Pickleball, Budgets, and Wi-Fi: Tracking Emerging Issues in Municipal Government
by Olivia Barrow, Writer, Curate, Part of FiscalNote
During the first quarter of 2023, hundreds of local governments all over the country grappled with the same three emerging issues. Read on to understand their impact.
Keeping up with emerging policy, regulations, and issues happening in peer or neighboring communities is an important part of delivering effective solutions for your electorate. But pulling together scattered data of local governments and constructing useful insights is not easy.
That’s why we decided to use Curate, FiscalNote’s local legislative tracking tool, to surface some of the common issues showing up in local governments across the country.
What we found was, during the first quarter of 2023, hundreds of local governments all over the country grappled with the same three emerging issues: the incredibly fast growth of the sport of pickleball, new techniques for engaging constituents in the budget process, and expanding access to high-speed internet. To understand the impact of these issues, we spoke with a public official from Long Beach, California, about the city’s response to these issues.
1. Meeting the Demand for Pickleball Courts
Q1 Mentions: 16,389
Number of Communities: 1,414
With the Sports and Fitness Industry Association naming pickleball the fastest-growing sport in the country, local governments are facing a significant challenge keeping up with the demand for courts.
The Curate database found more than 16,000 mentions of pickleball in local government meeting minutes and agendas during the first quarter of 2023. These discussions mainly focused on court construction, park development, and events.
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Tyler Bonanno-Curley, manager of government affairs for the city of Long Beach, California, says the city’s first response has been to add pickleball court lines to existing tennis and basketball courts. The city has grown from just eight dedicated pickleball courts to now having around 70 shared courts.
“Being able to accommodate the needs across the different sports is always a challenge — not just with pickleball,” he says.
2. Engaging Constituents Through Participatory Budgeting
Topic: Participatory budgeting
Q1 Mentions: 311
Number of Communities: 58
Participatory budgeting is a civic engagement tool that engages the public in the budget process and provides them with opportunities to allocate funds to projects that benefit their communities.
The tool has exploded in popularity since the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provided many communities with a significant amount of relatively flexible one-time funding. In Q1 of 2023, there were 311 mentions of participatory budgeting in local government meeting minutes and agendas in the Curate database.
Major cities like Seattle and New York were early adopters of participatory budgeting and allocated funds to solve community problems like police violence, crime, and community safety through a participatory budgeting process. But the trend has continued to spread to smaller cities.
Last year, Grand Rapids, Michigan, allocated a total of $2 million through a participatory budgeting pilot program. Programs selected for funding include a Citizens Advocacy Skills Academy, a Mental Health Community First Responder, and a project to remove lead service lines. Now that the public voting has concluded, the city is partnering with a local university to evaluate the results of the pilot program, according to an agenda from Feb. 21.
Bonanno-Curley says that while the city of Long Beach has not done a formal participatory budget process, the city has made a more concerted effort to gather public input during its budget process, building on relationships developed during the pandemic to reach previously underserved communities.
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3. Closing the Digital Divide with Public Wi-Fi
Topic: Public Wi-Fi
Q1 Mentions: 169
Number of Communities: 76
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted disparities in broadband access across many localities. In response, many communities have been working to expand access to high-speed internet. One approach that was discussed frequently during the first quarter, with 169 mentions found in the Curate database, was public Wi-Fi. Programs include adding free public Wi-Fi infrastructure in city parks, libraries, and buses.
Bonanno-Curley says Long Beach was proud to be a leader in implementing public Wi-Fi in parks.
“The digital divide was a key challenge in the pandemic,” Bonanno-Curley says. “We had already started developing our digital equity strategy before the pandemic, so this gave us funding that we had been looking for to engage in that work.”
However, in Urbandale, Iowa, city staffers mentioned that Wi-Fi in parks was one of the least requested amenities community members asked for, with services such as water, electrical, and flushable restrooms being ranked as higher priorities by residents.
Technology Can Help You Monitor Trends and Identify Concerns
By monitoring local governments of similar sizes and collaborating with peers, officials can learn from others and prepare for future challenges. Local officials and policy researchers, as well as government affairs leaders and business development strategists, rely on local monitoring software to be aware of emerging issues and trends. Curate, part of FiscalNote, offers the most comprehensive database of local government documents in the country with tools designed to help teams be more efficient in managing their organization’s most critical issues.
But before taking action, it’s critical to know where your constituents stand on the issues. A constituent communication tool like Fireside, also part of FiscalNote, can help you organize and track messages from your electorate to help you accurately assess the public’s opinion on emerging issues. For example, as the pickleball craze continues to spread, many cities are seeing an influx in messages from tennis players who are concerned about losing access to courts. By tagging those messages with topics and sentiments, officials can accurately assess the public's opinion on emerging issues.