This article appeared in the February 2019 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
ith the new year comes the familiarity of the start of a new legislative session and GMA’s annual Mayors’ Day Conference. The regular occurrence of these two events reminds us of the need to focus on the issues facing cities under the Gold Dome. And as we take the time to do that, it becomes apparent what the value of cities is to our state.
When we take a look around Georgia, you’ll see that cities carry a significant load, and yet, pack a powerful punch. Within just 9 percent of Georgia’s land area of the state, cities house 43 percent of the population, 68 percent of the jobs, 45 percent of all assessed property value, 66 percent of the commercial property and 50 percent of the industrial property. Georgia’s 14 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) generate nearly 92 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.
While the state’s population increased just over 9 percent between 2007 and 2017, city population growth increased over 17 percent. Further, because of the density of jobs in cities, the population of cities increases over 27 percent during the day, requiring additional services to meet needed demand. All the while, 59 percent of the tax-exempt property is located in cities (remember that they make up just 9 percent of the state’s land area). This, too, puts additional fiscal burdens on cities.
Yet, as every city official knows, the value of cities isn’t just limited to their economic impact. As the late former Indianapolis mayor and Urban Land Institute senior fellow Bill Hudnut poetically said, cities serve as the “cradle of culture, an organ of memory, the enactment of the human drama, transmitting human achievement and insight from generation to generation.” From land-use decisions, to homelessness, to intergenerational poverty, to access to healthcare and educational opportunities, to the quest for a sense of place, cities are at the core of discussions about the vitality and viability of our collective future.
You may ask where all this leaves us as city officials. It’s simple—it gives us the opportunity to extol the value of cities to all who will listen, and even to those who are inclined not to do so. As the elected stewards of our cities, we must not hesitate to explain how and why the value of cities is important not just to its local community, but to the region and the state. We must ask our state leaders to be open to and honor the role of cities as we all seek a more prosperous future. That it is in our local neighborhoods, civic institutions, places of worship and local schools where the common good is proclaimed, acted on and made stronger by our shared experiences.
The value of cities is tangible and is simple to articulate…while America is indeed the land of opportunity, it is in her cities where that opportunity is found.