Staff Writer Bryan Painter talked to some of the mayors attending the 78th Annual Meeting of The U.S. Conference of Mayors. Here's what they had to say.
The old farm has a new purpose.
About 15 years ago, a mayor in Norwalk, Conn., purchased a 9-acre farm with three houses. The farm hadn't been in operation since the 1930s. Nothing happened for a while, but now the old place has new life, said Mayor Richard A. Moccia, who is going into his fifth year as mayor of the city of about 85,000 people.
A committee turned the old farm into a community garden.
They also sold two of the houses with the restriction that the new owners had to maintain their historic look.
"And we're using the funds from the sale of that house to restore the main farmhouse, which will become a caretaker's house and a community meeting room,” Moccia said. "So we have 300 garden plots that neighbors use now.”
Homeless people also use it to grow food.
Norwalk, which is about one hour from New York City, has three major corporations. So there are about 20,000 people commuting into New York City each day and about 20,000 who commute to Norwalk to work.
"I've been fortunate my city hasn't been hit as hard as some of the other cities in the Northeast,” he said.
But it has been hit. Two years ago the city had $14.5 million in lost revenues from taxes, fees and so on. Officials estimate the loss will be $6 million this year.
And although he may not discover a way to turn the city's economy around at this year's conference, Moccia is fairly certain he will come away with measures that can benefit Norwalk.
Some cities have a single identity.
Kenneth D. Miyagishima, mayor of Las Cruces, N.M., proudly claims three.
"We have a lot of retirees, we have three strong military bases in the vicinity of 50 miles and we have New Mexico State University,” he said. "So we're a college town, a retiree town and military town.”
The multiple identities can lead to multiple strengths. For example, Las Cruces is consistently ranked as one of the best cities in which to retire.
"Since we have so many retirees,” Miyagishima said, "we have a lot of good hospitals there. That actually attracts a lot of retirees. We have facilities in Las Cruces that even our largest city, Albuquerque, doesn't have.
"It's really beneficial. For a lot of people when they retire, health care is a big concern to them. So we try to cater to a lot of our doctors and our nurses.”
But the strong can always get stronger.
"One of the things that we could focus on better is recycling,” he said. "Unfortunately it's not mandatory.”
Dennis Clough, mayor of Westlake, Ohio for the last 25 years, is anxious for the new U.S. Census to come out.
"I think it's going up,” Clough said. This community 12 to 15 miles from Cleveland has 33,000 to 35,000 residents.
It also has some other interesting factors working in its favor.
Westlake is the last community on the west side of Cuyahoga County, which incorporates about 57 communities outside the city of Cleveland, Clough said.
Westlake also has taken steps to draw new residents. In the last few years, it created a "Life Center,” called Crocker Park.
Previously, the community didn't have a major retail area where people could actually live, work and shop.
"That's been a catalyst for our particular city to allow us to continue to attract new residents and new businesses.”
The mayor of a city 20 miles south of Seattle wasn't shocked when asked about the Seattle Sonics-Oklahoma City Thunder rift.
"There is a little controversy there,” said Mayor Pete Lewis of Auburn, Wash., "but quite frankly, I'm not built for basketball, it didn't mean much to me. I'm more baseball and football. If you're trying to move the Mariners, then you've got a problem.”
Growing up in a military family, Lewis lived in communities across the United States. Thirty years ago this year, he moved to Auburn to work as a banker and to find a permanent home for his wife Kathy and their two daughters.
The city of about 70,000 is indeed struggling with unemployment, which is still at more than 10 percent, he said. But instead of focusing on what has slowed down, the city has concentrated on ways to advance.
"One thing that we've been doing is downtown redevelopment and redevelopment of business throughout our city,” Lewis said. "We brought in over $10,000 worth of grants, and we are redoing six new blocks of our city today.”
Problems are never in short supply.
So sometimes it's nice to recount successes, as Buddy Dyer, mayor of Orlando, Fla., did during the start of The United States Conference of Mayors.
Violent crimes have decreased dramatically in recent years, he said. Downtown has been revitalized and the area's Medical City offers a medical school, research and hospitals.
"And probably the greatest success we've had, we're about to begin construction on a new 61-mile commuter rail system and also the first piece of a national high-speed rail system,” he said.
That first piece will run from Orlando to Tampa, Dyer said.
"In our area we've had great success in consensus building and regionalism and sharing a common vision and then bringing everybody together behind that vision,” he said. "That has led to us being successful in getting commuter rail and high-speed rail.”
He would like to discover what approaches to projects have worked for others attending the national conference in Oklahoma City.
"When I'm with other mayors I like to talk about leadership styles,” he said, "and what works for them in terms of bringing their communities together.”