In Congress, NLC Experts Discuss the State of America's Cities
What is the state of America's cities and towns? Where are our most successful and our most challenged communities? What should the federal government's role in cities be — and is there a road map to urban success?
On Wednesday, NLC Second Vice President Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor, Gary, Indiana, and NLC Senior Executive Brooks Rainwater were invited to explore those questions in a House informational panel on Capitol Hill.
Hosted by Reps. Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA), the event served to kick-start a new Congressional forum aimed at changing the way Congress and policy makers think about and invest in America’s cities and towns.
“My hometown of Flint has captured many newspaper headlines in recent years," said Rep. Kildee, who led the discussion. "But even before the water crisis, Flint faced unique challenges as an older, industrial city: population loss, the outsourcing of jobs, and rampant blight. Flint isn’t an anomaly; a whole subset of America’s cities and towns face similar challenges. There are places in every region of the country, like my hometown, that face similar stressors."
Discussing her experience as a leader in Gary, Mayor Freeman-Wilson touched on themes of economic opportunity, investment and displacement. "We talk about legacy cities?" said Freeman-Wilson of typical revitalization efforts. "I like to talk about legacy residents."
Meanwhile, Brooks Rainwater presented findings from NLC's State of the Cities 2017 report, a broad survey of mayors' top priorities around the country. City leaders, Rainwater said, are chiefly concerned with public safety, economic health and infrastructure investment — and they are optimistic about the future. "My message is simple," said Rainwater. "America's cities can and will thrive in the future."
Also joining the panel were Amy Liu, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, and Akilah Watkins-Butler, president and CEO at the Center for Community Progress.
Going forward, Rep. Kildee’s new forum will include policy discussions in Washington, D.C., and in other communities across the country, along with local, state and federal elected officials and public policy experts. The initiative will focus on the unique challenges and opportunities facing many older, industrial communities throughout the country. The National League of Cities applauds Reps. Kildee and Waters for their vision in this initiative.
About the author: Sam Warlick is the senior content strategist at the National League of Cities.