A New Letter to Cities, 90 Years Later

May 19, 2014

By Chris Coleman

Chris Coleman is the Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., and President of the National League of Cities.

In October 1924, John G. Stutz, Executive Secretary of the League of Kansas Municipalities, invited the then-21 state municipal leagues to a meeting in Lawrence, Kan., to exchange ideas, methods and experiences on behalf of the nation’s cities.

Ten executive secretaries accepted the invitation and went to Kansas to participate in what was the first annual Congress of Cities. The American Municipal Association (AMA) emerged from that meeting, later becoming the National League of Cities (NLC) in 1964.

When he sat at his desk, writing that invitation letter, John Stutz wasn’t looking 90 years into the future. He likely did not anticipate humans walking on the moon, cities functioning as part of a global economy or citizens of the world connecting and organizing online via social channels like Facebook and Twitter.

Over the past 90 years, the issues have become more complex, the methods of communication more sophisticated and the threats more diverse. But it’s exactly this type of change in our nation and world that has marked the steps in the evolution of NLC.

The organization has endured and grown stronger because it has continually broadened and adapted its scope in response to new challenges. This historic anniversary, then, is not merely an opportunity to celebrate NLC’s long history, but an opportunity to reflect and reaffirm our continued commitment to making cities better places to live.

Where we are today

Our nation today still faces significant challenges, and the need for a body of people concerned about the quality of life in cities is as apparent as ever.

Every day, residents continue to deal with challenges that defy understanding: aging and inadequate infrastructure, unemployment, veteran’s homelessness, family financial instability and a shameful achievement gap among our young people.

NLC has been at the forefront in supporting strong local leadership and ensuring cities have the capacity and authority to address these challenges. We continue to champion the big ideas that are driving communities forward, and remain committed to the principles of this organization’s founding, sharing proven strategies among a network of passionate local leaders.

Our conferences, webinars and other events equip city officials with the leadership skills to promote local economic and financial health, improve the constructed and natural environment and ensure quality of life for all city residents.

We know, however, local leaders need a cooperative and supportive partnership with the federal government to make sure their local initiatives go forward and meet community needs. Our legislative priorities reflect this.

From fixing the nation's broken immigration system that hurts families, communities and our economy to paving the way for transportation and infrastructure investments that provide residents access to education, training and employment – NLC is driving forward an agenda that will make communities better.

The work of NLC continues to expand into new territory to meet the demands of today’s local leaders. For nearly 15 years, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families has been responsive to city officials on a wide range of issues, reflecting the growing concern and leadership from city government on issues such as education and afterschool, youth development, early childhood success, safety of children and youth and family economic success.

Launched in 2000 at the Congress of Cities in Boston, the Institute has become an indispensable resource for mayors, city councilmembers and other municipal officials, stimulating new local initiatives in hundreds of cities and providing trusted roadmaps and guidance.

Our research continues to provide an organizing framework through which city leaders can evaluate activities, plan comprehensively for the future, set goals and measure progress. NLC’s most recent report discusses important strategies for how local leaders can create an ecosystem that is supportive of entrepreneurship and small business growth.

A new letter to cities

Just as John Stutz recognized the need for a united group of local leaders, let us write a new letter today, and renew our commitment to stronger, more effective and ethical local leadership.

If we are to achieve the results all of us want for our communities, cities must be united behind the common sense actions that will support positive change.

Together, through the National League of Cities, we can make sure the federal government understands our challenges and is responsive to the needs of our communities. Together we can work to ensure the leadership that will define our future will be the leadership closest to our communities.

The vision of the National League of Cities is not a partisan one. It’s one that asks for better government; more responsive government; government that achieves results. Working together on behalf of the citizens we represent continues to be the fundamental value that drives NLC.

Whether you’re a member or non-member, please contact the NLC membership team at membership@nlc.org if you would like to learn more about the work of the organization.