A few things to know this week: June 3, 2019

Happy Monday! We’re starting something new here. Every week we will be packaging up a collection of things that caught our attention during the week. The following list is compiled by the whole Verdunity team — our favorite relevant or thought-provoking pieces of news, commentary, research, discussions, or cat videos we came across (or were thinking about) this week.


Here are this week's things to know:

1. Mayors Appear Increasingly Concerned About Infrastructure. 

Not surprisingly (to us, at least), mayors across the country are becoming increasingly concerned about how to fund infrastructure maintenance. The 2019 "State of the Cities" report recently published by the National League of Cities (NLC) said infrastructure was the second most popular topic in mayors' annual addresses this year, and twice as many mayors talked about infrastructure funding than in 2016. Rather than looking to federal and state agencies for funding support, we're encouraging communities to explore the root cause of the infrastructure funding gap - our development pattern and shift resources toward strategies that can increase return on investment to incrementally close the gap. – Kevin

2. New report chronicles how the nation’s road conditions have worsened as many states prioritize expansion instead of repair.

While Congress discusses a $2 trillion infrastructure package, the latest report, Repair Priorities 2019, shows that the number of roads in "poor condition" around the nation continues to increase - despite an increase in spending. The report, accessible from this article, outlines four recommendations for Congress in addressing this issue. We often discuss the importance of city leaders understanding the maintenance obligations of existing infrastructure, and this report frames the same issue at a national level, including some astonishing data. – AJ

3. Do Tax Breaks Help or Hurt a State’s Finances? New Study Digs Deep. 

Researchers at North Carolina State just released a new study that hammers home the point that most economic development incentives do not actually improve a city's fiscal health. Just like growth in general, a city will get a bump in people/jobs/revenue initially, but the costs on the back end often exceed (by a wide margin) what a community makes up front. A more resilient strategy is to invest in the people, places and businesses you already have and cultivate a self sustaining local economy and workforce. – Kevin

4. The Peculiar Blindness of Experts.

Having worked in both the public and private planning sectors I'm sad to say that both have fallen victim to varying degrees of "siloing." If you've ever sat through "silo-busting" pep-rallies with folks you work with but have never seen or had a great project shut down by a different department in your own organization, then you probably know what I'm talking about. I think Epstein offers a succinct cautionary tale on investing too heavily in the predictions of experts. If pictures are worth 1,000 words I'd say experience is worth at least 1,000 predictions. – Felix

5. Q&A: How to Revitalize a Neighborhood Without Gentrifying It. 

Your community likely has some (maybe many) neighborhoods in need of revitalization. But can it be done in such a way that lifts up the people already living there, rather than pushing them out? This insightful Strong Towns Q&A with small developer Derek Avery delves into what it looks like to bring the neighborhood into the process of redevelopment. (And if you want to hear more from Derek Avery, check out our two-part podcast interview with him and his wife/business partner Bianca!) – Jordan

6. The affordable housing crisis, explained.

The gap continues to widen between the cost of rental and ownership options and what the majority of people are able to pay. This article does a good job of explaining many of the key factors that impact the affordable housing discussion, including a great chart illustrating the increasing gap between rising rental costs and flat income levels. The costs of single family suburban housing will continue to increase as cities and the market adjusts to cover the true costs of serving and maintaining this development pattern, so it's critical that more cities begin building "missing middle" options such as duplexes, fourplexes and small lot detached homes to provide quality options for those who are not able to afford a $300K+ home. – Kevin

7. The retail crisis is now a landlord crisis.

This Q&A between Sidewalk Talk and author Mark Pilkington highlights the growing difficulties for landlords of retail spaces, and gives insights into the shift required of businesses to adjust to the changing industry (spoiler: it isn't just about e-commerce!). This approach has the capacity to create the self-sustaining local economy we often talk about, while breathing new life into vacant storefronts. – AJ

8. A Plan for Reconciliation. 

This plan for reconciliation in Vancouver highlights the good work that is being done to reconnect fragmented areas in Metropolitan areas. Spurring from the recognition of an inefficient and disconnected downtown community, a plan was put together to enable greater mobility and the inclusion of livable spaces within the downtown.  – Ryan

9. Brownsville administration aims to foster sustainable growth.

Every city says they want to be fiscally responsible and resilient, but most cities have huge infrastructure deficits and service cost gaps that get bigger every year while policy makers continue to prioritize short term wins. Very few cities right now have leadership willing to do the math to quantify their resource gap and show which development patterns generate enough tax base to cover costs and which ones don't. Our crew at Verdunity is honored to be working with the City of Brownsville to get their community aligned on a journey that cultivates health, wealth and resilience in the city and its residents now and in the future! – Kevin

10. Podcast: The Incredible Shrinking City.

For decades, Memphis grew by bringing its suburbs into the city limits. City officials thought this suburb-gobbling policy would be an economic boon—that it would bring in tax revenue. Instead, the policy was an economic disaster, especially for the majority black neighborhoods in the city's core. This short episode delves into the real consequences of Memphis' horizontal growth experiment, and how they're trying to fix decades of mistaken policy. Lots of cities pursued the same strategy as Memphis, to the same financially detrimental end, but few are confronting it as openly and boldly as Memphis's current leadership. Worth a listen, if you're the podcast-listening type. (Chuck Marohn also did an interview with Doug McGowan, Memphis' COO, on this very subject. Makes a great follow-up to this episode.) – Jordan


Have thoughts on any of the links above? Think we missed something essential? We’re discussing these topics and more over on our brand-new online community, exclusively for local government employees.* Sign up for the Community Cultivators Network and join the discussion!

* The network is currently only for those wonderful folks out there who work in local government. If you’re not currently working for a city, town, or county, we still love you (and are sure many of you would add value to the community), but we want to keep our commitment to making this a community focused specifically on our friends working in local government. Thanks for understanding!

The tax burden footprint of tax-exempt properties

The tax burden footprint of tax-exempt properties

Verdunity welcomes AJ Fawver to lead our new community consulting program

Verdunity welcomes AJ Fawver to lead our new community consulting program