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America's Cities
April 17, 2009

American cities are not just the favored locale for TV crime shows. With more than half the world's population in cities, we are a metropolitan nation on an urban globe.

Check out our list of things you might not know about American cities and find out what America's mayors really want below.

City Facts
  • 83% of Americans live in a metropolitan area. (U.S. Census Bureau)

  • 54% of Americans live metro areas of 1 million or more. (U.S. Census Bureau)

  • To date, 935 American mayors have signed on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

  • There are 19,429 municipal governments in the United States. (National League of Cities)

  • The New York metro area is the second largest population center in the world. (Citymayors)

  • Five out of ten of the richest cities by GPD are in the United States. (Citymayors)

  • None of the top ten cities by personal earnings are in the United States. (Citymayors)

  • Many U.S. mayors cite lack of involvement by local citizens as a major challenge facing their cities. (National Council of Cities, National League of Cities, MayorTV)

    What Mayors Want

    Mayorvision One good place to discover what mayors want is the crowded site of The U.S. Conference of Mayors. Each and every session of the past decade of annual conferences, plus special conferences on national security, job creation and green initiatives are available through streaming video. The Web site also contain database access to most of America's mayors and information on mayoral initiatives. The Conference is in the midst of dealing with the mortgage crisis — but in addition has made climate change a top priority. Read more about the Conference of Mayors here.

    In March 2008, we talked with Andrea Batista Schlesinger of the Drum Major Institute about the project they have undertaken with THE NATION to help add urban issues to the presidential race — MayorTV. On MayorTV you'll find interviews with mayors from around the country — and find out what they really want for their cities — and from the candidates.

    MayorTV Q: Is this campaign different in minimizing urban issues?
    This campaign isn't noteworthy in specifically disregarding urban issues but it is disappointing in that we expected more from this campaign. You had a former mayor running, Obama who is closely tied with urban organizing, and Clinton, who is tied to the president named by many mayors as the best president ever for the cities. It's disappointing in the we expected so much more from this race.

    Q: Did they mayors say anything that really surprised you?
    I was surprised that none of the mayors mentioned Nixon as a good president for cities — when, in fact, he had done a lot for the cities. But what was also surprising was that mayors noted that the cities need to be looked at as innovators, not just as always looking for federal subsidies. Even the mayor of Rochester, a city that is really struggling, said his city isn't looking for a handout — which is the way cities have been portrayed for quite a while. I was surprised and pleased at the context in which they placed themselves — that the cities are an investment and places of innovation.

    Q: Are there regional differences in priorities?
    Different cities have different struggles. There are cities like Denver struggling with infrastructure deterioration. Miami has special problems related to climate change. Rochester and Buffalo are not concerned with dealing with growth but just trying to see if there is a way for their cities to survive. They are both examples of the many problems faced by a cities in a changing economy. Then there are cities like Minneapolis — where the mayor talks about what happens when a city embraces new immigration populations, their LGBT populations and works on innovations in transportation.

    Q: What role is the media playing in making urban issues a campaign issue?
    The press is absent when it comes to urban issues. You can talk until you are blue in the face but if no one wants to talk about them it won't make a difference. We pitched hard when we launched MayorTV and I was told by one veteran journalist that unless crime increases in the cities it won't make it on the national radar.

    Q: Is there more in store for MayorTV?
    We launched this project with THE NATION in about six weeks. We plan to add interview with other mayors and continue to raise urban issues with the press and the candidates. Even when you talk to campaigns about whether they are covering urban issues you can see the problem. They tell you to look under "poverty" in their platforms or on their Web sites. They have a section for "rural" but urban is under poverty. We'll keep trying to push for more attention as the campaign continues.

    Published on April 17, 2009.

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    The Kerner Commission 40 Years Later
    THE JOURNAL looks at an update of the Kerner Commission Report, which blamed the violence on the devastating poverty and hopelessness endemic in the inner cities of the 1960s and includes an interview with former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, one of the last living members of the Kerner Commission. (March 28, 2008)

    Mortgage MessMortgage Mess
    THE JOURNAL travels to ground zero of the mortgage meltdown — Cleveland, Ohio. Correspondent Rick Karr takes viewers to Slavic Village, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the nation when it comes to the spate of foreclosures caused by the subprime mortgage crisis. (July 18, 2008)

    Grace Lee Boggs
    Bill Moyers talks with 91 year old activist, Grace Lee Boggs, about the cultural revolution brewing in our country at the grassroots level. (June 15, 2007)

    References and Reading:
    MayorTV is a project of THE NATION and The Drum Major Institute. On the site you'll find video interviews with mayors around the nation.

    US Conference of Mayors
    The Web Site for the US Conference of Mayors includes a number of resources — including the '08 Ten Point Action Plan, a list of best green practices in cities, video interviews in Mayorvision, and Meet The Mayor, which is a database of many of the nation's mayors, complete with photos, contact information and links to city Web sites.
    Cities are shaping today's social, cultural, technological and economic agendas. They compete, learn from each other and act together. The organization of world cities maintains an extensive collection of information and news on urban areas around the globe.

    National League of Cities
    The National League of Cities is the oldest and largest national organization representing municipal governments throughout the United States. Its mission is to strengthen and promote cities as centers of opportunity, leadership, and governance. Their Web site contains a legislative action center, city facts and reports on trends in America's metropolitan areas. It also hosts the City Practice Online Database — a searchable collection of over 6,000 local government programs and practices.

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