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Mayors Emphasizing Parks and Infrastructure as Major Issues in 2019

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The National League of Cities analyzed 153 state of the city addresses.

Mayors across the country devoted more attention this year to parks, energy and the environment in their state of the city speeches, according to a report released Thursday.

The National League of Cities’ sixth annual analysis of mayoral addresses found economic development and infrastructure ranked as the top two policy areas cited in 2019 for the second year in a row.

In a departure from prior years, health and human services-related issues ranked as the third most-mentioned topic, jumping three spots from 2018. The uptick was driven primarily through discussion of parks and recreation as a means to improve residents’ health and quality of life, said NLC Program Director of City Fiscal Policy, Anita Yadavalli, one of the report’s authors.

“It’s really about improving the quality of life for their residents,” Yadavalli said of the context in which mayoral addresses touched on recreational amenities.

Of the 153 state of the city addresses analyzed by the NLC report, 97 mayors mentioned parks and recreation—outranking any other topic discussed.

Budgets and management, along with  energy and environment-related issues, rounded out the top five topic areas covered in this year’s state of the city addresses. Public safety was ranked seventh overall, dropping out of the top five topic areas mentioned in mayoral addresses for the first time in an NLC report.

As mayors seek to make infrastructure improvements, some said they are looking at ways to increase transit options and walkability, or to incorporate technology into redevelopment.

Speaking at the NLC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Mayor Lily Mei said her city of Fremont, California is looking to incorporate smart traffic signals with the aim of making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

In Gary, Indiana, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the city added bicycle lanes and widened sidewalks as part of its infrastructure improvements to encourage residents to use green modes of transit.

“We will continue to engage in that kind of infrastructure development because we know it is important in not only reducing the impact of climate change but also in terms of creating healthier communities and more livable communities,” said Freeman-Wilson, who is the NLC president.

Infrastructure improvements are also a way to spur economic development and employ residents, said Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam, whose city is renovating its water treatment plant with the goal of operating as a regional facility in the future.

“When we identify opportunities to invest in infrastructure, we are able to be more resilient and better able to put people to work,” he said.

Speaking at Thursday’s event, mayors also highlighted concerns about how to balance economic development with maintaining affordable housing options in their cities.

“The growth that we all want creates other problems of displacement that is even more difficult to solve,” said Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. A recent report found that gentrification, and people being forced out of neighborhoods where their families have lived for generations, is mostly happening in large cities like the District of Columbia.

To address the issue, Bowser said the city is considering workforce housing options that could ensure middle-income residents are not priced out.

The full NLC State of the Cities report can be found here.

Andrea Noble is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty

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