Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
From climate change to infrastructure, mayors are increasingly listing issues that were once national and state priorities as amongst their top local concerns, according to a new national survey.
Mayors are increasingly focusing on issues like climate change, immigration, and infrastructure that have traditionally fallen to federal and state governments. That’s according to a comprehensive survey of mayors and city managers from 156 big and small cities around the country, conducted by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Climate change seems to be one of the foremost concerns for U.S. mayors: Eight out of 10 said it was important that their cities to address the issue. But roughly half view the lack of funding as the most significant barrier to making progress on this front—more than political opposition at the state and federal level and lack of public support. While mayors say they’re trying to encourage public transit and green energy locally, many feel ill-equipped to put a broader range of climate adaptation strategies in place.
The opioid crisis is a more regional concern, overwhelmingly faced by mayors in the Northeast and Midwest. More than 40 percent of mayors from these areas say it’s one of their most important challenges. At the moment, 62 percent of mayors say they are focusing on stemming opioid overdose deaths by making emergency antidotes like Narcan widely available, according to the responses. Fewer cities have put together a more holistic plan.
Regarding the sharing economy, mayors seem to have mixed feelings. Over half of those hailing from larger cities believe companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber have significantly reconfigured their cities—mostly for good. Mayors from the Midwest and smaller cities are more likely to think these companies are overrated. Overall, a small share of mayors think they create jobs or help young people.
While mayors are building collaborative alliances amongst themselves, they don’t always feel the same with respect to state and federal governments. Across the board, more mayors believe that their relationship with the federal government has gotten worse in the past year. But even here, there’s a split in opinion depending on the size of city they’re from. A striking 67 percent of large cities feel their relationship is souring, while smaller cities are more likely to say it has remained neutral, or gotten a bit better. There’s a bit more consensus, though, regarding state preemption—with 43 percent of mayors feeling it hinders their ability to get things done.
Two-thirds of mayors reported that infrastructure was a top problem for their constituents—one that may not be fixed in the near future. Amongst other top concerns for residents were affordable housing, traffic, and crime.
Asked what will be the biggest problem facing the country 10 years from now, the greatest share—20 percent—said it will be political gridlock. In other words, to these mayors, the political forecast looks pretty grim.