U.S. mayors expect the COVID-19 pandemic to leave a deep and lasting impact on their communities, but the shift to remote work and the possible loss of city residents ranks low on their list of concerns, according to a national survey released Monday.
The 2021 Menino Survey of Mayors, conducted by the Boston University Initiative on Cities, surveyed chief executives of 126 cities of at least 75,000 residents. Respondents remain anonymous for the survey.
Mayors overwhelmingly cited mental health/trauma as the long-term implication of the pandemic about which they were most worried. Resident relocation ranked lowest on the list, with the shift to remote work second-lowest.
In response to open-ended questions about the pandemic’s effects, 40% of respondents pointed to what the survey designers call “changes in mental health and world views.”
As one mayor put it, “our community and businesses are still very fearful, cautious, emotionally drained, and on edge,” while another cited “anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers” creating “factions” in the community that hadn’t existed before.
While many mayors did acknowledge that the pandemic had a “powerful impact” on their cities’ economies, some saw potential good coming out of the disruption, including being incentivized to streamline or digitize city operations and “try new things.” Nearly one-third said they were worried about the loss of small businesses.
Some of the pessimism about the pandemic is partially offset by high hopes for the massive federal stimulus known as the American Rescue Plan. As the survey authors write, “These funds are extraordinary in both scale and the relative flexibility cities have in allocating them.”
Consistent with MarketWatch reporting, many respondents to the survey felt the ARP funds should be used for special, often big-ticket expenses. “We want to do something very unsexy [and] pay it forward to our kids and grandkids, in terms of really shoring up our infrastructure, in terms of transportation, transit investment, trails, those things, and then also the water infrastructure,” one mayor said.
As the survey authors note, there is a strikingly broad array of issues mayors are looking to tackle with the ARP funds.
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