The 10 biggest problems facing cities today

Cities are laboratories for innovation.

They’re also the lifeblood of our democracy, acting as the focal points for social movements and civil rights wins that are playing out in real-time.

But there are challenges to overcome. From Ferguson to New York to Baltimore and beyond, long-standing tensions still exist — between opportunity and lack of it, between black and white, between community members and those entrusted with protecting the peace. In many cases, mayors are laser-focused on addressing these issues, moving the U.S. forward with a results-oriented focus.

The National League of Cities releases an annual State of the Cities report in order to further this conversation about cities.

The top 10 issues discussed by mayors in their 2015 State of the City addresses are essential to operations, development, and livability. Our analysis of these speeches revealed the issues mayors are focused on by measuring the percentage of speeches that significantly cover a given issue. The NLC examined 100 State of the City speeches from cities large and small, with a regionally diverse sample from across the U.S.

These are the top issues that matter to cities.

“200,000 of our working men and women in South Carolina earning less than 100 per cent of the federal poverty level, including tens of thousands in Columbia, have no access to healthcare because our state refused to expand Medicaid.” — Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, SC

“Our great city is driven by a vision, a vision in which the contributions of every member of society irrespective of race, age, disability, gender or sexual orientation is respected.” — Mayor George Hartwell of Grand Rapids, MI

“We know our collective future depends on our ability to have a planet — and a city — that can sustain life with clean air, clean water, nourishing food, and stable weather patterns.” — Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, MN

“In today’s globalized and high-tech world, innovation will decide the winners and losers in many different fields and industries.” — Mayor Jim Ardis of Peoria, IL

“Creating opportunities to attain pathways to the middle class means that we have to invest more in affordable housing.” — Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC

“Nothing will define a city more than the quality of the school system that services that community.” — Mayor William Healey of Canton, OH

“It is my firm belief that the financial integrity of any organisation is the foundation upon which success is built.” — Mayor Adrian Mapp of Plainfield, NJ

“Making our community a safer place to live cannot be accomplished by police alone.” — Mayor Denis Law of Renton, WA

“If we want a city that treats people fairly, we have to make sure there are opportunities for everyone to get around.” — Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City, UT

“Nothing does more to address income inequality than actually raising people’s incomes.” — Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, NY

Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the City Solutions and Applied Research Center at the National League of Cities.

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