I may be jumping ahead to a 2018 or 2019 prediction.

Did you want to touch upon the 5G comment period going on right now?

Yes, of course! We’re involved in a proceeding at the FCC that’s focused on the local government permitting process for small cell wireless infrastructure. This is all leading up to the deployment of a new 5G wireless standard. The wireless industry is working to provide faster service to its customers, which requires moving up the spectrum. As you go higher, you need smaller antennas to broadcast a signal, and you need many more of them located closer together.

It’s a competition to offer the best 5G first, which means every company has already started applying for permits to install hundreds of thousands of these “small cells.” Now, the FCC is looking into whether existing regulations and permitting processes – mostly at the local level – are slowing this deployment down. NLC is most concerned about maintaining cities’ rights to protect their residents’ rights of way, and ensuring that they continue to get proper compensation for its use. 5G needs to happen without overwhelming and ignoring the needs of local governments.

Fascinating! And now for the hardest question: what’s your spirit city?

I have had a lot of time to think about this, so I can say with certainty: Wildwood, New Jersey.

Get out! You know I’m a South Jersey kid, so shore trips to Wildwood define my childhood.

I did not know that!

I’m glad someone doesn’t hear my accent. Why Wildwood, is it all of that Googie architecture?

Yes, I love Googie architecture! Really, I love everything about Wildwood. They have such a great pride in their history and fully embrace how quirky it is. I could spend every summer of my life there. They’ve doubled down on the classic fifties beach image and they run with it.

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Angelina and the rest of your City Advocates.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.

 

Reminding Washington That Cities Lead

Leading up to the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., city representatives held 42 meetings this week with federal officials, working to build local-federal partnerships and tell Congress why city priorities will help to move America forward.

(NLC)

(clockwise from top middle) White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Deputy Director Billy Kirkland addresses state league leaders; Maryland Municipal League President and Edmonston, Maryland, Mayor Tracy Gant and Maryland Municipal League Executive Director Scott Hancock meet with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); New York State Conference of Mayors President and White Plains, New York, Mayor Tom Roach and New York State Conference of Mayors Executive Director Peter Baynes meet with Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY); Mississippi Municipal League President and Magee, Mississippi, Mayor Jimmy Clyde and Mississippi Municipal League Executive Director Shari Veazey meet with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS); State municipal league leaders descend on Capitol Hill for day of action. (NLC)

This post was co-authored by Carolyn Berndt, Angelina Panettieri and Ashley Smith.

State Municipal Leagues Join NLC to Advocate for Cities on Capitol Hill

This week, more than 35 executive directors and local leaders from 20 state municipal leagues across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. for an inaugural fly-in to advocate for city priorities on Capitol Hill and with the Trump Administration. At meetings and a briefing on Capitol Hill, state municipal league partners and NLC staff advocated for our top legislative priorities, including the tax exemption for municipal bonds, reinvestment in municipal infrastructure and e-fairness. Together we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that local leaders are ready to build local-federal partnerships that will help to move America forward.

The fly-in began on Tuesday with a briefing hosted by NLC’s Federal Advocacy staff, which provided state municipal league executive directors and local leaders with an update on the new political dynamics in Washington, D.C., as well as substantive updates on NLC’s 2017 federal legislative priorities. NLC President Matt Zone, council member, Cleveland, and NLC Executive Director/CEO Clarence Anthony welcomed fly-in attendees to NLC’s office and spoke about the importance of advocating for cities during this time of change in Washington. In addition, Billy Kirkland, the newly appointed Deputy Director for the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, addressed the state municipal league executive directors and local leaders and opened the door to future collaboration between the administration and cities.

On Wednesday, the state league leaders descended on Capitol Hill for a day of action to advocate for city priorities, including investments in municipal infrastructure and protecting municipal bonds, as well as introducing cities to newly elected members of Congress. In their time on the Hill, they met with more than 45 congressional offices across 15 states. Additionally, state league leaders and NLC staff met with staff directors of two key House committees to discuss issues important to cities – brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates – and with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau to urge the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting.

The day of action also included a briefing on Capitol Hill for senators, members of Congress and their staffs. Rep. Drew Ferguson (GA-3), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, spoke at the briefing about the need for stronger federal-local partnerships.

Local Leaders Call on Congress to be a Partner to Cities

This Thursday, NLC hosted a Congressional briefing, “City Hall 101: The Role of Cities in Moving America Forward,” to urge members of Congress and staff to consider the best ways to partner with cities to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. With a focus on the economy, infrastructure and public safety, NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone opened the briefing by calling on Congress to support local efforts to combat public health crises like the opioid epidemic, to give city leaders a voice in how federal infrastructure dollars are invested, and to protect the tax-exemption for municipal bonds that helps cities invest in infrastructure to grow their local and the national economy.

“Cities are the builders of America’s infrastructure. We are the creators of economic opportunity for our residents. And we are leaders in finding creative solutions to the challenges facing our communities and our nation,” said Zone.

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA), a former mayor of West Point, Georgia, and a newly-elected Congressman, spoke about his perspective of coming to Washington, D.C. after serving at the local level and the need for stronger federal-local partnerships. He spoke eloquently about the role of economic development and education in helping to move people out of poverty and into the middle class. In closing, Ferguson said, “The health of the nation can be measured by the health of our cities.”

Christy McFarland, NLC Research Director, discussed two recent NLC reports, City Fiscal Conditions and Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism, which served as background on the health of city budgets, including revenue and expenditures, and the fiscal capacity of cities to be a partner with federal government. “City finances are stable. Cities are in a positive trajectory to growth, but city finances are vulnerable to economic swings. And the authority of local governments to raise revenue is often constrained,” McFarland said.

Council Member Zone was joined by Mayor C. Kim Bracey, York, Pennsylvania, and First Vice President of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, and Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee, Flaorida, and First Vice President of the Florida League of Cities, to share experiences from their cities on some of the challenges they are facing at the local level.

Mayor Bracey and Commissioner Ziffer talked about the impact that homelessness has on their communities. In Tallahassee, the city utilized a public-private partnership to build a homeless shelter that provides other wrap around services including medical assistance, mental health services, and job retraining that has become a model for other cities in Florida.

Although York is a city of 43,000 and only 5.2 square miles, Mayor Bracey shared the city experiences the same kind of societal issues, good and bad, that larger cities face. While crime is going down and homeownership is up, homelessness, particularly among children, is a big challenge for the city. Programs like the Community Development Block Grant help the city leverage other public and private sector dollars to address the issues.

As the conversation turned to the topic of infrastructure, Councilmember Zone said that cities need a diverse array of financing options in order to improve our nation’s transportation and water infrastructure. While private sector financing is critical for cities in terms of increasing investments, Councilmember Zone said public-private partnerships might work for large projects, but it will not work for the types of Main Street projects that are needed in smaller communities nationwide.

(NLC)

(NLC)

Florida Local Leaders Travel to D.C. to Advocate for Federal Issues Impacting Cities

City officials from Florida traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with members of Congress and advocate for key federal issues that affect municipalities.

The Florida League of Cities, led by FLC First Vice President Commissioner Gil Ziffer, Tallahassee and FAST Chair Mayor Joe Durso, Longwood, brought 28 members of the Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) and three staff members to meet with members of the Florida congressional delegation. The advocates first received a briefing from NLC’s Federal Advocacy team, then traveled to Capitol Hill. During their meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, FLC FAST members advocated for the tax exemption for municipal bonds, federal infrastructure funding, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the FEMA Public Assistance Program, and e-fairness legislation.

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The Florida League of Cities FAST Strike Team visited Washington, D.C. this week to advocate for city priorities and attend a number of key meetings. (NLC)

State League Directors and City Leaders Talk Brownfields, Unfunded Mandates with Committees

During NLC’s State Municipal League Directors and Presidents Fly-In this week, local leaders met with staff directors of several House committees to discuss issues important to cities: brownfields reauthorization and unfunded mandates.

NLC President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland, Mayor Harry Brown, Stephens, Arkansas, and President of the Arkansas Municipal League, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, Brookline, Massachusetts, and President of the Massachusetts Municipal League, along with Arkansas and Massachusetts state municipal league representatives discussed with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment the need to reauthorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields program. The committee, which shares jurisdiction over brownfields with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is currently drafting legislation and will likely hold a hearing later this spring. NLC members voiced their support for addressing the local liability concerns and improving the flexibility of the program in the reauthorization bill.

Additionally, President Zone, Mayor Brown, Ken Wasson, Director of Operations for the Arkansas Municipal League, and Sam Mamet, Executive Director of the Colorado Municipal League, met with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee to discuss how unfunded mandates place a burden on local governments, particularly small towns with limited financial resources. NLC leaders also discussed with committee staff how to ensure that the local voice is heard throughout the rulemaking process. Recently, NLC compiled feedback from local elected officials on unfunded mandates and regulatory reform proposals at the request of the committee. The committee will likely hold a hearing on these issues later this spring, and is seeking ongoing feedback from NLC and cities on how to reduce the burden on local governments.

State League Advocates Urge FCC to Respect Local Authority

In a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Wireless Bureau, advocates from the Georgia Municipal Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association, and League of Minnesota Cities urged the FCC to avoid a one-size-fits-all mandate to preempt local authority on small cell wireless facility siting. The meeting was held in response to a public notice published by the FCC in December that requested feedback on the current state of small cell deployment in cities.

The state municipal league advocates discussed the widely varying challenges faced by cities throughout the nation in working to improve wireless coverage for city residents, while preserving their residents’ rights of way, safety, and city planning priorities. They also shared their cities’ specific challenges, particularly the proliferation of excess or abandoned pole infrastructure in the rights of way, challenges in balancing repeated requests to site wireless infrastructure in densely populated cities, while neighboring rural towns lack service, and the difficulties for local planning officials to acquire adequate staff support for processing of unpredictable influxes of siting applications. The advocates also provided information about the great variation between their states’ respective laws on city authority in wireless siting.

About the authors:

Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

Angelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follower her on twitter @AngelinainDC.

 

Ashley Smith is the Senior Associate, Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Ashley @AshleyN_Smith.

Cities Turn to Home Energy Score to Help Residents Save Money and Reduce Energy Waste

An upcoming webinar will show how cities can provide their residents with reliable, low-cost, and easy-to-perform home energy assessments.

Cities like Berkeley, California, and Portland, Oregon, are using the Home Energy Score to help residents easily assess their homes’ energy usage. (RCKeller/Getty Images)

When the city of Berkeley, California, launched its Building Energy Saving Ordinance (BESO) in December 2015, other cities around the country started paying attention. The city’s ordinance requires owners of single family homes to disclose their home’s estimated energy use by getting a Home Energy Score at the time of sale.

Looking for a reliable, low cost, and easy-to-perform home energy assessment, the city landed on the Home Energy Score – a standard rating system created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The Home Energy Score attracted the city for other reasons as well. First, DOE’s national laboratories and partners had thoroughly tested and analyzed the score. The scoring system is easy to understand and lets consumers compare one home to another anywhere in the country. The Home Energy Score is an “asset score,” meaning the score is based on the home’s physical structure and major mechanical equipment, not how current occupants use the home. Lastly, the scoring tool and training/testing for assessors are both available at no cost.

While the city was excited to embark on this new approach, they didn’t want to slow down real estate transactions and therefore included a provision that provides a 12-month grace period after a home’s purchase should the seller not have the home scored prior to sale.

The city of Portland, Oregon, is pursuing a similar path with its Home Energy Score policy, which its city council unanimously passed on December 14. The ordinance requires sellers of single family homes—both existing and new construction—to obtain a Home Energy Score prior to listing, and to include the score and accompanying report in any real estate listings, in addition to providing a copy to prospective buyers. With 10,000 home sales per year, the city of Portland is poised to grow the Home Energy Score market exponentially (more than 55,000 homes have been scored across the United States since the program launched in summer 2012). The ordinance goes into effect January 1, 2018.

A number of states and utilities have also taken action on the Home Energy Score by incorporating the score on a voluntary basis into statewide initiatives or residential energy efficiency programs sponsored by utilities. The Colorado Energy Office launched a statewide Home Energy Score program in 2015 with the aim of integrating the score into real estate transactions so that the energy efficiency of homes can begin to be recognized and valued. By building up a pool of home inspectors to offer the score at point of sale, as well as integrating the score into utilities’ existing programs, the state is well on its way to making home energy information readily available in the real estate market.

Cities with municipally-owned utilities can play a leading role in driving residential energy savings. Columbia Water and Light in Missouri has done just that by integrating the Home Energy Score into its Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. With more than 7,000 homes scored to date, the municipal utility views the Home Energy Score as a valuable addition to their toolbox, helping to raise awareness about the value of energy efficiency improvements and being able to quantify energy savings.

Cities are interested in energy planning for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from infrastructure management and resiliency to resource and environmental stewardship. Given that the residential sector accounts for more than 20 percent of the nation’s energy use, homeowners can play a significant role in in ensuring that energy resources are used efficiently.

Register here for a free webinar on Wednesday, February 22 at 3:00 p.m. EST to learn more about how your city can use the Home Energy Score to more readily engage residents and help them understand how to save on monthly costs while improving the comfort of their homes. The webinar will also give examples of how the cities of Berkeley and Portland are using the score to provide reliable, low-cost, and easy-to-perform home energy assessments.

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.

Federalism in Focus

The relationship between the federal and local levels of government has been in the spotlight after just a few short weeks of the new administration. It is clear from public statements, Tweets and an executive order that President Trump intends to shake up political institutions as we’ve come to know them.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In this new series, Federalism in Focus, we’ll unpack the nature of the city-federal relationship today, how federalism is reflected in urban policy, and what an ideal relationship would look like.

What is federalism?

Federalism is the constitutional relationship between state governments and the federal government. Cities have a role in the federal relationship that can be difficult to decipher. Local governments are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, or even the Federalist Papers, because, for much of early American history, cities – even the largest – tended not to be incorporated. Over the years, cities derived their existence and limited powers from their state governments. Only since the 1930s has there been an active and direct federal-city relationship.

The prevailing interpretation of city authority comes from an 1868 Iowa court case. In it, Judge John Dillon offered a narrow interpretation of a local government’s authority, stating that state legislatures give cities life and can take it away. States, therefore, vary tremendously in their treatment of local governments. Some states offer cities home rule, where the cities have been granted broad authority to create new programs or raise taxes without state approval. However, states have increasingly sought to limit the power of cities through by preempting the authority of cities to regulate particular issues. States also broker the relationship between the federal government and their localities, adding their own preferences to those interactions.

Why is federalism important to cities?

The way in which a president and Congress view the relationship between levels of government is important context for the legislation they produce. From affordable housing to immigration, federal policy toward cities is shaped by the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the federal system it enshrines. Before approaching any policy argument, it is essential to know the way power is divided. In the case of so-called sanctuary cities, President Donald Trump’s executive order relies on the power of the purse. This is a coercive view of federalism, where state and local governments comply with federal mandates based on grant funding.

Although the federal government does not provide a significant amount of funding to local governments (only about 5 percent of general municipal revenue), it has other ways of increasing local revenue or reducing local costs. This includes establishing federal tax exemptions that reduce municipal borrowing costs. Federal tax exemptions for local property, sales and income taxes encourage homeownership and consumption of goods and services, thereby increasing municipal revenue from local sales, income and property taxes.

In addition, federal aid reaches municipalities in the form of grants. Federal grants come in two forms: block and categorical. Block grants are allocated according to a predetermined formula that dictates how much money a locality can expect to receive, depending on quantifiable factors like population, housing density or health indicators. Cities that apply for block grants must use funds from a preapproved broad functional area such as community development, but generally have few restrictions on how it is spent. Categorical grants, on the other hand, may be spent on more narrowly defined programs.

How has federalism changed over time?

As political climates shift, the way federalism plays out in America also changes. The 1960s saw a very activist federal government that worked directly with cities to implement social policy. Federal aid to cities was a much larger share of the budget than it is today. During the administrations of presidents Nixon and Reagan, the paradigm shifted. Grants became less specific, preferring block grants over categorical, and funding also shrunk.

Today, federal policy tends to prefer transfers of aid to individuals rather than to governments. Money for cities is therefore limited. This is emphasized in the federalism today, which values accountability through results oriented programs and increased incentives to work across jurisdictions. Moving forward, we can likely expect a Trump administration and Republican Congress to look for ways to leverage private investment in cities, rather than direct federal dollars. In the current landscape, we can also expect differences between levels of government to become highly politicized to the point of brinksmanship.

In the rest of this series, we’ll look at what specific federal policies can tell us about the city-federal relationship. To find out more – and make your voice heard at the federal level – come to NLC’s Congressional City Conference!

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

Mayors Continue to Forge a Path Towards Greater Urban Resilience

Cities across the country are thinking of new ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to numerous challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Fl. representing the National League of Cities at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Florida, representing NLC at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address, where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

2017 will be a year where local government leads the charge on urban resilience – and National League of Cities will be there to help. Through our Leadership in Community Resilience program, NLC provides assistance to 10 cities across the country that lack the financial and institutional resources, city-wide and cross-departmental collaboration, and internal capacity to implement their resilience goals. Designed to bolster city-led resilience initiatives and disaster preparedness, the program elevates local governments’ commitment towards a resilient urban future, no matter what is happening at the federal level.

These efforts were on full display in West Palm Beach last week at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address. Mayor Muoio focused on last year’s success as well as future plans to a vibrant crowd of 800 business and community leaders, elected officials, and residents. She highlighted how the city’s commitment to resilience and sustainability was rewarded with a 4-STAR rating – the only city to receive this certification in Florida. The city’s focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, equitable development, data collection, mobility, and increasing economic opportunities has successfully attracted partnerships with the National League of Cities, Knight Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities, Van Allen Institute and Gehl Design Studios.

Mayor Muoio’s sentiments are reflected in cities throughout the country where city officials are working to protect their communities from the recurring impact of climate change on infrastructure, housing, and businesses. The devastating impact of floods, hurricanes, droughts and other extreme weather consistently top news headlines and unlike national politics, weather holds no party affiliation. Building upward from a foundation set over the past eight years, city leaders are pushing disaster resilience initiatives into implementation.

Under former President Obama’s administration, the federal government restored the public’s good faith in disaster response from 33 percent after Hurricane Katrina to 75 percent after Sandy, according to Gallup. Over the course of eight years, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate dealt with 910 disaster declarations, more than any FEMA director in history. FEMA released an action plan in 2013, Crisis Response and Disaster Resilience 2030: Forging Strategic Action in an Age of Uncertainty, to address the gaps in emergency management and opportunities for capacity building. Hurricane Sandy triggered the federal government to shift their approach to disasters from a band-aid response to a holistic resilience planning.

Within three short years, shifts in disaster management and response from a federal to local level has empowered cities to think holistically and act strategically about urban resilience through programs such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) and Rebuild by Design. Formerly a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the San Francisco Planning Department in light of a new Trump era, to launch Resilient by Design. Rockefeller Foundation awarded $4.6 million to the Bay Area to combat climate change and sea-level rise with a focus on providing multiple benefits to vulnerable populations.

Many cities outside the 100RC, Rebuild by Design, and Resilient by Design network are thinking of new and creative ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to economic, environmental and social challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Although the cost of climate change is evident in global and financial centers worldwide, NLC has seized the opportunity to capture a compelling story of urban resilience efforts in small to mid-sized cities across the country through the Leadership in Community Resilience program. We are proud to support efforts like Mayor Muoio’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and look forward to working with West Palm Beach and the other nine cities in our program throughout the year.

shafaq_choudry_125x150About the author: Shafaq Choudry is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

Forecasting the Future of Cities Under President Trump

Campaign rhetoric can give us insight into a politician’s perspective, even after they take office.

This is a guest post by Dr. Michael Pagano.

The 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric was laced with mischaracterizations of cities, even as we have come to understand the importance of cities and metro regions as the nation’s key economic drivers in the 21st Century. Yet, campaign rhetoric and the candidates’ statements do speak to an understanding of each candidate’s perspectives on cities and their connections to the federal government.

Rather than work through the list of proposed people-based programs and estimate their potential city impacts, let’s take a look at three broad federal policy areas that will certainly be (or already have been) addressed by the Trump Administration and that clearly have a place-based dimension: infrastructure, tax reform, and sanctuary cities.

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America’s infrastructure needs attention. While much is still unknown about the future of infrastructure in American cities, there are some indications of where we are headed. (Getty Images)

Infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the nation on its infrastructure deficit, and the latest report card isn’t pretty. A failing or near-failing grade is commonplace, and ASCE estimates $3.6 trillion as the infrastructure deficit – a staggering shortfall.

Although President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan is still being shaped, the role that cities play in designing the infrastructure plan – and, more importantly, the extent to which the Trump administration will focus on local infrastructure needs – is not entirely known. But here’s what we do know:

First, it is clear that the Trump Administration will call on public-private partnerships (PPPs) to boost spending by $550 billion (and up to $1 trillion, as he proposed during the campaign). In confirmation hearings, Trump’s nominee for DOT Secretary, Elaine Chao, raised the prospects of PPPs to rebuild the nation’s highway system. This kind of PPP activity tends to be unattractive for fixed assets that are ‘jointly consumed’ (e.g., city hall, courts, police stations, fire engines, parks). Shared assets are hard to price according to use, and it is equally difficult to assign a ‘fee’ for their services. However, the more cities can benefit from PPPs (e.g., bridges, water, transit), the more freed-up capital they will have for ‘jointly consumed’ public assets. PPPs may be tempting for cities with massive infrastructure needs and backlogged maintenance projects, but cities should move cautiously to assure that taxpayers’ investments are secure and treated the same as private investments.

Second, infrastructure investment can be for creating new projects as well as maintaining existing structures. Although politicians prefer to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a new building or bridge, it’s important to appreciate that both new construction and maintenance projects are necessary and spur local economic activity. And, given the state of so much municipal infrastructure, a federal plan should emphasize ‘maintaining’ these existing structures.

Third, if we learned anything from the 2009 federal government stimulus grants, it’s that infrastructure block grants delegated to states don’t always trickle down to the local level. Cities often know their infrastructure needs better than states do, so cities should be offered the authority and responsibility to decide on the infrastructure projects that they find critical to their economic development strategies.

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Tax reform could have repercussions for cities’ abilities to finance local projects. (Getty Images)

Tax Reform. Whether it’s massive, like the 1986 Tax Reform Act, or just incremental, cities will feel the impact of any potential tax reform. President Trump has said in no uncertain terms that the tax brackets need to be lowered. And although he hasn’t embraced it, there is also talk of eliminating the tax exemption on municipal bonds. Coupled, these two ‘tax reform’ initiatives could reduce municipal issues, which means fewer city-financed infrastructure projects as the costs of infrastructure rises.

Elimination of the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds would reduce the value of bond issues, as the interest rates would increase to compete with the corporate sector for capital. The municipal bond market would most likely require a premium from municipal issuers that, assuming all other things equal, could possibly raise the borrowing costs to cities by some 2 percent more or less. A 200 basis point penalty would probably diminish the volume of municipal bond issuances.

A second tax reform proposal would reduce both the individual and the corporate income tax rates. There appears to be little disagreement that tax rates will be reduced, but at what cost? If the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is preserved, lowered income and corporate tax rate schedules could reduce the attractiveness of tax-exempt bonds.  Reducing the top marginal tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent or lower would require the market to increase the interest rates on municipal bonds to compensate investors. City investment in infrastructure would most likely fall.

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Ellis Island has come to embody America’s symbol as a melting pot. The debate around “sanctuary cities” goes beyond ideological debates around America’s immigration policy. (Getty Images)

Sanctuary cities. Many of the nation’s largest cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities, by which they mean that they have chosen to limit the voluntary role cities play in federal immigration enforcement.

Under the U.S. Constitution, immigration is a federal (as opposed to state or local) responsibility. Although cities may choose to cooperate with federal authorities, these cities argue that they will not divert city resources to fulfill a federal responsibility. Cities that have declared themselves as sanctuaries do so from a variety of positions. Philadelphia, for example, refers to itself as a 4th Amendment city, meaning that the city refuses to hold persons without a warrant.

President Trump’s Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States executive order, signed earlier this week, directs his Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General to prohibit federal grants going to cities and other jurisdictions that do not comply with their interpretation of immigration enforcement law. In other words, President Trump appears to be trying to “make good” on his promise to shut off federal funding to sanctuary cities. While it remains unclear which and to what extent cities will be affected by this order, it very well could spur enormous consequences if it emboldens Congress to amend legislation governing the distribution of federal funds. Reconsideration and passage of legislation similar to a failed bill that was introduced in 2016, called the “Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act”, would wreak considerable havoc for cities.

Chicago, for example, receives nearly $1 billion from federal sources, as does San Francisco; New York City’s federal revenues amount to $7 billion. One estimate of withdrawing federal funds to Chicago and four sister agencies of the city places the impact at some $3.6 billion. And other sanctuary cities receive funds, ranging from federal COPs money to CDBG, which could be in danger if Congress approves.

Even should the penalty for being a sanctuary city be restricted to just ‘policing’ grants, as has been proposed, the impact could still challenge the financial stability of cities. And given cities’ fiscal positions, withholding any federal support would trouble cities. City finances have yet to rebound to pre-Great Recession levels.

An Urban Agenda?

President Trump has other people-based proposals that will have an urban impact, such as reforming primary and secondary education, modifying federal housing programs, and overhauling the Affordable Care Act – but these are broad social issues that affect people residing in cities and rural areas alike. Yet, because the majority of the U.S. population today resides in cities, shifts in these policy areas will disproportionately impact local governments. Any people- and place-based proposal that affects cities or city residents will affect the health, safety and welfare of the American people, and they will affect the nation’s GDP.

Cities are resilient, and cities can adjust to these and other shifts in the federal landscape depending in large part on how much local autonomy they possess. And the relative capacity of cities to adjust to changing circumstances is governed by states. Resiliency depends in large part by how much decision-making authority states allow. Given the numerous policy arenas that Trump has said he will change, cities need to be nimble. To be nimble, states must work with cities so they can adequately adjust and continue to be the economic engines of the nation.

michael_pagano_125x150About the author: Dr. Michael Pagano is the dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelAPagano

An Inside Look at How Cities Win Investment Projects

When a company chooses a location for a major relocation or expansion, the details behind the decision aren’t often divulged in the media. This new podcast gives listeners an inside look at the site selection process, and the stories behind how the location was selected and what it took to close the deal.

Downtown Reno, Nevada, where one of the podcast guests chose to locate their startup due in large part to the city's warmth and welcoming small business environment. (Getty Images)

Downtown Reno, Nevada, where one of the companies profiled in the podcast chose to locate their startup due in large part to the city’s welcoming small business environment. (DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Andy Levine and Patience Fairbrother.

In September 2016, Alorica, a California-based customer engagement company worth $2 billion with 92,000 employees across the country, announced plans to establish an 830-employee customer engagement center in Owensboro, Kentucky, marking the largest economic development project in the city’s history.

If you saw the announcement in the media, you probably read about the projected job numbers and heard glowing quotes from company and community officials. What the press release didn’t tell you, however, is that the project almost didn’t happen. In fact, the facility that the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation (GO-EDC) originally intended for Alorica was exactly the opposite of what the company was looking for. It was, as Greg Bush, Divisional Vice President at Alorica, put it, “the same old thing.”

Closing the Deal

The story behind Owensboro’s successful but bumpy road to winning the investment was featured on an episode of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions,” a new podcast from Development Counsellors International (DCI) that gives listeners an inside look at how cities compete for corporate relocation and expansion projects. Every two weeks, the podcast features a recent corporate location decision and interviews with company executives, site selection consultants, and economic developers that reveal how the location was selected and what it took to close the deal.

 Greg Bush, Divisional Vice President at Alorica addresses a crowd in Owensboro, Ky., where the company announced plans to locate a massive customer engagement center. (photo: 44News)


Greg Bush, Divisional Vice President at Alorica, addresses a crowd in Owensboro, Kentucky, where the company announced plans to locate a massive customer engagement center. (photo: 44News)

The saving grace for the City of Owensboro, as the podcast revealed, was that the company’s project team fell in love with the city’s vibrant downtown, which Owensboro has spent more than $120 million to redevelop over the last seven years.

Greg Bush and consultant Jeff Pappas, Principal at E. Smith Realty, another key player in the project team, arrived in town the night before the site visit and instantly saw a place for Alorica downtown. The next day, they told Madison Silvert, President and CEO of GO-EDC, that they had to be downtown, or there was no deal.

Silvert, a bow-tie wearing lawyer turned economic developer, sprung into action to make the deal happen for the city. He called the owner of an old BB&T building downtown – a facility that he thought just might work for their significant size requirements – and set up a meeting for that day.

Lessons Learned

As Alorica tells it, Owensboro’s ability to switch gears and move very quickly to Plan B was what sealed the deal for the company.

This kind of detail – the kind that you don’t read about in a press release – is what makes “The Project” podcast unique. Seldom do city, state and economic development officials have the opportunity to hear directly from companies in a candid manner about the obstacles, pitfalls and turning points behind these complicated decisions – not to mention the “lessons learned” from their peers in the competition for jobs and investment.

In one episode which profiles Dana Incorporated’s decision to locate a $70 million manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio, the company reveals that, if the community hadn’t had the foresight to build a 100,000-square-foot spec building, the deal would have gone somewhere else.

In another, a women-run startup reveals that they chose Reno, Nevada, over locating in Silicon Valley because the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) went above and beyond to roll out the red carpet for the company during their visit. A key turning point for the project was a casual dinner where local business leaders joined the startup owners to talk frankly about the local business climate and their experiences operating there.

The Human Side of Corporate Location Decisions

An added bonus of hearing these stories directly from the key players involved is that it paints a more human picture of these seemingly inhuman, data-driven decisions. How does the project team celebrate when a major deal goes through? Madison Silvert says his first instinct was to go to church when he found out Owensboro had won the Alorica project.

In another episode, which features iCIMS’s decision to locate in a former research laboratory in New Jersey, the central characters make a deal to purchase a 30-year-old bottle of Macallan, which they joke will become a 31-year-old bottle if negotiations go on for much longer.

Ultimately, whether it’s over a bible or a glass of scotch, the characters featured on “The Project” have a happy ending and a wealth of insight for anyone dedicated to creating jobs and investment in their community.

andy_levine_and_patience_fairbrother_200x150About the authors: Andy Levine is the President and Chief Creative Officer of DCI and creator of “The Project” podcast. Follow Andy on Twitter at @DCI_Andy. Patience Fairbrother is a Senior Account Executive at DCI and producer of “The Project” podcast. Follow Patience on Twitter at @Patience_Fair.

Meet Your City Transportation Advocate

“My ask of the new administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities – that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.” – NLC’s Matt Colvin

mattcolv

Matt Colvin is the principal associate for transportation advocacy. (Brian Egan/NLC)

With a new administration and a new Congress, the National League of Cities’ Federal Advocacy team will be busy elevating the voices of cities throughout 2017 and beyond. As part of our 2017 initiative we’re introducing our Federal Advocacy team members and sharing with you what’s on their minds for 2017. Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference we will feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight. To kick the series off, I sat down with our transportation and infrastructure lobbyist, Matt Colvin, principal associate for transportation advocacy.

Name: Matt Colvin

Area of expertise: Transportation and Infrastructure

Federal Advocacy Committee: Transportation and Infrastructure Services

Hometown: Los Angeles

Follow on Twitter: @MatthewAColvin

Hey Matt, thanks again for sitting down with me today. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? And most importantly, why you are passionate about cities?

Sure! I’m originally from Los Angeles, but lived with family in Barrington, Illinois after high school — it’s a suburb northwest of Chicago. I started community college out that way and then transferred to the University of San Diego where I earned a B.A. in political science and environmental studies. After moving around a bit, I wound up working on Capitol Hill for Senator Menendez and later for Congressman Sires — both represent New Jersey. I went on to serve as a federal policy manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership prior to joining NLC.

Why cities? Well, with the exception of the small Jamaican fishing village that I lived in while serving in the Peace Corps, I’ve lived most of my life in large cities. On top of that, serving for members of Congress — both former mayors — representing New Jersey, a state with 7 of the 10 most densely populated cities in the country, ingrained in me an interest and deep respect for city leaders and the work that they do.

So, why transportation policy?

I’ve always been a rail and cars type of guy. I even once took a train from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles.

Oh wow!

But to be honest, I didn’t see myself going down this path when I moved to D.C. The interest in transportation and infrastructure has always been there, but I saw myself headed down a career path in environmental advocacy.

I started doing energy, environment, and transportation policy work for Senator Menendez, who chairs the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over transit. Working on the passage of the MAP-21 transportation bill for him in 2012 really sparked my interest in the issue area. Later, when an opportunity came up to staff Congressman Sires on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I jumped on it.

Transportation lets you get at the cross section of energy and the environment. These policies that you work on get mobilized in a way that not many other areas do not in the current political climate. The best part is that this line of work leads to both economically and physically healthier and stronger communities.

As a side note, the transportation policy community is refreshingly non-partisan. It very much feels like an area of broad consensus in an increasingly partisan world. We all want better infrastructure in our communities. Of course there is still disagreement about how and when things get done, but it’s nice to see that we all want things to get done.

What do you see in store for transportation policy and cities in 2017 with a new administration and Congress?

I think it’s still a bit of an unknown. The Trump Administration is talking about a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that will use tax credits to spur public private partnerships. I think it’s early to tell exactly what  his final proposal will look like, but I think it’s exciting that we just came off of a campaign in which both parties passionately discussed transportation and infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers report card gave America a D+ across all areas of infrastructure. Our infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, but we’re at a place now where bridges collapse and congestion is costing our families thousands of dollars every year and we still don’t see more federal funding to bring our infrastructure truly into the 21st century.

Congress and the administration are talking about doing something here, and we need this investment. Elaine Chao, the nominee for Secretary of Transportation, has discussed this need in her confirmation hearing. She also indicated that whatever comes down the pipeline in the next few years will likely be a mix of funding and financing tools, so I think cities should see that as a sign of hope. I also see this as a positive message that cities can bring to the Capitol Hill when they come to advocate; we should look into public private partnerships as part of the solution, but we still need that revenue.

My ask of the administration is that we start putting money directly in the hands of cities, that’s where the outcomes would be the greatest.

Outside of Washington, the intersection of transportation and technology is only going to advance in 2017. We’re going to have more and more questions and answers as to how these new technologies interact with our existing infrastructure. Whether it’s autonomous vehicles or ridesharing, it’s all pretty exciting.

Finally, a fun question, what is your spirit city? With which city do you identify the most?

San Diego. I mean for the weather alone. I think San Diego has some of the most incredible public spaces — from all of the beaches to Balboa park. But seriously, that 75-degree weather year round is pretty great.

Join us at CCC and meet Matt Colvin as well as the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshot About the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME 

Federal Advocacy in 2017: In a Year of Transition, Cities Seek Certainty and Opportunity

NLC is advocating for what may be cities’ most important federal priority in 2017: promoting a positive narrative around cities to the incoming administration and new lawmakers in Congress.

(Getty Images)

The majority of decision-makers inside the Obama Administration understood that the overall success of federal policies requires good local input and leadership. NLC will continue to build a strong relationship between local leaders and the White House during the Trump Administration as well. (Getty Images)

In the nation’s capital, the remarkable success of the Republican Party in the 2016 election surprised many and started a fresh debate over the message voters wanted to deliver to Washington. Outside the Capital Beltway, Americans remain deeply divided in ways that could impact the division of power and authority within the intergovernmental partnership.

For a non-partisan organization like the National League of Cities (NLC), representing 19,000 cities of every size, such divisions are a concern for sure. Fortunately, NLC was not caught off guard by the election outcome because our 2017 Advocacy Agenda began taking shape two years ago, when our bipartisan leadership first started thinking about what a presidential transition would mean for cities.

In 2015, NLC convened a number of highly respected city leaders to form a Presidential Election Task Force with the goal of forging a truly bipartisan campaign platform for cities. The campaign, Cities Lead, was built on a platform of three issues important to every city: public safety, infrastructure, and the economy. City leaders around the nation used the Cities Lead Playbook to engage with the presidential candidates of both parties and to obtain assurances and commitments that areas of broad bipartisan consensus would remain on solid ground — regardless of the party in power.

Thanks to the work of that task force, NLC was able to create engagement opportunities during President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and spotlight city leaders at the Republican National Convention (and Democratic National Convention). On election night, when the Trump campaign declared victory, NLC was there to congratulate him as the president-elect of the United States.

There is a fair amount of uncertainty about the priorities of the next administration and the 115th Session of Congress, but we are certain of at least three areas of common ground between the incoming administration and cities: the need to create greater resources for infrastructure, a desire to help cities and neighborhoods reduce crime and grow opportunity, and a focus on creating and retaining jobs.

It is unfortunate that the president-elect too often relies on mischaracterizations of cities, and there appears to be an urgent need for city leaders to build relationships with stakeholders inside and outside of the new administration. That’s why NLC is taking the lead and focusing on what may be cities’ most important federal priority for 2017: promoting a positive narrative around cities to the Administration and new lawmakers in Congress.

In 2008, then-Candidate Barack Obama said along the campaign trail that “we need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution.” There is little question that, within the recent intergovernmental partnership, local governments were empowered by the greater value placed on cities by the outgoing administration.

Place-based programs prospered across federal agencies and allocated federal funding directly to local governments, including those programs strongly associated with NLC like the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge and the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. The appointment of multiple former mayors and city officials to lead federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, sent a message about the value of local leaders and ensured a city point of view inside the Obama Administration and at every cabinet meeting.

Of course, there were many actions taken by the Administration which drew criticism from NLC, including President Obama’s repeated proposals to cap tax exempt municipal bonds to achieve a balanced budget, and the $1 billion cut to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program early in his first term that has yet to be reversed.

The fact remains that, as the result of a strong relationship between local leaders and the White House, the majority of decision-makers inside the Obama Administration understood that the overall success of federal policies depends on good local input and leadership.

This, then, is our main advice to the incoming administration: gain local insight.

Alongside our Cities Lead Advocacy Agenda, NLC also remains focused on specific legislative priorities. Our top asks for Congress this year are to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds, to authorize the collection of sales tax on internet purchases, and to allocate funding for infrastructure directly to local governments.

NLC has built a history of progress and success with both Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress, and we are poised to continue that success. Over the previous session of Congress, NLC helped deliver legislative victories for cities: a five-year transportation bill that puts more money in the hands of local governments; a water bill that includes resources for cities with contaminated water, like Flint, Michigan; a public health bill that significantly increases resources to battle the opioid epidemic tearing through communities; and spending bills that have largely maintained level funding for local priorities — just to name a few.

What’s most impressive is that Congress sent all of these measures to the president without tampering with municipal bonds.

New challenges and opportunities await cities, and NLC, in the coming year. Yet, as a non-partisan organization, NLC is the best-placed organization to build a new partnership for cities with the incoming administration, to advance policies where we are aligned, and to express opposition without fear of reprisal.

In turn, we are asking city leaders to help us in our mission by reintroducing their city to members of Congress (and Congressional staff) in their district as well as to the new administration officials in federal agencies overseeing the programs that matter most to their city.

mike_wallace_125x150About the author: Michael Wallace is the Interim Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

Research, Innovation and Cities: The Year in Review

Throughout 2016, NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences from San Francisco to Shanghai and everywhere in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography. www.jasondixson.com

NLC continues to shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help local officials lead. Pictured here at City Summit 2016 discussing the future of autonomous vehicles in cities: Jon Shieber, senior editor at TechCrunch; Debra Lam, chief innovation & performance officer of Pittsburgh; Justin Holmes, director of corporate communications and public policy at Zipcar; Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. (Jason Dixson)

This year has been one of growth and success for NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research (CSAR). Throughout 2016, we released impactful research across a range of focus areas – from the nuts and bolts of governing to future transportation and workforce shifts, innovation districts, and what cities need to know about drones.

We published familiar annual titles including our State of the Cities report, which analyzes the top issues for our nation’s mayors. We released the 31st edition of our City Fiscal Conditions report, which found that cities’ fiscal positions are strengthening as they continue to recover from the great recession. We finished out the year with our City of the Future research focusing on the critical role that automation and other disruptive changes are having on the workforce. At the core of each of these research products, our primary focus is analyzing how major, timely issues will impact cities.

Coinciding with our broad research agenda, CSAR experts have been on the ground in cities across the country working hand in hand with mayors, councilmembers, and city officials to build equitable, sustainable, financially sound communities that are prepared for future opportunities and challenges. And, in response to the growing opioid crisis, CSAR worked across NLC and together with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to convene the City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which recently published recommendations to help local officials to put an end to the epidemic.

Our Rose Center for Public Leadership continued its leading work on local land use challenges with the 2016 class of Daniel Rose Fellows. Those cities included Denver, Rochester, N.Y., Long Beach, Calif., and Birmingham, Ala. The Rose Center also launched the first-ever Equitable Economic Development Fellowship, selecting six cities to participate in its inaugural year: Boston, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Charlotte, N.C. This fellowship builds the capacity of America’s cities to ensure that prosperity is shared across their communities.

CSAR’s Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) launched new programs in 2016 that support and recognize NLC members’ efforts to preserve a clean environment, promote green jobs, and tackle climate change. The SolSmart program was launched in April to help cities make it easier for their residents and businesses to go solar. SCI also announced Leadership in Community Resilience, which is working with 10 cities from around the country to help local officials, city staff, and community partners share their experiences and advance local resilience efforts.

This year our team also incorporated NLC University into the Center, working to provide more focused programming and expanded capacity for city leaders. One example of this shift can be seen in this year’s City Summit attendance in Pittsburgh, where we had a 60 percent increase over last year. Additionally, with the hiring of new staff, we are looking to expand online learning and enhance the annual Leadership Summit.

NLC continues its work to end veteran homelessness, encouraging local leaders to make a permanent commitment to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. Through our leadership on the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, we facilitated on-the-ground engagement and assistance to city officials nationwide. We also continue to work together with the State Municipal Leagues on an annual research project focused on the critical intersections between city and state policy. This year we published Paying for Local Infrastructure in a new Era of Federalism, offering a state-by-state analysis of infrastructure financing tools.

CSAR also hosted a number of large events across the country. In the spring, we held the third annual Big Ideas for Cities event with a range of compelling stories from our nation’s mayors, expertly facilitated by the Atlantic’s James Fallows. In the fall we hosted the Big Ideas for Small Business Summit with economic development officials from 25 cities sharing strategies for building local small business and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Most recently, we hosted the second annual Resilient Cities Summit with the Urban Land Institute and U.S. Green Building Council, which brought together mayors from 15 cities across the country to focus on critical resilience strategies. These annual events allow NLC to elevate the voice of city leaders on issues that matter to communities across America.

Through our work on these important issues, we solidified partnerships with agencies across the federal government and worked with them on key programming, ensuring we are effectively communicating the voice of cities at every level. Some of these included: Small Business Administration for Startup in a Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs on veterans homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Prosperity Playbook, and Department of Energy on Net Zero Energy.

Throughout the year, our team presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences local, national, and global – from San Francisco to Shanghai and everything in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard. We continue to help shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help mayors and councilmembers learn and lead – and we look forward to our work in 2017.

Read our 2016 publications:

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.