When 2020 began, we could not have imagined what would have transpired in just a few short months. From health and economic crisis to resounding calls to address systemic racism, the state of our nation’s cities has changed dramatically. It has become abundantly clear that this year is unlike any other. It has also become clear that the role of city leaders is not only to establish and implement a vision for their community, but also to be guided by the values of their community and lead in the most challenging moments.
For seven years, the National League of Cities has released the State of the Cities report. This research, which examines mayoral state of the city speeches delivered January through April, has typically provided a clear and consistent voice about the current priorities of local leaders. In the months since those speeches, mayors’ priorities have obviously shifted. As we experience the new reality of our communities today, the purpose of our State of the Cities report too has shifted. It is important to acknowledge that this year’s report provides a pre-crisis baseline of the values and priorities guiding local policies, procedures and programs, the fiscal and economic position of cities, the aspirations of local leaders and the gaps left to fill.
In reflecting on these moments in this year’s state of the city speeches, we find that local leaders have been putting into place those essential investments that will help our nation heal. We find innovative approaches to health and social services, small business supports and community policing. We also find mayors acknowledging the challenges that have now been laid bare, including lack of equity in health, education, public safety, housing, economic opportunity and transportation.
It is our hope that in the years to come we will look back on the State of the Cities 2020 report and say that it represents the state of cities just as our crises hit, just as our nation seized the moment to begin bold rebuilding and systems change. Our communities are starting the journey towards equitable recovery, and the research that the National League of Cities continues to execute is dedicated to improving local leaders’ ability to serve their residents.