Inviting municipal leaders from across the nation to spend nearly a week in your city requires great measures of confidence and hospitality. It is bold exercise in peer review, not unlike inviting Martha Stewart and Miss Manners to attend a dinner party you’re hosting, or inviting renowned golf architects Pete Dye and Tom Fazio to play a round on links you’ve built.
So last month, when the City of Phoenix welcomed more than 3,500 mayors, city councilpersons and municipal planners to town for the National League of Cities’ 2011 Congress of Cities and Exposition, it was no small undertaking.
The event, held at the Phoenix Convention Center, featured four concurrent conferences—Green Cities, Economic Development, Infrastructure and Your City’s Families. Civic-minded attendees heard from prominent speakers and issue experts, participated in leadership training sessions, attended leadership training sessions and visited mobile workshops across metropolitan Phoenix.
“Mobile workshops highlighted everything happening in Arizona cities, from sports to sustainability,” Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said.
When all the educational sessions and site tours and were over, Phoenix’s peers left impressed.
“We had a great time in Phoenix,” said Bluffton (Ind.) Mayor Ted Ellis, who was elected as the new president of the National League of Cities during the congress. “Coming to Phoenix allowed our members a number of opportunities to explore innovative ideas and programs in the city and the surrounding area. Between various workshop sessions and mobile tours, the city and the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau provided an in-depth exploration of the most pressing challenges cities are facing today.”
The mobile workshops took participants to the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, Civic Space Park and Downtown Public Market, and several City of Phoenix leaders leant their voices and expertise to the cause. Mayor Gordon and Councilman Michael Johnson spoke at the opening general session, Councilman Bill Gates spoke at Green Cities Conference opening session, and Deputy City Manager Rick Naimark spoke at the biomedical campus mobile workshop.
Phoenix Art Museum hosted 300 attendees at the Board of Director's Dinner, and the Arizona Science Center was the site of the congress’ closing event on Nov. 12. Spouses of attendees were treated to tours of Desert Botanical Garden and downtown, and youth delegates experienced “Zoo Lights” at the Phoenix Zoo.
Attendees also got an up-close look at some of downtown’s newest developments, including the expanded Phoenix Convention Center, METRO light rail, Arizona State University’s Downtown Campus, CityScape, and the Sheraton and Westin hotels.
“This event was almost a decade in the making, and what better time to showcase downtown Phoenix than right now?” said Councilman Johnson, who, as the President of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, led tours and spoke at a number of events. “The feedback I received from conference attendees has been overwhelmingly positive. NLC attendees were impressed with the quality of conference workshops, tours and other amenities Phoenix offers our visitors.”
The 2011 Congress of Cities generated an estimated $8.7 million dollars in direct spending for the city. It also gave city leaders the opportunity to demonstrate to their peers that Phoenix is a diverse and welcoming destination for meetings and conventions—a fact that has been clouded by the national debate over Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law.
The NLC expressed opposition to Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law last year, and the group had felt pressure from some corners to pull the 2011 Congress of Cities out of the state. Instead, it chose to conduct the event in Phoenix as planned, and took the opportunity to add Immigrant Integration training seminars to the agenda. These seminars allowed attendees to learn about different programs and policies to integrate immigrants into the community—economically, socially and culturally.
Rebuffing critics who called for a boycott, the NLC reaffirmed its decision to host the Congress of Cities in Phoenix, citing the following reasons:
• To support Phoenix and Arizona cities and towns. The City of Phoenix and Arizona cities and towns have actively opposed to the state’s actions. As the nation’s oldest and largest organization representing cities nationally, we are going to Phoenix to support the efforts of the City and other Arizona cities and towns.
• To promote and encourage constructive local action to integrate immigrants into the economic, social, and cultural fabric of cities through conference programming, training, and education.
• As a continued call for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.
The National League of Cities is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. Working in partnership with the 49 state municipal leagues, NLC serves as a resource to and an advocate for the more than 19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents. More than 1,600 municipalities of all sizes pay dues directly to NLC and actively participate as leaders and voting members in the organization.