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US mayors’ pressing city issues

Research also shows the degree to which mayors rely on experimentation, partnership, and citizen engagement as central strategies to improve communities

Michael Bloomberg launches the American Cities Initiative last year
Michael Bloomberg launches the American Cities Initiative last year

Many US mayors are having to turn their attention to issues like urban infrastructure, housing and climate change that were once under the purview of federal or state governments, a new study finds.


The 2018 American Mayors Survey, which quizzed mayors of 156 cities across the country, reveals that amid worsening relationships with the current administration, public authorities are increasingly looking at ways to harness the power of citizens to develop new and innovative solutions to city challenges.


The survey, carried out by Bloomberg Philanthropies, builds on existing research and highlights the issues and challenges that are top-of-mind for local leaders in the US. It is the first time small cities (30,000-plus residents) have been included in the research alongside larger metropolises.


The survey is part of Michael Bloomberg’s American Cities Initiative, a programme designed to empower city leaders to generate new ideas and advance policy that moves the nation forward. The findings aim to help promote bold leadership in cities, advance critical policies and legislation, and empower citizens to solve urban problems.


“As dysfunction in Washington has grown worse, the responsibilities of local leaders have grown larger – and so has their importance on the national stage,” said Bloomberg. “That’s why we undertook this first-of-its-kind survey of mayors, and it provides a clearer picture of how they see their biggest challenges.”


Key findings of the survey include:


Nearly three in 10 mayors in the Midwest and Northeast reported worsening relationships with this administration, as did two-thirds of large cities and nearly four in 10 medium sized cities;


City halls are rethinking staff roles and ways to harness the power of citizens to develop new solutions – about half of those surveyed have appointed a chief data officer and one-third have installed chief innovation officers. Mayors are also sharing ideas with each other and adopting new ways to engage residents in their work, including soliciting resident feedback and harnessing the power of citizen scientists through data collection;


Cities are thriving but need to address housing and infrastructure concerns – more than 70 per cent of cities reported rapid growth and success attracting new businesses and citizens indicating that cities continue to be areas of growth for the nation. However, affordable housing and infrastructure are among the top concerns for mayors;


Mayors are already taking action on climate change across all regions and political spectrums, however, more opportunity exists to explore other forms of climate mitigation. Nearly two fifths of respondents said that they have significant experience encouraging sustainable modes of transportation like walking, cycling and buses but only one quarter (24 per cent) have significant experience procuring renewable energy and only 15 per cent promote low-carbon new buildings;


Even though mayors believe that disruptive tech is beneficial for the community, it is not a job creator – more than half of mayors (51 per cent) think disruptive tech and the sharing economy, such as Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, are beneficial to the community. However, few (7 per cent) think the sharing economy is a net job creator. Scepticism is highest in the Midwest and Northeast, where 37 per cent and one quarter, respectively, said the sharing economy was over-rated;


Mayors are pragmatic coalition builders – constructive relationships with city and state legislators are common with more than two-thirds of respondents reporting positive relationships despite the fraught political climate.


Bloomberg Philanthropies works more than 120 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organisation focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: arts, education, environment, government innovation, and public health.


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