First Lady Urges Local Leaders to Maintain Their Commitment to Mayors Challenge

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First Lady Michelle Obama gathered participants and national partners of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness at the White House to celebrate the progress that has been achieved and urged an on-going commitment beyond 2016.

Yesterday, formerly homeless veterans shared stories of their time on the streets and the life-changing moments that resulted in them now having a home. These women and men represent only a few of the more than 350,000 veterans and families who have been housed as a result of efforts in communities across the country. Nationally, since 2010, veteran homelessness has declined 47 percent.

The success of each of these veterans is due to a combination of personal courage and leadership from city officials to improve the coordination of resources from federal, state, and local government, as well as community and national non-profits.

During the event, participants of the Mayors Challenge shared examples of the progress happening in their communities, but also spoke candidly about remaining challenges.

Specifically, Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo, New York emphasized the importance of working with surrounding communities to create regional solutions that can help homeless veterans who regularly move throughout the area across municipal lines.

Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse, New York highlighted the proactive role that law enforcement can play in identifying homeless veterans and connecting them to available resources.

President of the Calvert County Commission (Maryland), Steven Weems, discussed the role elected officials can play in engaging local businesses to help connect veterans to employment opportunities after they become housed.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, of New Orleans, Louisiana shared about the progress his community saw thanks to a dedicated staff person in the mayor’s office engaging with stakeholders to create accountability for developing cross-sector collaborations.

Mayor Charlie Hales of Portland, Oregon noted the important role of raising awareness and engagement among area landlords to provide housing for homeless veterans. The critical nature of work on this issue was underscored by representatives from New York City, which has reduced veteran homelessness 64 percent in the last year alone.

The lack of affordable housing in cities was a challenge consistently raised by many attendees.

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Local officials discuss progress made and the remaining challenges facing veteran homelessness.

What Does the End of Veteran Homelessness Look Like?

Since launching the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in June 2014, 35 communities and three states have been certified as having met federally developed criteria and benchmarks for achieving the Mayors Challenge.

One community is the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi.

Critical to the success on the Gulf Coast has been the use of collaboratively agreed upon data measurements.

Community partners from the area’s Continuum of Care worked closely with local staff of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to agree on the number of veterans that needed to be housed. Based on their analysis of client assessments and outreach data, the community agreed they needed to house 268 veterans.

With an agreed upon number, partners set out to develop a by-name list of homeless veterans. Along with the names of each veteran, information on individual needs was determined using a common assessment tool to help prioritize people for service rather than a continuing a first come, first serve approach.

The use of these best practices was strengthened by the support of local elected officials who are part of the Mayors Challenge, such as Mayor Johnny DuPree of Hattiesburg, Mayor Billy Hewes of Gulfport, and Mayor A.J. Holloway of Biloxi.

These local leaders and others called upon the community to step forward and help identify landlords through churches, veteran service organizations, property management associations, and civic associations. To help house veterans, landlords reduced rents and provided furnished units.

Other area businesses also came together to ensure temporary and permanent housing was ready for veterans.

As part of efforts in Hattiesburg, associates of The Home Depot volunteered as part of Team Depot to repair facilities on the Oak Arbor campus.

Situated on 45 acres, the campus is made up of a large building that is nearly 20 years old with 54 dormitory style bedrooms, common living areas, workout room, laundry, kitchen, cafeteria, and staff offices. In addition, there are 12 two-bedroom apartments reserved for veterans and two small group homes providing 13 beds for female veterans.

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As a part of Team Depot, associates of The Home Depot support projects helping homeless veterans.

Earlier this year, The Home Depot Foundation re-affirmed their commitment to veterans by pledging a quarter-billion dollars for veteran-related causes by 2020. Since 2011, The Home Depot has improved more than 26,700 veteran homes and 6,900 veteran facilities in more than 2,000 cities across the country.

The collective impact of these partnerships on the Gulf Coast resulted in 276 veterans being housed in 2015. Today only four veterans are on the area’s by-name list. Once identified, veterans are housed, on average, in 11 days. During that time, temporary housing and shelter comes from the faith community and locations such as the Oak Arbor campus.

Community Solutions is a key national partner supporting the Gulf Coast region’s efforts.

Watch a video showing the progress made.

Sustaining the Progress

As the Trump Administration transitions into office, maintaining the unprecedented momentum seen on veteran homelessness is critical. The Mayors Challenge is a permanent commitment to ensure homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring, beginning with veterans.

To help maintain the Mayors Challenge, the National League of Cities is working closely with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, and Community Solutions.

Each of these organizations has resources on best practices from their work with partners across the country that can help participants of the Mayors Challenge meet the goal of ending veteran homelessness.

To learn how NLC can help your city, Frequently Asked Questions, case studies, and information on how to find local stakeholders currently working on veteran homelessness, visit www.nlc.org/mayorschallenge.

To get updates and resources, join the Mayors Challenge Facebook page and follow the challenge on Twitter.

The work of the Mayors Challenge requires persistent leadership, but communities across the country are showing the progress that can be made.

“This issue has nothing to do with whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an independent. It is so much bigger than that,” said the First Lady. “It is about supporting our American heroes. It is about standing up for who we are as a nation. And that is something we can all agree on. There should never ever be any daylight between any of us when it comes to that.”

“As long as we have military members serving in harms way, we will always have veterans transitioning to civilian life who may need our help,” she continued. “The Mayors Challenge is a tangible and real way to honor and thank our veterans and their families for sacrificing so much for us all.”

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

5 Great Things About My Hometown of Pittsburgh

NLC’s Alyia Gaskins – a Pittsburgh native – shares her favorite things to see and do while visiting the city.

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(Getty Images)

Today, nearly 3000 city leaders will begin to arrive in Pittsburgh for the National League of Cities’ 2016 City Summit. For some, this will be their first trip to the ‘Burgh. Many are familiar with city’s past ­– its history and legacy as the Steel City. Few are familiar with the Pittsburgh of today.

Pittsburgh is my hometown ­– and it’s where my love of cities first began. From Squirrel Hill and Lawrenceville to the Hill District, Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, and each has its own unique character, charm, and attractions. As a native Pittsburgher, I encourage you to adventure beyond the convention center and explore the city during your stay. Here are just a few of my favorite things about Pittsburgh:

The View: In 1988, The New York Times referred to Pittsburgh as the “only city in America with an entrance.” If you are arriving from the airport, as you exit the Fort Pitt Tunnel a magical view of the city will unfold before your eyes: historic bridges, iconic buildings such as PPG Place, and Point State Park (where the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers converge). For another unforgettable glimpse of the breathtaking skyline, ride the famous Duquesne Incline, one of the few remaining working inclines in the country, or enjoy a cocktail at the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto atop Mt. Washington. If the weather is nice, rent a bike from Healthy Ride or Golden Triangle Bikes and visit the city’s rich landmarks, bridges and parks.

The History and Culture: When I go back to visit my hometown, I’m always surprised that I continue to learn new things about the city. There are a number of notable museums throughout Pittsburgh, including the Senator John Heinz History Center, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, and the Andy Warhol Museum. And if you’re looking for a fun, interactive history lesson, tour the barrelhouse at Wigle Whiskey to learn about the city’s history as the epicenter of American Whiskey production. Every tour begins with a barrel aged cocktail, ends with a tasting, and covers Pittsburgh’s history from the 1800s until today.

The Food: By now, you’ve probably heard that Primanti Bros. is a “Pittsburgh tradition.” (French fries on your sandwich – what’s not to love?) But it may surprise you to learn that Pittsburgh is fast emerging as a culinary epicenter. The Strip District and Market Square are a short distance from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and home to local culinary destinations such as Deluca’s Restaurant, Sienna on the Square, and Pizzaiolo Primo. Some of my favorite restaurants in the city include Fat Heads and Pamela’s Diner.

Greenfield: You probably won’t find the Greenfield neighborhood on any travel brochure, but I promise it’s one of Pittsburgh’s hidden gems. Greenfield is where I was raised. It is where I first learned that buildings and infrastructure alone do not make a great city – vibrant streets lined with caring neighbors are what make visitors come back again and again. From local establishments such as Hough’s, Copper Kettle Brewing Company, and J. Goughs Tavern to new attractions such as The Escape Room, Greenfield is a one-of-a-kind Pittsburgh neighborhood.

The People: Pittsburghers are unique. We bleed black and gold, speak our own language, and wear Steelers, Penguins or Pirates apparel to formal functions – but most importantly, we love our city and would love to tell you about it. Whether you meet someone who refers to Pittsburgh as the City of Bridges or the City of Champions, ask them about the best local places to experience. They’ll be happy to share their insider knowledge.

On behalf of all the city’s residents, welcome to the ‘Burgh! I promise that Pittsburgh will leave a lasting impression on your heart – and you’ll soon realize it’s much more than just the “Steel City.”

About the author: Alyia Gaskins is a Senior Associate for Health and Community Wellness at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Alyia on Twitter at @a_gaskins412.

5 Things You Don’t Want to Miss at the 2016 City Summit

NLC brings the City Summit, the nation’s premier conference for city leaders, to Pittsburgh this week. Here are just a few highlights.

Formerly an industrial town, Pittsburgh has transformed into a beautiful and vibrant city. Its architecture, food, artists, museums and universities are attracting young professionals and creating a place where people love to live. (Getty Images)

Formerly an industrial town, Pittsburgh has transformed into a beautiful and vibrant city. Its architecture, food, artists, museums and universities are attracting young professionals and creating a place where people love to live. (Getty Images)

The City Summit, hosted this year by Mayor William Peduto and the city of Pittsburgh, is the National League of Cities’ largest annual event and the nation’s premier gathering of city leaders. The conference will convene more than 3,000 mayors, councilmembers and other local officials in Pittsburgh from November 16-19 to explore and find solutions to the most pressing challenges currently facing cities. Topics to be discussed include economic development, technology and data use, sustainability and climate change, transportation, community relations and leadership development. Here are five things you don’t want to miss.

The Opening General Session with Guest Speaker Candy Crowley
Candy Crowley will provide a non-partisan analysis of the election and preview what local officials can expect from a new Congress and administration.

 

Big Ideas for Small Cities
Local officials from Jacksonville, North Carolina; Littleton, Colorado; Salem, Massachusetts; and Charlottesville, Virginia, will share creative and innovative ideas that have driven dramatically positive outcomes to the future of their communities.

The Friday General Session with Guest Speaker Terry Bradshaw
Hall of Fame NFL quarterback and FOX sports broadcaster Terry Bradshaw will provide the keynote. This session will also feature a special panel on autonomous vehicles (AVs) that will examine the current research and technology development landscape and celebrate Pittsburgh as the first city in America to test AVs with the public. Learn how you should prepare for AVs in your own community and how these vehicles will be rolled out commercially in the near future. Panelists include Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, David Plouffe, Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy at Uber, and Jon Shieber, Senior Editor at Tech Crunch.

Mobile Workshops
These new and innovative sessions will be located all around Pittsburgh on Wednesday and Thursday, showcasing collaborative solutions to issues facing local government. Highlights include a tour of the Pittsburgh Cultural District, an exploration of the key projects and decisions that transformed the Pittsburgh riverfront and brought it to life, and much more.

Report Releases: City of the Future and the Opioid Task Force Report
NLC will release two new reports at the conference. City of the Future: The Future of Work analyzes the role cities do and will continue to play in preparing for a future of work that is impacted by increasing automation and artificial intelligence, and the Opioid Task Force Report outlines best practices and strategies for local officials combatting the ongoing opioid crisis nationwide.

The 2016 City Summit will be held November 16-19 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Boulevard, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222. Learn more about the conference and register here.

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

Why Cities Must Keep Equity a Central Focus in Building a Culture of Health

“Economic development is integral to having a healthy community. If we can address the economic issues in our neighborhoods, we can help people live healthier lifestyles.” – Mayor Mark Holland, Kansas City, Kansas

Seeking to achieve health equity is the best way to ensure the health of all residents within your city. (Getty Images)

Access to high-performing schools, good jobs, affordable housing, viable transit options, and healthy food can predict both how long and how well people live. Seeking to achieve health equity is the best way to ensure the health of all residents within a city. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Alyia Gaskins and Stephanie Boarden.

Where you live determines your health as well as your proximity to opportunity. However, deep patterns of discrimination, racial segregation, and decades of federal, state and local policies have dictated where people live and the opportunities to which they have access. Despite advances in public health and improved economic prosperity, poor health outcomes disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.

“We all need to understand that racial disparities exist in every important aspect of life. From infant mortality to life expectancy, race has the power to predict and even determine success. And that presents society and local leaders with some unique challenges. Local government leaders are well positioned to make the policy, institutional, and structural changes necessary to reduce disparities and advance equity.”
– Leon T. Andrews, director of the National League of Cities’ Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) initiative

We cannot ignore how historical, systemic and structural racism has also shaped our nation’s cities and towns, resulting in disparities in education, housing, employment and health. Low-income communities and communities of color are still feeling the impacts of those decades-old decisions today. For these communities, the lack of key resources and services results in poor and costlier health outcomes, which are referred to as health inequities. Simply put, race and place matter when it comes to health and well-being.

In addition to having serious health consequences for individuals and families, health inequities negatively impact the economic competitiveness and vitality of cities through lost potential and productivity.

  • In 2000, the infant mortality among African Americans occurred at a rate of 14.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is more than twice the national average of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births that same year
  • Children who experience hunger are more likely to be in poor health and have behavioral and emotional problems in schools. Additionally, children experiencing hunger are more likely to repeat a grade and require special education services
  • Researchers estimate that childhood lead exposure in homes costs society over $50 billion per year due to lost economic productivity resulting from reduced cognitive potential
This graphic shows the average life expectancy by county in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

A graphic showing the average life expectancy by county in the Washington, D.C. metro area. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

Now more than ever, municipal leaders have a responsibility to lead the way in partnering with communities to reimagine, design, and plan healthy places for residents to live, learn, work, and thrive. “Economic development is integral to having a healthy community. If we can address the economic issues in our neighborhoods, we can help people live healthier lifestyles,” says Mayor Mark Holland, Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas.

The following steps can help local leaders address racial and ethnic health inequities and create healthier, more inclusive and prosperous cities:

  1. Increase the understanding of the systemic and historical policies that have exacerbated health disparities in your community by providing trainings for staff and local decision makers
  2. Collect and analyze neighborhood-level data on social, economic, and environmental factors such as race and ethnicity, crime, housing, small business development, and transportation to better understand the distribution of the social determinants of health across your city
  3. Invest in health promoting resources and services such as parks, early childhood programs, workforce development, and training programs that have direct and indirect benefits for health
  4. Create multi-sector partnerships that include public health and non-health stakeholders, community leaders, residents, and anchor institutions to advance health equity. For example, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health plans and hospitals are looking beyond their walls to identify opportunities to address the most pressing needs of their communities

To do this efficiently and effectively, it’s essential that residents be engaged in meaningful and authentic ways – especially those who are experiencing the poorest health outcomes – to inform the policymaking process from design to implementation. Only by including the voices and the stories of those most affected by health inequities can we advance policies, programs, and practices that promote health and advance equity.

This is the second blog post in our new Culture of Health series. Look for the next post in November. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the recording of our October 27 webinar, A Level Playing Field.

About the authors:

Alyia Gaskins is a Senior Associate for Health and Community Wellness at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Alyia on Twitter at @a_gaskins412.

 

Stephanie Boarden is an Associate Director at PolicyLink.

What Does a Trump Presidency Mean for the Supreme Court?

President-elect Trump should have little trouble getting a conservative nominee through the majority-Republican Senate. What does this mean for state and local governments?

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Conservative Justices tend to be good for state and local governments on issues like public employment, qualified immunity and the Fourth Amendment. Liberal justices tend be better for state and local governments on land use and tax issues. (Getty Images)

While still a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump released two lists of potential Supreme Court nominees to fill the current vacancy on the Court. While he has indicated that these lists are definitive, only time will tell whether he will in fact stick to them when making a nomination. Both lists were well-received by conservatives.

President-elect Trump should have little trouble getting a conservative nominee through the majority-Republican Senate. If Senate Democrats filibuster Trump’s nominee, Senate Republicans are likely to exercise the “nuclear option,” meaning only a simple majority of Senators will be needed to confirm the nominee.

Assuming all goes according to plan, a conservative Justice will replace another conservative Justice, Justice Antonin Scalia, some time next spring. No two Justices are interchangeable, of course – and this is especially the case with a Justice like Scalia, who was guided by originalism and textualism and didn’t always tow the party line on issues like the Fourth Amendment.

What does this mean for state and local governments?

Conservative Justices tend to be good for state and local governments on issues like public employment, qualified immunity and the Fourth Amendment. In theory, conservative Justices are better for state and local governments on preemption and federalism – but often, these considerations are clouded by the facts of the case.

Liberal justices tend be more deferential to the government generally and better for state and local governments on land use and tax issues. And, of course, liberal Justices are more likely to advance social issues, which state and local governments are often divided on.

These days, no Justices are great for state and local governments in First Amendment cases!

In short, it is difficult to imagine that President-elect Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee will shift the Supreme Court much at all. So, in terms of the Supreme Court, state and local governments are likely to be in much of the same position they have been in recent history.

Additional appointments are likely in the next four years, though not inevitable. The average retirement age for Supreme Court Justices is 79. The oldest Justices currently on the Court are liberals and “swing” Justice Kennedy: Justice Ginsburg (age 83), Justice Breyer (age 78), and Justice Kennedy (age 80).

If President-elect Trump makes multiple appointments to the Supreme Court, the Court will likely have a larger majority of conservative Justices (who will no longer need Justice Kennedy’s vote in cases involving social issues).

The biggest change for now on the Supreme Court likely to impact state and local governments (and others) could be the cases the Court will consider. Ilya Shapiro blogging for CATO at Liberty explains: “If you live by executive action, you die by executive action – which means that many high-profile cases looming on the Supreme Court docket will simply go away. DAPA (executive action on immigration) and the Clean Power Plan will be rescinded, religious nonprofits will be exempt from Obamacare, Trump’s HHS won’t make the illegal payments that have led to House v. Burwell, and more. That may include the transgender-bathroom guidance, which if rescinded would remove the biggest controversy from the Court’s current term.”

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Seeking Qualified Candidates for SolSmart Advisors

SolSmart Advisors are fully-funded, temporary staff who work in cities to provide intensive technical assistance to communities looking to adopt solar-friendly programs and practices.

SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, provides official recognition and no-cost technical assistance to help cities advance solar energy. (Getty Images)

SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, provides official recognition and no-cost technical assistance to help cities advance solar energy. (Getty Images)

Cities across the nation should be aware of a great opportunity to expand solar energy development and lower electricity costs for homes and businesses.

One of the most exciting aspects of the SolSmart program is the opportunity for a city to host a SolSmart Advisor. These Advisors are fully-funded, temporary staff who work in cities for periods of up to six months. They provide intensive technical assistance to communities looking to adopt solar-friendly programs and practices.

Advisors will work with their Host Communities to reduce soft costs and remove barriers to going solar. They will evaluate existing local government programs and processes and their impact on the local solar market environment. Advisors will then apply industry leading best practices to develop actionable plans that will move a community toward designation. They will help cities achieve official SolSmart designation at the gold, silver, and bronze levels, which constitutes official recognition that the community is “open for solar business.”

SolSmart is now seeking qualified candidates for Advisor positions in communities across the country. Candidates for an advisor position should be highly-motivated, experienced self-starters who will use their professional experience to help cities go solar. Interested applicants can find a list of communities with links to detailed position descriptions here.

The ideal candidate for an Advisor is a mid-career professional with a graduate degree and some experience (or a Bachelor’s degree and additional experience) in a relevant field such as planning, public policy, engineering, or sustainability. The Advisor will earn a weekly stipend and gain valuable experience by working with local government officials and other stakeholders to address solar issues.

Any city that is involved in the SolSmart program is eligible to apply for an Advisor. The next opportunity for a city to apply to host a SolSmart Advisor will be in January 2017. The selection process is highly competitive. Communities can apply through regional organizations or partner with neighboring cities to submit more compelling applications.

To participate in SolSmart or learn more about the program, simply fill out this form:

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. His areas of expertise include solar photovoltaic project development, due diligence, and risk assessment.

Cities and Their Mayors Can Change the Future of Aging in America

A growing number of U.S. mayors are stepping up and demonstrating vision as they plan for a new demographic future.

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Demographers know that the U.S. population is aging at an unprecedented pace. One in five Americans will be 65 or over by 2030 as the nearly 80 million baby boomers age. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Paul Irving.

Nearly 90 percent of older adults want to remain in their homes and communities, according to the AARP. More than 80 percent age 65 and over now live in metropolitan areas. Clearly, enabling Americans to age with dignity, opportunity and support is a central issue for the future of our urban environments.

With a federal government hamstrung by partisanship and politics, cities and their mayors are on the front lines. That might just be good a thing. After all, cities are labs for ideas and incubation. They are economic engines and enablers of purpose. They are places where innovation happens.

A growing number of U.S. mayors are stepping up and demonstrating vision as they plan for a new demographic future. Their ground-level experience with change opens the door to solutions that can be replicated at the state, national and global levels.

More and more mayors appreciate that age-friendly environments improve quality of life for all. These environments foster individual well-being and impede age-associated decline. When they enable aging adults to prosper as consumers, workers, learners and volunteers, the public health, economic and social benefits accrue not only to them, but to younger people and the broader community as well.

More mayors are promoting changes in policy and practice. They are creating agency-wide understanding and embedding consideration of aging adults into planning processes, seeking age-friendly results as they seek to innovate for the benefit of all residents.

Progress is happening, but more can be done. More can be done to optimize health and security as well as engagement and productivity. More can be done to expand housing and transit options, social services and opportunities for education, work and interaction. More can be done to capitalize on innovative technologies and communications solutions that allow people to age independently in their homes. In the face of funding challenges, even comparatively small steps can make a difference.

Mayors can ensure that older residents contribute to the economy and strengthen society, applying their abilities to keep their cities vibrant. They can acknowledge that older adults offer wisdom and experience that enriches families as well as business, educational and social institutions. They can encourage mentoring, training and intergenerational connection in workplaces. They can elevate awareness that older entrepreneurs boost economic growth and that encore careerists and volunteers contribute to society’s well-being. Rather than focusing on the stereotypes of decline and disengagement, mayors can recognize the potential of older adults as assets rather than burdens.

Nationwide, more than 100 communities representing more than 53 million people have joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, an affiliate of the World Health Organization’s global Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program. The World Health Organization’s checklist of age-friendly attributes – in categories such as outdoor spaces, respect and inclusion, civic and social participation, and housing and transportation – provides valuable guidance to mayors and their staffs.

As the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging prepares to release the latest version of its widely followed “Best Cities for Successful Aging” index, its Advisory Board is once again calling on U.S. mayors to sign the Mayor’s Pledge. This non-partisan initiative asks mayors to commit their ideas and efforts to make their communities work well for their aging populations while enabling older residents to work toward a better future for all. The upcoming “Best Cities” report will publicly recognize mayors who sign the Pledge, joining their colleagues in civic leadership across the country to promote purpose and well-being in their communities.

The Pledge presents a unique opportunity for cities and their mayors. At a time when public institutions and officials face troubling challenges, leaders who sign the Pledge demonstrate welcome dedication to improving the lives of today’s older adults and of generations to come.

Paul Irving is chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute and distinguished scholar in residence at the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology.

Google Introduces Project Sunroof

The data explorer tool helps communities, cities and municipalities easily visualize how many rooftops are suitable to install solar, how much power they could collectively generate, and how much carbon could be displaced by deploying rooftop solar at scale.

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Sunroof’s data explorer found that in more than 90 percent of communities that the tool covers within 42 states nationwide, well over half the rooftops are viable for solar. (Google)

This is a guest post by Carl Elkin.

Google has always been a big believer in clean energy, and solar power has been a central part of our vision. Over the past year, Project Sunroof has been helping homeowners explore whether they should go solar – offering solar estimates for over 43 million houses across 42 states. Solar installations today are growing rapidly, but there remains tremendous untapped potential as only a half a percent of U.S. electricity comes from solar power.

Today we’re excited to be taking Project Sunroof a step further by launching a new data explorer tool to enable solar estimates for entire communities, in addition to individual homes, by leveraging 3D rooftop geometry from Google Earth to estimate the solar potential for millions of rooftops in America. The tool helps communities, cities and municipalities easily visualize how many rooftops are suitable to install solar, how much power they could collectively generate, and how much carbon could be displaced by deploying rooftop solar at scale. Sunroof’s solar potential reports can also be easily shared among community members, researchers and policymakers directly from the the tool itself. To access this information, users simply enter in a state, county, city, or zip code to receive a custom analysis.

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Click here to see the solar potential of your community. (graphic courtesy of Google)

Rooftop solar is a viable option for many cities today. Sunroof’s data explorer found that in more than 90 percent of communities that the tool covers within 42 states nationwide, well over half the rooftops are viable for solar. Today, cities like Denver and organizations like the National League of Cities see great value in using the data explorer tool to evaluate whether solar can drive economic savings and growth, as well as help transition energy consumption to lower carbon sources for their communities. Here’s what they have to say:

Cooper Martin, Program Director of the Sustainable Cities Institute, National League of Cities
“Our Sustainable Cities Institute program aims to provide guidance and information for governments that want to pursue sustainability and ensuring that solar is easy, fast and cheap to install. Sunroof’s Data Explorer tool can help inform city stakeholders about the opportunity of solar energy, and the work that is needed to support solar-friendly policies.”

Thomas J. Herrod, Climate and Policy analyst, City of Denver
“As a City with a bold and ambitious goal of reducing 80 percent of Greenhouse Gas emissions by the year 2050, Project Sunroof data is a key tool in our arsenal of potential strategies. Rooftop solar is already a viable option within Denver, but this tool helps us refine our efforts to ensure equity in our outreach, efficiency in our efforts, and measurement in our management resources. Of equal importance is the ability to identify where rooftop solar may not be an option – helping us identify areas where other renewable energy programs offered by our Utility can fill the gap. We are thrilled to be able to utilize Project Sunroof in our Climate mitigation efforts and help inform our community about the bountiful resource that renewable energy can provide.”

Mark Trout, CIO, Vivint
“In previous analysis we’ve done, comparing Project Sunroof data estimates to actual systems performing in the field, we’ve found Google’s information to be a highly accurate source for predicting the solar performance of a rooftop system. At Vivint Solar we are constantly focusing on how to better delight our customers and advance the solar industry through leading innovation. Project Sunroof is a prime example how how technology can improve the consumer experience and accelerate solar deployment here in the US.”

About the author: Carl Elkin is the engineering lead for Project Sunroof.

Flood Mitigation: An Investment in City Resilience

Working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Economist Intelligence Unit put together a socio-economic analysis to help local officials make a compelling argument to invest in flood mitigation programs.

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A study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the benefits of flood mitigation found that investment to make homes and infrastructure more flood-proof returns positive economic, environmental, and social benefits for communities. (Getty Images)

American cities are increasingly at risk from storm surges caused by frequent, high precipitation weather patterns. Researchers from the University of South Florida found that, “with nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population residing in coastal areas, compound flooding can have devastating impacts for low-lying, densely populated and heavily developed regions when strong storm surge and high rainfall amounts occur together.”

Cities that have a large concentration of population in coastal areas that are also subject to potential devastating storm surges are taking steps to mitigate the risk of flooding. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (the research and analysis division of The Economist Group), “The benefits of mitigation cannot be overstated. Community leaders are driven to take action to revitalize neighborhoods, improve public spaces, enhance public safety, and boost the city’s competitiveness.”

Working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Economist Intelligence Unit put together a socio-economic analysis to help local officials make a compelling argument to invest in flood mitigation programs. The study includes in-debt community case studies, state-by-state analysis, and key takeaways. The Economist looked at the mitigation efforts of 11 cities and counties: Elkader, Iowa; Shepherdsville, Kentucky; Austin, Minnesota; Jefferson County, Wisconsin; Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; Boston, Massachusetts; DeKalb County, Georgia; Cobb County, Georgia; St. Louis County, Missouri; Lemon Grove, California; and Hancock County, Mississippi.

The study provides real-life examples that highlight the benefits local communities received by implementing flood mitigation programs. These communities:

  • Avoided property losses
  • Avoided business & education interruption
  • Avoided loss of critical infrastructure
  • Revitalized neighborhoods
  • Improved public spaces
  • Enhanced public safety
  • Enjoyed ecosystem benefits
  • Increased competitiveness for the community

The analysis found that “the economic benefits from flood mitigation significantly outweigh the costs by as much as five to one.” However, funding flood mitigation is a challenge for many local governments. Fortunately, there are creative solutions and financing sources that can help local governments fund mitigation projects and ease the financial strain. Along with other governmental assistance programs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), FEMA is working to reduce the financial burden for local governments.

One of the most direct benefits from flood mitigation is that communities could receive a significant discount of up to 45 percent on flood insurance rates. The Economist study found that “communities that invested to in mitigation improved their Community Rating System (CRS) class and received significant discounts on flood insurance, putting money back in the pockets of property owners.”

Next year, Congress will once again take up legislation to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by FEMA. The program, which will expire in 2017, provides affordable flood insurance to millions of homes and business in flood zones. However, the program has come under considerable scrutiny because of the extensive flooding that has occurred over the past decade in many cities across the country; the insurance payouts from the excessive flooding are making the program unsustainable. Next year, Congress may consider changes to the program that could significantly raise flood insurance rates and increase the number of homeowners and businesses that need flood insurance.

NLC believes that Congress must reauthorize the NFIP and keep flood insurance rates affordable for primary, non-primary and business properties while balancing the fiscal solvency of the program. However, to reduce the risk of flooding, local governments need additional resources from the federal government to implement mitigation programs before a flood – not after.

Yucel-OrsAbout the Author: Yucel (u-jel) Ors is NLC’s Program Director of Public Safety and Crime Prevention. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around crime prevention, corrections, substance abuse, municipal fire policy, juvenile justice, disaster preparedness and relief, homeland security, domestic terrorism, court systems and gun control. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.

An Educated City: How Mayors Can Ensure City Residents Succeed in College and Beyond

City leaders grapple with building meaningful postsecondary educational pathways for all their residents, understanding the link between their success and the city’s success.

(pictured from left to right) Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, YEF Director Clifford Johnson, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, and Nashville & Davidson County Mayor Megan Barry at the Mayors' Institute event Promoting Postsecondary Success in Louisville.

(pictured from left to right) Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, YEF Director Clifford Johnson, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, and Nashville & Davidson County Mayor Megan Barry at the Mayors’ Institute event Promoting Postsecondary Success in Louisville.

As part of NLC’s recent Mayors’ Institute event in Louisville, Kentucky, Promoting Postsecondary Success, the mayors of Louisville, Nashville, Newark and San Antonio engaged in conversations about strategies for providing educational options and support for youth and adults that help them succeed beyond high school and gain meaningful educational and workforce experiences. What follows is an account of how four cities are tackling educational attainment, improving pathways and forging new partnerships with their local business and higher education communities to create a thriving economy through access to educational opportunities.

“People in our cities are saying ‘I do not feel connected to a future and I do not have hope for the future.’ In building a culture of college-going we need to build this connection to all of our citizens,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who hosted the event. Mayors know that to succeed in the modern economy, their residents need pathways to education and training beyond high school. “Demographics are destiny – 98 percent of GDP growth in our country is attributed to our cities,” Fischer said.

Louisville’s leaders hope to integrate, connect and amplify the options the city’s residents have to find their path to educational attainment. Mayor Fischer and his team want to use the 55,000 Degrees Campaign – as well as exploring other levers including the Harvard By All Means Project and Say Yes to Education initiative – to build this culture of opportunity.

The City of Newark is also exploring pathways to align its education efforts to local workforce development. “You have to have a pipeline and to reach down into the high schools and build pathways,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Additionally, the city is looking at strengthening partnerships and engagement with employers to support training, education and workforce opportunities. “We need to change the perspective of the workforce in the city,” Baraka said.

The mayor, in coordination with the Newark City of Learning Collaborative at Rutgers University-Newark, the Newark Alliance and the Victoria Foundation, seeks to connect home-grown talent to meaningful educational opportunities and eventual employment. With the city’s work still in the early stages, the Newark City of Learning Collaborative launched a Summer Leadership Institute that provided employment opportunities for 3,000 Newark residents, and worked with 400 students to help build the skills needed to apply to and succeed in college.

Cities are also using existing community-based initiatives as springboards to greater engagement and programming for targeted populations. San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor is dedicated to reaching young men of color in her city. “San Antonio has a history of investing in student success… (and) has seen tremendous improvements in high school graduation rates in recent years, a tribute to the collective work of the areas’ many school districts and their intense focus on graduating more students,” Taylor said.

Using Promise Zone as a starting point, Mayor Taylor in partnership with the Alamo Colleges – the San Antonio-area community college system – began programs that bridge learning and workforce training known as Promise Zone to Work. The city has used the Promise Zone model to address the need of young men of color increase opportunities and build a strong postsecondary pathway. Taylor’s efforts use data to better understand what interventions and programming are proving to best serve this target population.

Like Taylor, Mayor Megan Barry of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County uses her city’s Promise Zone efforts to increase opportunities for educational attainment and workforce success. “We believe this work will help us pilot a strategy that leverages the various resources we have in Nashville to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in postsecondary attainment rates and financial wellness, which we feel are critical components that contribute to disparities in longer-term outcomes, such as employment, income, and poverty,” Barry said.

Barry looks to identify overarching goals the city can coalesce around and produce an ecosystem that supports residents. Building off existing efforts that serve adults, Nashville seeks a unified approach that creates meaningful pathways to postsecondary success.

With support from the Lumina Foundation, these cities will continue building and strengthening strategies to provide access points, support and guidance that allow their residents to gain the education and training needed to succeed. In the coming months, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will provide updates on these cities’ work and develop resources cities can use to improve postsecondary educational attainment for their residents.

About the author: Dana D’Orazio is a program manager with the NLC YEF Institute’s Education and Expanded Learning team.