rom public health crises to affordable and fair housing, mayors have demonstrated their capacity to lead on critical issues that extend beyond city limits. In 2019, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that cities, towns and villages have a greater role to play in the national dialogue.
Much like the president’s State of the Union address, each year, mayors across the nation detail the state of America’s cities, towns and villages. The state of the city speech is a mayor’s most visible and direct way to communicate significant achievements as well as goals and major policy directions for the future.
Now in its sixth year, the National League of Cities’ annual State of the Cities report provides an in-depth analysis of these speeches. This content analysis of 153 speeches delivered between January and April 2019 is based on parts of mayors’ speeches that articulate specific plans, goals and impacts related to projects, programs and city departments. Speeches are coded as having significantly covered a major topic if the word count for that topic constitutes at least 10 percent of the speech. The analysis reveals that:
- Economic development is the most-covered major policy issue. The issue has garnered the top spot for the past six years, with an even more substantial percent of mayors dedicating a significant portion of their speeches to the issue in 2019 (74 percent) compared with 2018 (58 percent).
- Health and human services climbed three spots this year, overtaking budgets, housing and public safety. This year 46 percent of mayors discussed the issue at length, compared to only 34 percent last year. Much of this movement is due to an increased focus on expanding parks and recreation-related facilities and activities.
- Energy and environment also rose in importance this year, with 41 percent of mayors discussing the issue compared to only 25 percent last year. Mayors introduced concrete plans for enhancing neighborhood vitality through expanded tree coverage and improved city landscapes.
- Although housing dropped in the rankings, a similar percent of mayors provided significant coverage of housing in their speeches in 2019 (38 percent) compared with 2018 (39 percent). In particular, mayors provided a new focus on land and housing trusts, eviction assistance and fair housing ordinances.
The remainder of the report details trends, emerging issues and priorities of mayors in cities across the nation. While bread and butter issues like economic development, infrastructure and budgets remain top priorities for mayors, we are also seeing major movement and emerging local leadership on larger-scale issues related to health and human services and energy and environment. In these contexts, mayors are using their local authority to make lasting impacts on national and global issues.