INSIDE WASHINGTON/NLC Report indicates cities’ needs
City leaders have never been happier. At least, that is the conclusion drawn by the National League of Cities, based on its annual State of America’s Cities survey. “In their assessment about the way things appear to be going in their communities and for the nation as a whole, 93 percent were positive about the general direction in which their city is heading, and 81 percent were optimistic about national trends,” says NLC Executive Director Don Borut. “Both of these responses are up from a year ago and are the highest levels we have seen.”
“There is an overall sense among city officials that they are much better off than before,” says Emily Stern, an NLC senior research associate and author of the survey. However, while the general satisfaction level has reached unprecedented heights, the 393 municipal leaders responding to the survey still expressed concerns that they hope will reach the ears of the presidential candidates.
A majority think the candidates should focus more on programs to improve access to health care and health insurance. Shoring up Social Security and Medicare, improving public education and reforming the federal tax code also drew mentions.
In fact, improving public education was the only concern repeated from a similar survey published in 1996 — another indication of changing perceptions. Responses to that survey emphasized job creation, crime reduction and improving the national economy, all of which have happened in the three years since.
Still, even in these flush times, city officials are looking cautiously toward the future. “As we begin the 21st century, our nation is enjoying widespread prosperity and a broad sense of optimism about our future,” says NLC President and Wichita, Kan., Mayor Bob Knight. “We should recognize and be grateful for that, and we should also draw upon these bountiful times to expand and assure them in the future.”
Knight warned city officials against losing sight of societal inequities caused by hunger, poverty and racism. Indeed, Knight has made ending racism Issue No. 1 in his NLC presidency. “We have so much to learn and unlearn, and many wounds to heal,” he says. “But we have so much more to lose if we don’t confront each other on the issue of race.”
According to the survey, city officials are optimistic that they can, as Knight says, “undo racism.” Ninety-two percent of the respondents indicated that they see opportunities they, as elected leaders, can pursue to mitigate the effects of racism on their communities.
Forty-four percent of respondents said race relations in their communities have improved over the past five years, while 47 percent indicated that there had been no change. Nine percent said race relations in their communities had worsened in that time period.
Aside from racism, city officials cited runaway development as the biggest problem they face on a local level. Forty percent said that development patterns in their area have been poorly planned. A full 89 percent said redevelopment strategies designed to stop sprawl would draw citizen support. In terms of economic development, city officials saw infrastructure needs, the vitality of downtown/Main Street areas and the availability of affordable housing as their most important local issues.
Copies of the survey (report #3552) can be obtained from NLC’s Publications Center, P.O. Box 491, Annapolis Junction MD 20701; phone (888) 571-2939. The price is $10 ($5 for NLC members, plus shipping and handling. Publications also can be ordered from [email protected]