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Arizona's Strong Cities Make Strong State Program

April 12, 2004


Public participation, important in any democratic society, has been on the decline in the United States over the past 30 years. Between 1970 and 1990, public participation dropped by nearly 40 percent according to Robert D. Putnam's book Bowling Alone. While citizens expect city government to deliver services such as police, fire, libraries and parks, some have no knowledge of how city government functions or is funded.

Arizona's cities and towns are doing their part to reverse this statistic. Under the auspices of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, nearly every municipality in the state is part of a collective effort to increase citizen interest in and understanding of local government through a public awareness program called Strong Cities Make a Strong State.

The idea for the Strong Cities program began in 1999, when the League's 25-member Executive Committee called for the development of a public awareness program designed to respond to declining citizen interest in local government. The League launched Arizona's Strong Cities program statewide in 2000 to encourage the general public, state legislators, and the media to gain an increased understanding and appreciation for cities and the vital services they provide. A comprehensive program toolkit was distributed to each city with marketing materials and ideas on how to launch and sustain the program. Workshops were held throughout the state to assist cities with tailoring the program to suit community needs.

The program's marketing materials are designed to grab a resident's attention by asking what his or her quality of life would be like without city services.

Citizens are then encouraged to learn more about the current issues that affect city government by visiting the Strong Cities web site and their city government's web site where detailed information including how to reach state legislators on issues important to cities is provided. The program is bolstered annually through statewide special events, such as Strong Cities & Towns Week and Cities & Towns Day at the Capitol and a video that features state legislators talking about the relationship and interaction between the state and local levels of government. In 2003, more than 600 people gathered at the State Capitol for Cities and Towns Day.

In a statewide survey, cities ranked the Strong Cities program as extremely effective and valuable in their local communities. Several Arizona cities now get the Strong Cities word out to their residents year after year in a variety of ways:

Tucson's "Strong Cities" Campaign

During Arizona Cities & Towns Week, Tucson features a web page that includes a State Shared Revenues Fact Sheet, an activity book for children, and links to Arizona League of Cities and CityValue.org. The city's Channel 12 television also produces public service announcements promoting the value of cities and towns.

Tucson produces an annual report that informs citizens on current and future budget issues (including a -Budget in Brief" explanation), accomplishments and challenges, and a look ahead at growth planning and key projects.

Tucson has a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) policy to track responses to citizen inquiries, comments, and concerns. Citizens may contact city staff or elected officials in a variety of ways including letter, email, telephone, fax, and walk-ins.

The Strong Cities program is not confined to Arizona's borders. The word is out nationally about the effectiveness of the program. Nearly a dozen states have contacted the League of Arizona Cities, including Alaska, Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Tucson Mayor Robert E. Walkup, a member of the League's Executive Committee, urges all U.S. mayors to join in with other national organizations representing state and local government to work together on a national campaign to educate and inform citizens of the importance of local government services to their lives.

Other Arizona Cities and Towns

Glendale creates Strong Cities public service announcements and billboards, including extensive Strong Cities information on the city's web site and programming for the city's cable station.

Nogales hosts a City Expo for Strong Cities & Towns Week. Every city department is represented in a carnival-like atmosphere, and the mayor is live on local radio encouraging residents to come to city hall to meet those who work hard to provide community services.

Queen Creek personally delivers a welcome packet with Strong Cities program information to each new town resident. Packets are also available for residents to pick up at town hall.

Winslow hosts an annual parade of city service vehicles down Main Street for Strong Cities & Towns Week and gives Strong Cities coloring books to local schools so that students learn the importance of city services in their community.