Big Ideas for Cities

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Today's cities face new and dynamic problems, requiring elected officials to develop creative programs and solutions to address the changing needs of their communities.  Every spring, the National League of Cities hosts a one-day TEDx-style event where a series of big city mayors share how they are driving real, positive change with innovative solutions.

> Submit a speaker application for the 2017 Big Ideas Series.

> Click here to view footage from Big Ideas 2016.

Chicago, IL | Building a New Chicago: Envisioning a New Future for Infrastructure

Cities can't wait for the federal or state government to address their critical infrastructure challenges or they will fall behind. Chicago Deputy Mayor Steve Koch discusses Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Building a New Chicago initiative. Through this effort, they have found creative ways to rebuild the city's transportation and water infrastructure through cost saving measures and creative financing strategies, including a local infrastructure bank.

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Columbus, OH | Blueprint Columbus: Clean Streams, Strong Neighborhoods

How can city leaders boost the economy, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life in their cities through a comprehensive initiative? Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio, is addressing all of these issues in a surprising way: a new solution to sewer overflows. Blueprint Columbus creates community parks with rain gardens that reduce the amount of storm water the city must manage. In the process, the city is improving water quality, creating jobs, and revitalizing neighborhoods.

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Gary, IN | Help is on the Way: The Art of Leveraging and Managing City Partnerships

Against the backdrop of a challenging economic and financial situation in Gary, Indiana, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is turning her city around by strategically cultivating strong partnerships focused on the situational assets of the community. These partnerships include universities, corporations, state and federal government agencies, foundations, non-profit organizations, and most importantly, Gary residents.

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Madison, WI | Neighborhood Resource Teams: Merging Placemaking & Social Cohesion

Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison spread the community policing model to all city agencies, changing both the structure and culture of the city government. The result? Neighborhood Resources Teams that bring together a variety of city agencies – from voting and civil rights to city planning – to improve service delivery and build community in targeted neighborhoods. This approach has helped address systemic barriers and sparked meaningful civic engagement.

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Minneapolis, MN | Beyond the Rising Tide: The Case for Cities & Inclusive Growth

The price we pay for inequities in our society measures in the billions in cities and in the trillions nationally. While we can't grow our way into equity, equity can drive growth. Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis makes the case for developing a shared community goal of inclusive growth. She also highlights the kind of tailored policies -- from early childhood development to light rail -- that can help everyone participate in that growth.

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Oakland, CA | Reinvesting in Cities: Our Opportunity to Provide True Economic Justice for All

A renewed investment in cities and their residents is needed, argues Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland. Building on the city's history as a place of radical change, Mayor Quan is pushing a variety of new initiatives -- from summer jobs to housing revitalization -- to ensure that all residents are included in the city's growth and prosperity.

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Philadelphia, PA | Reducing Violence and Creating Opportunities for African American Men and Boys

Every 15 days, 435 people are murdered on America’s streets. In this violence epidemic, a disproportionate number of victims and perpetrators are African American men and boys. Through the Cities United campaign, Mayor Nutter calls on city officials from across the country to join him in the fight to change the odds for young men of color by reducing violence, improving education and creating opportunities. He demands we get engaged, get enraged and take action. Philadelphia, PA.

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Portland, OR | The Secret Ingredient in Portland's Next Big Idea

Portland, Oregon has made bold transportation, land use and climate adaptation plans over the years, and Mayor Charlie Hales wants to continue this legacy. At the same time, however, he candidly notes that as mayor, he cannot ignore the basics: balancing the budget, maintaining infrastructure and making all of Portland’s neighborhoods “complete communities.”

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Salt Lake City, UT | Connecting People & Places for a Livable Community

Drive if you want or if you must, but let’s not make that the best or the easiest way to get around, says Mayor Ralph Becker. With community engagement, he is rethinking how the people of Salt Lake City are connected to each other and the broader region. The result is a balanced and sustainable transportation system with “complete streets” that not only support cars, but also light rail and other public transit, bicycles and pedestrians.

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St. Paul, MN | To Become an Education Mayor, Look Beyond the Classroom

Learning takes place all day, every day, in a wide variety of settings. Although most mayors do not control the school system, Mayor Chris Coleman suggests that to become an "education mayor," city leaders must take steps to build the social-emotional skills of children and youth in the community, not only through collaborative support for the schools, but also through city after-school programming, outdoor experiences, and building the skills of city staff who work with youth.

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Google | Tackling Challenges with 10x Innovations

City leaders need what Google calls "moonshots" or 10x innovations to tackle some of the toughest challenges in our cities. Natalie Vernon, Manager for Social Impact and Civic Innovation at Google, shares the company's approach to fostering new ideas and new ways of doing business that yield not just 10 percent improvements, but 10 times improvements.

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University of Chicago | Chicago Innovation Exchange

Innovation cities are often born out of a response to crisis. Following the Great Recession, American cities responded with a fighting spirit -- empowering individuals to undertake new ventures and concentrating their efforts around hubs of innovation. The University of Chicago and City of Chicago are working together to make the city a global destination for entrepreneurship and innovation. The Chicago Innovation Exchange on the mid-south side of Chicago is catalyzing economic growth by providing programming for business incubation, promoting collaboration among emerging entrepreneurs, and fostering partnerships with the marketplace to commercialize new ideas and technologies.

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Comcast | The Power of the Human Network

Technology is an important driver of change in our cities, but ultimately it is the human network that will add vision and meaning to how that technology is used. Bret Perkins, Vice President for External and Government Affairs at Comcast, emphasizes the importance of connecting all of our citizens to the Internet as a way of connecting them to each other and to the possibilities of the future.

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