Urban Growth Trends and Rise of Tech in Cities Point to Widening Disparities

November 15, 2017 - (4 min read)

New National League of Cities Research Examines Future of Equity in Infrastructure, Public Safety and Economic Development

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Today, the National League of Cities (NLC) released new research on the future of equity that shows that as cities become infused with technology, they must ensure inclusion is a core tenet of city planning to reverse the growing economic and social divide. The report, “The Future of Equity in Cities,” reveals how new technologies and innovations will impact equity in the critical areas of infrastructure, public safety and economic development.

“This report comes at an important time for our country,” said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities (NLC). “Income inequality and wealth gaps are at outsized levels, while new innovations like autonomous vehicles and smart city applications are being deployed in cities nationwide. Local leaders are uniquely positioned to ensure these innovations lead to more equitable outcomes, rather than widening disparities.”

The report takes the core issues of infrastructure, public safety and economic development, and forecasts the opportunities and challenges to come in the near-term, and farther out in 2030.

To examine infrastructure and mobility, the report looked at long-range transportation plans from the 50 largest U.S. cities, finding that cities are increasingly planning for new technology with 38 percent of plans mentioning autonomous vehicles (AVs); 82 percent of cities laying out a strategy to implement Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS); and 30 percent of cities addressing the impact of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). Further, the majority of cities are conscious of the necessary link between mobility and access, with 80 percent of transportation plans mentioning equity outright.

To forecast the future of economic development, the report examined demographic and employment trends. In the majority of cities, the fastest growing employment sectors are high-skill and high-wage, but these sectors are not likely to add the same number of aggregate jobs as much larger and lower-skilled sectors like retail, food service, and office and administration. Looking to 2030, the report projects that rising inequities will threaten the long-term social stability of urban economies unless purposeful steps to improve economic inclusion are taken today.

In examining the future of public safety, the report found that police departments are becoming more representative of the populations they serve. Looking toward the future, the report projects that technologies like body-worn cameras and automated license plate readers will become nearly ubiquitous in public safety agencies as police departments increase their data collection and analysis. The report warns that with such significant changes in how policing is administered in cities, agencies must be cognizant of the nuances between communities and neighborhoods, and ensure a focus on equity is at the core of decision-making.

“In this new era of connectivity, there awaits a great deal of opportunity,” said Brooks Rainwater, report co-author and director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities (NLC). “But, as cities adopt new technologies and smart city systems, local officials must consider how they will improve or hinder existing inequities and biases. Prioritizing equity in the wake of exciting innovations is a step toward building stronger, more resilient communities.”

The Future of Equity in Cities” is part of NLC’s City of the Future initiative, which is a multi-year exploratory and predictive research project focusing on different aspects of society that impact cities including technology, economics, culture and demographics. Prior research in the report series covered the future of work and the future of technology and mobility

The report was released today at NLC’s City Summit conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, during a press call featuring several local officials. To receive a recording of the call or to schedule an interview with the report authors, please contact Courtney Bernard at Bernard@nlc.org or 202-626-3133.



The National League of Cities (NLC) is the voice of America’s cities, towns and villages, representing more than 200 million people across the country. NLC works to strengthen local leadership, influence federal policy and drive innovative solutions. Stay connected with NLC on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.