State of the Cities report: What’s on America’s Mayors’ Minds

Author: Michelle Russell       

At the National League of Cities (NLC) Conference, held May 23 in Washington, D.C., mayors from across the U.S. gathered for the release of NLC’s latest State of the Cities report. The report analyzes 153 mayors’ state of the city addresses and spotlights the issues most critical to cities, and how their mayors are finding solutions.

Although the top-of-mind issues for city leaders are obviously focused on their communities and residents, several are connected to the business events industry.

Vital to Economic Development

Let’s take the No. 1 issue for city leaders, economic development, for instance. As a Citylab article points out, it’s been at the top of city leaders’ lists for the entire six-year history of the report, followed by infrastructure and health and human services. The level of focus on economic development has increased year over year, with 74 percent of mayoral speeches covering it in 2019 vs. 58 percent in 2018.

Our connection: The Meetings Mean Business coalition has done the work of quantifying the economic impact of the events industry — $325 billion in direct spending in 2016. In addition, meetings supported more direct jobs than many large manufacturing sectors, including food and auto. Attracting business events is important to a city’s economic well-being, although CVBs around the country say they continue to struggle for funding and to be understood as a vital piece of the economic development puzzle.

State of the Cities

Anita Yadavalli

Importance of Green Spaces

The top subtopic for mayors across the country? Parks and recreation, with nearly 63 percent of mayors discussing it. Regardless of region, mayors talked about expanding parks and recreation-related activities and facilities this year. “Some of the issues that we commonly associate with health and human services, like mental health, substance abuse, opioid addiction — what we’re seeing is that mayors are really focused on uplifting parks and recreation and spaces where they’re able to improve these health-related outcomes for their residents,” said Anita Yadavalli, program director for City Fiscal Policy at NLC and lead author of the report, as cited by U.S. News and World Report.

A number of studies indicate the benefits of urban green space in addition to health, including how they increase social connections, aid the environment, and have significant positive impacts on the local economy.

Our connection: It’s not just that their parks and green spaces look pretty in destinations’ marketing materials, or that attendees at events may gravitate to these spaces during their time spent in cities at conferences and conventions. According to Kaid Benfield — director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system and Smart Growth America —“20th-century land use will not help a city attract 21st-century residents.” Smart land use, including parks and green spaces, is one way to make a city more attractive to potential residents.

In turn, it’s those vibrant cities — with diverse populations, strong business communities, and knowledge sectors — that are most attractive to groups.

You can download the full State of the Cities report, including a breakdown of top issues by region, at the NLC website.