For the first time in human history, more than half (54%) of the world’s population lives in cities according to a new report. This places greater pressure than ever before on Mayors in terms of reconciling that demand against the realities of local economies, and new city data seeks to examine how Mayors are thinking about the task.
The National League of Cities has issued its annual State of the Cities report which looks at what Mayors are doing to advance their municipalities. According to the latest data, for a second year in a row, local economic development remains a core focus area for mayors. Other topics included improving community and police relations, public safety, and responding to the impact of climate change.
Infrastructure was ranked as the second most important topic in the report, although authors note that the way Mayors address infrastructure can vary by region. “For example, within infrastructure, mayors in the West were more likely to discuss bikes and bike lanes than those in other regions, whereas mayors from cities in the Midwest, often with aging infrastructure, were more likely to discuss sewers,” authors write.
In other cases the size of a municipality impacted what issues Mayors focused on. Smaller cities tend to be taking a closer look at public safety, whereas large cities were looking at demographics and economic development.
No matter how big or small a municipality is, budgets will determine how each of these topics are ultimately handled. According to the report, city finances are starting to turn the corner from the Great Recession but as wages remain flat, there are still challenges when it comes to generating revenue. Mayors are looking toward technology, and improving the health of the population as two ways of creating value at a lower upfront cost.
Where public safety has been a focus area, Mayors are looking for ways to cut back on the types of offenses that lead to prison time, and thus increased municipal costs. Improvements in community and police relations can also have a positive impact on public safety.
Other issues like transportation and climate change are informing a broader discussion on infrastructure improvements in cities.
“Looking forward to 2015, economic recovery will continue to define leadership agendas in cities across the country. In light of a disappointing job recovery and a persistent achievement gap and despite the fact that few mayors have control over their school systems, education is likely to remain a high priority. Additionally, demands on local budgets, such as transportation and pensions, are likely to persist and hold back local budgets from full recovery for years to come. In the wake of gun violence and renewed calls for community policing, we also anticipate that public safety will remain front and center,” report authors write.
Some issues common to the national political narrative were surprisingly missing from the report. Authors note that these issues will require federal partnerships.
“Key issues that did not receive high levels of attention from mayors this year – health care, energy and immigration – are still playing out locally and demand attention from state and federal partners. With the nature of these issues being heavily influenced by the national political environment, the outcome of the 2014 congressional elections may bring these issues more to the fore in 2015. Cities are central to our nation’s future, and in order for any priority issue to achieve lasting success, a partnership among levels of government must be strong.”
Image source: National League of Cities