What’s your mayor talking about in 2019? Believe it or not, it’s likely e-scooters, marijuana and social media.
Every year, mayors across the country give state of the city speeches that, much like the State of the Union address, highlight their priorities and vision for the year.
At the National League of Cities, we release an annual report, aptly named State of the Cities, which benchmarks and analyzes the issues that mayors talk about in these speeches. The report ranks and discusses 10 main topic areas, and while economic development and infrastructure continue to be top priorities for cities, mayors are increasingly exhibiting leadership on more nuanced issues. Below is a list of the top 10 “movers” in each of those areas — subtopics that have moved up the most from previous years — from our recently-released report.
- Economic Development: Opportunity Zones
In 2019, 74 percent of speeches gave significant coverage to economic development — meaning a mayor or city manager provided concrete details on a plan, impact or goal related to opportunity zones. Of the 74 percent, 17 percent talked about opportunity zones. While some mayors are discussing what opportunity zones are and how to take advantage of them, others are moving ahead with concrete proposals. Coverage of the opportunity zones subtopic increased from only one speech in 2018 to 20 speeches in 2019, an increase of 1900 percent.
- Infrastructure: Ridesharing
Cities are becoming smarter, with new mobility services such as dockless bikes and scooters emerging in communities across the country. Coverage of the ridesharing subtopic increased from only three speeches in 2018 to 23 speeches in 2019, an increase of 667 percent. In 2019, 57 percent of speeches significantly covered infrastructure, and 17 percent of those talked about ridesharing. Mayors are recognizing that if you want to ditch your car in favor of a bike to get to work, you should, and now you can in many cities, towns and villages across the nation.
- Health & Human Services: Recreational Marijuana
Communities are approving marijuana use at bars and cafes and are expecting to accrue large financial benefits. From tax receipts to the diminishment of unsafe underground economies, cities are prepared to capitalize on this newly-regulated industry. Coverage of the recreational marijuana subtopic increased from two speeches in 2018 to seven speeches in 2019, an increase of 250 percent. In 2019, 46 percent of speeches significantly covered health and human services, and 10 percent of those provided concrete details regarding recreational marijuana, ranging from changing zoning codes to filing lawsuits against cannabis regulation.
- Energy & Environment: Solar Power
Advancing solar power is one of the many steps that cities, towns and villages are taking to fight climate change. Local governments are fostering solar energy growth by supplying government buildings and traffic systems with solar energy, embracing community solar power initiatives and reducing the energy burden for low-income households. Coverage of the solar power subtopic increased from only three speeches in 2018 to 17 speeches in 2019, an increase of 467 percent. In 2019, 41 percent of speeches significantly covered energy and environment, and 21 percent of those talked about solar power.
- Budgets & Management: Intergovernmental Relations
Cities are continuing to voice their concerns about the relationship between local and upper levels of government, particularly state overreach and fiscal constraints. We are increasingly seeing cities looking to state and federal partners for aid, and some have successfully garnered investments in projects like traffic mitigation plans, interstate widening and sewer upgrades. While there was only a small increase in the coverage of the intergovernmental relations subtopic from 54 speeches in 2018 to 55 speeches in 2019, this subtopic has been the most referenced subtopic in budgets and management since 2018. In 2019, 41 percent of speeches featured significant coverage of budgets and management, and 57 percent of those talked about intergovernmental relations.
- Housing: Blight and Elimination
In recent years, cities have implemented blight elimination measures, which include rehabilitating or demolishing vacant and abandoned properties to revitalize and strengthen neighborhoods. Coverage of the blight and elimination subtopic increased from 18 speeches in 2018 to 36 speeches in 2019, an increase of 100 percent. In 2019, 38 percent of speeches featured significant coverage of housing, and 26 percent of those talked about blight and elimination.
- Public Safety: Education and Initiatives
Across the United States, more local police and fire departments are engaging with residents to increase education and awareness on public safety issues, ultimately building community trust. Coverage of the education and initiatives subtopic increased from 10 speeches in 2018 to 20 speeches in 2019, an increase of 100 percent. In 2019, 37 percent of speeches significantly covered public safety, and 23 percent of those talked about public safety education and initiatives.
- Demographics: Civic Engagement
Mayors have consistently encouraged residents to engage in civic activities and provided their constituents with important opportunities that can impact their city’s future. In 2019, some mayors also specifically discussed plans regarding the political participation process and municipal election reform. Coverage of the civic engagement subtopic increased from 22 speeches in 2018 to 52 speeches in 2019, an increase of 136 percent. In 2019, 32 percent of speeches featured significant coverage of demographics, and 63 percent of those talked about civic engagement.
- Education: School Outcomes
Both in 2018 and 2019, mayors discussed plans to achieve higher high school graduation rates. In 2019, mayors also announced school programs designed to address issues affecting student performance, such as chronic absenteeism and childhood trauma. Coverage of the school outcomes subtopic increased from two speeches in 2018 to six speeches in 2019, an increase of 200 percent. In 2019, 20 percent of speeches featured significant coverage of education, and 13 percent of those talked about school outcomes.
- Government Data & Technology: Social Media
More local governments are using social media to address pertinent issues within their communities and increase communication with their residents. Coverage of the social media subtopic increased from three speeches in 2018 to eight speeches in 2019, an increase of 167 percent. In 2019, 11 percent of speeches gave significant coverage of government data and technology, and 18 percent of those talked about social media.
Want to learn more? Download our report for all the latest trends and to uncover some of the ways local governments are solving national problems.
About the Authors: Anita Yadavalli is the Program Director of City Fiscal Policy at NLC. Anita leads NLC’s Public Sector Retirement initiative, with a focus on research and education for city leaders on retiree healthcare benefits, as well as research and programming on other city fiscal policy issues.
Rose Kim is a research associate in NLC’s Center for City Solutions.