NLC’s Top 10 2020 Predictions for Cities

From major national elections and the Census, to controversies around whether we’ve actually even started a new decade (NPR seems to think we have another year until we start the “roaring twenties”), 2020 promises to be an exciting year.

Here at NLC, we’ve been feeling the pulse on the ground in cities, towns and villages across America. And while we don’t have a crystal ball, we have a sense of some of the ways in which our communities will be making a splash over the next 12 months.

What do we predict? According to our experts, 2020 will be the year that:

  1. All cities will achieve a full count in the 2020 Census, especially of vulnerable populations. Obtaining a full, fair, and accurate count of everyone in America in Census 2020 is essential for achieving fair civic representation over the next decade. Public policy at all levels must be guided by accurate Census data. Unfortunately, the conditions exist for a severe undercount in 2020, disproportionately affecting people of color, children, immigrants and people with disabilities. But cities are doing amazing work to ensure a full and accurate count. One just needs to look to cities like Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia for inspiration around preparing for the 2020 Census.
  2. Voting will be accessible, convenient and meaningful. 2020 is a big year for elections, but expanding democracy is a constant commitment for local leaders. City leaders are passionate about ensuring that voters are active, engaged and excited to participate. Cities like Madison and East Lansing in Wisconsin required landlords to provide voter registration materials to new tenants. In Takoma Park, Maryland, local elected officials enfranchised young people in municipal elections to broaden inclusivity. And Lynchburg, Virginia, and Los Angeles, California, eliminated fares on public buses and trains on election day.
  3. The needs of future workers will (begin to) be met. The future of work is now, and affecting people across the workforce from the private and public sector. From the gig economy and its contingent workforce, to minimum wage policy shifts and increased automation, work in many ways has become more tenuous. But there are still many avenues for finding stable work, and the public sector is one of them. While pensions are a key tool in encouraging employee attraction and retention, not all employees will be motivated by the same benefits. Offering options that appeal to all generations, including those employees who do not intend to stay until they are vested in the retirement system, may achieve more positive results. As Memphis, Tennessee, has shown with its student loan reduction program, even small sums diverted toward such programs could provide a bridge benefit to motivate employees. A concerted policy push by all levels of government can help secure the future by giving workers more economic security in their day to day lives.
  4. Housing instability and homelessness will no longer plague individuals and families — at least not to the same extent as in previous years. Although the challenges of homelessness, evictions and the lack of affordable housing units will not be solved during 2020, progress in recent years demonstrates the determination of city leaders to address matters concerning housing instability. From changes in zoning that will allow greater neighborhood densities in cities including Minneapolis, Minnesota and Seattle, to housing preservation or housing trust funds in Washington, D.C.; Columbus, Ohio; and Jackson, Mississippi; the number and variety of solutions are having an impact.
  5. We’ll come together to find sensible solutions to reducing gun violence. In 2020, cities, towns and villages will work with national leaders to address concerns raised by local activists and advocates. In particular, NLC will work with local and Federal leaders to advance an agenda that creates a national commission on gun violence; advances Federal legislation for background checks as well as legislation that allows judges to issue risk protection orders; and recognizes the need for funding gun violence research.
  6. Cities will proactively pursue local authority. In recent years, cities have endured unprecedented overreach by state governments. One just needs to look to Arizona or Florida, places where city policy clashing with the state can result in revenue withholdings or local official removal from office. But cities are not taking these hits sitting down; they are pursuing a new vision of Home Rule that reflects the dramatically different role cities play in today’s world (the last was created in 1953!). From local self-governance to fiscal sustainability, this new set of principles will provide the legal foundation for local governments to address the issues that affect the people in their communities and will inspire a new wave of constitutional reform across the states.
  7. All levels of government will partner together to make critical, strategic investments in sustainable infrastructure. Every year since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted in 2015 seems to have been the ‘Biggest Year Ever’ for local climate leadership. Some would argue 2019 was the year of #ClimateCrisis. Last year, we witnessed numerous cities pass resolutions declaring a climate emergency, the September climate strikes mobilized an estimated six million people, and we expect that trend will continue. The year 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and we’re going to see local governments respond to these civil movements with greater urgency, make bigger investments in sustainable infrastructure and adopt more sweeping changes in areas like transportation, building efficiency and renewable energy.
  8. An expansion of place-based innovations will turn the tide on growing geographic inequality. For the United States to achieve broad prosperity, we need more places throughout the country to participate in the modern innovation-led economy. That means city leaders need to change the way they think about economic development, shifting from trying to attract big businesses to focusing on leveraging local assets, tapping regional competitive advantage and developing talent from within. Whether it’s creating an entrepreneurship hub like in Akron, Ohio, or connecting lagging areas to their regional economies through supply chains and critical infrastructure in Wisconsin, successes are making headway and primed for impact in 2020.
  9. Streets will be for people, not cars. Increasingly, cities are closing major streets to traffic and opening them up to people. Cities have limited space, and how it is allocated is tremendously important. Car-free spaces are increasingly being sought by people who live in — and visit — cities, and city leaders are reacting with the development of pedestrian zones and spaces that reduce the impact of automobiles. The two most prominent examples in the U.S. are New York City, with the closing of 14th Street, and San Francisco, which will soon close Market Street to cars. Cars have their place in cities, but the place of people needs to be given a more central role. Since there is only so much space in cities, let’s make sure it’s for people.
  10. Cybersecurity efforts will be widespread and effective, particularly in government. For the first time in modern history, American cities, towns and villages are on the front line of an increasing global threat: cybersecurity. According to ICMA, every hour, 26 percent of local governments report a cyberattack. But cities and states can partner to increase safety and security. The Kansas Information Technology Security Council created numerous resources for local governments and cities to utilize. Additionally, working with the Center for Internet Security (CIS) and MS-ISAC, Kansas City formed a Regional Cybersecurity Strategic Framework with a goal to “create a shared service model to support local governments.” Like many other problems this country has faced, federal state and local governments must come together in order to combat cybersecurity issues across the county.

And as always, we’ll be with local leaders every step of the way to help them achieve a year — and future — of wellbeing and prosperity that their residents deserve.

This post was written by the NLC Center for City Solutions.