State of the City 2022

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird delivering her State of the City 2022 address

Watch State of the City 2022

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird
October 4, 2022

Good morning, everyone! It is wonderful to be back in person before the members and supporters of Leadership Lincoln. Thank you for hosting the State of the City and for all you do to cultivate servant leaders in our community.

Speaking of servant leaders we lost a good one in Tom Lorenz the other day. Tom made our city better through his dedication to building Pinnacle Bank Arena and the revitalization of Pinewood Bowl, and he was an incredible partner to our team, an amazing leader, and beloved friend to so many. We will miss him so much.

I know we’re here this morning to highlight what’s happening today in Lincoln, but before we get there, I’d like to take you back in time a few years. Back to a night when I came home after a lengthy City Council meeting to tuck my three children into bed. As I bent down to kiss my oldest daughter goodnight, she held me tight, inhaled deeply, and told me I smelled good. I wondered, “What do I smell like? Was it the spaghetti sauce I’d cooked earlier? My shampoo?” So I asked her, and this was her reply: “You smell like my blankee.” I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing since I couldn’t remember when I’d last washed it. But then she added, “You smell like home.”

In that precious moment, my daughter reminded me that home is so much more than an address. Home is a sense of security, strength, and well-being.

I invite you to take a moment to ask yourself: What does home mean to you?

Since we’re all Nebraskans, maybe this came to mind: “It’s Corn!”

Too corny?

Whether you pictured corn, a sea of red in Memorial Stadium, your own mom or dad or children, the Thanksgiving dinner table set with extra folding chairs, or simply a safe place to crawl into bed each night after a long day, I imagine that you, too, pictured people and places that offer you a sense of security, strength, and well-being.

That’s what I want for my children and for all of us in Lincoln. Ensuring that this city we call home offers everyone a sense of security, strength, and well-being is what first inspired me to run for mayor, and what continues to inspire my administration’s vision of leading Lincoln toward a more successful, secure, and shared future.

Now, little did we know that our work in pursuit of that vision would coincide with a global pandemic. Yet while the pandemic challenged – and changed – the architecture of our lives, it also revealed the strength of our community’s foundations. It reinforced the importance of working toward a vision of a more successful, secure, and shared future.

You could clearly see this vision come to life as our dedicated team at the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department worked in collaboration with devoted doctors, nurses, social service providers, cultural center representatives, faith leaders, school officials, and teachers to educate and vaccinate our community. Our collective efforts resulted in Lancaster County having one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates both in Nebraska and among comparable counties across the nation. Together, we saved lives.

You can also see the fruits of our community’s efforts in the way Lincoln’s economy has rebounded. While many cities across the country are struggling to bounce back from the pandemic, financial experts are taking note of Lincoln’s strong economic recovery. WalletHub compared 180 cities’ overall unemployment rate from 2019 to 2021 and found that Lincoln led the nation in unemployment recovery. They also compared 150 of the most populated cities across six key categories – Financial Stability, Education , Health, Safety, Economy and Infrastructure, and Pollution – in order to determine the best-run cities in America. Out of those 150 cities, Lincoln ranked number 6! We are setting our own records, too. In 2021, the City issued more building and construction permits than any other year on record. As for 2022, we are approaching that record-setting level, and we still have three months to go! I am so proud to lead our City team in our efforts to support this record-setting investment in Lincoln’s growth.

While these records and rankings help us see where we are relative to everyone else, they say less about how we got here. About the kind of home we are, and the kind of home we want to be. In other words, about The State of Our City....

A Chinese proverb says, “No matter how stout, one beam cannot support a house.” We’ve witnessed the truth of this proverb over the past three and a half years, and it’s important to begin by acknowledging that it takes a whole host of partners to scaffold a safe and successful city, to build this place we call home. I want to recognize the members of the Lincoln City Council, my partners in local government. Could you please stand and be recognized? I also offer my appreciation of our friends and partners on the Lancaster County Board and the Lincoln Public Schools Board, our Lincoln state senators, appointed members of our city’s boards and commissions, our City and County Department Directors and Staff, as well as my team in the Mayor’s Office for their sturdy support of our city. Will you all please give them a round of applause?

Part of what makes the state of our city so strong is the safety and security we enjoy here. That’s why public safety is my administration’s number one priority.

The men and women of Lincoln Fire and Rescue act on this priority every day. Last year, our LFR team saved the lives of residents experiencing non-traumatic cardiac arrest at a rate more than twice the national average. When fires broke out in homes last year, LFR saved on average 98% of the value of the property.

To keep us safe, our firefighters and paramedics need a strong home base from which to answer our calls. That’s why we're rebuilding Station 8, one of the busiest in our city. This new station will include modern living quarters more suitable for today’s firefighting workforce, many of whom are women. In fact, women serve within LFR ranks at a rate three times the national average.

Together with LFR, our Lincoln Police Department is the backbone of our public safety response. The quality of life we enjoy is made possible by LPD’s commitment to protect and serve our entire community.

As a result of LPD’s commitment, violent crime, felonies, misdemeanors, traffic accidents, and traffic injuries all have decreased this year relative to t he previous five-year period. Our team at LPD, who serve with excellence and put themselves at risk each day, deserve appropriate compensation, which is something I’m proud our new police contract achieves, making our officers the highest-paid law enforcement in the state of Nebraska and enhancing LPD’s ability to retain and recruit top talent .

To keep our community safe as it grows, we continue to grow our investments in public safety. Our most recent City budget adds six firefighter paramedics, bringing the total number of LFR personnel added to the department during my administration to 28. The budget also adds another five police officers, two 9-1-1 dispatchers, and three civilian employees, which brings the total number of LPD professionals added during my administration to 31. We complement our investments in personnel with investments in what first responders need to keep us safe. This includes additional equipment, increased training for responding to mental health-related calls for service, and an expanding partnership through which LPD’s Special Victims Unit will be co-located with the Child Advocacy Center to enhance the services they provide to victims of child abuse and sexual assault.

Because public safety is our number one priority, we invest in it in ways that go beyond the essential services delivered by our first responders. I am pleased to announce today that the City is embarking on a bold initiative to eliminate traffic-related deaths and severe injuries in Lincoln, with the intermediate goal of reducing them 60% by the year 2045. With leadership from our team at LTU, our initiative, Safe Streets Lincoln – A Vision Zero Project, will examine many factors that contribute to safe mobility — including roadway design, speeds, behaviors, technology, and policies — and work to achieve the ultimate goal of zero fatalities and severe injuries among our drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.

While safety and security top the list of my administration’s priorities, we also understand that home should be a place that offers a sense of belonging. Creating a community where all of us enjoy true belonging and experience equal opportunity to reach our full human potential is the foundation of our One Lincoln initiative.

This initiative begins with City Hall, where we work to make our team increasingly reflective of the community we serve. To this end, we have hired a diversity, equity, and inclusion or DEI manager in our Human Resources Department, diversified City boards and commissions, and taken administrative action to protect City employees from discrimination. We joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and, through that network, a cadre of City team members from every department are currently undertaking a year-long DEI training. And while we still have work to do, Lincoln’s score in the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index has increased by 39 points during the past three years and today stands at 92 out of 100, surpassing Omaha to become the highest score of any city in Nebraska.

Our efforts to ensure all feel at home in Lincoln also mean we welcome newcomers into our community and welcome back those whose ancestors first lived here. I was honored to participate in a recent ceremony with members of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe as together we promoted good will and awareness that our city rests on the homeland of their forebears.

Our present-day residents travel many roads to make Lincoln their home. Our city’s growing population includes 30,000 immigrants and refugees from 150 countries. Our new “Lincoln-Lancaster County Welcoming and Belonging Strategic Plan” recognizes and builds on the economic and cultural vibrancy that our new American friends and neighbors bring to our entire community.

As we advance equity, we work to eliminate disparities between our community members’ quality of life and access to services. Here are just a few examples:

  • To support equitable access to the lifelong learning opportunities offered by our city libraries, we recently eliminated overdue fees on all materials.
  • For elders in our community, we support independent living with hot meals, fitness classes, counseling, and companionship. In the coming months, we plan to open the doors to Victory Park, the new home base for our Aging Partners Department and for enhanced services to Lincoln seniors and veterans.
  • For our youngest residents, we launched the Lead Safe Lincoln initiative this year. Lead Safe Lincoln helps test children for lead exposure and assists families with children who show elevated lead levels. Through this federally funded initiative, we improve these families’ health with home inspections, risk assessments, and lead paint and pipe remediation that make Lincoln homes safer and put parents’ minds at ease as they tuck their children into bed at night.

I’m thrilled that this work to ensure all Lincoln children are healthy and get a great start in life just got a huge boost! Our most recent City budget funds a universal home health visitation program that makes Health Department nurses available to support the well-being of all infants born in Lincoln, and their mothers. This program does more than take baby steps. It will help our children hit their stride, growing up healthy and ready to contribute to a thriving Lincoln of the future.

Beyond this commitment to home visits for babies and their mothers, to lead-safe homes for young children, and to building a city where all feel at home, it’s important to underscore that part of our mission is to ensure every Lincoln resident has an actual place to call home. Our City team has been laser-focused on this mission throughout the pandemic. Utilizing federal pandemic relief funds and collaborating with non-profit service providers and the Tenant Assistance Project, we have helped over 5,000 households pay a combined $40 million dollars in rent and utilities. This extraordinary effort has kept tenants safely housed and property managers’ and owners’ incomes stable.

We made further progress on our goal to ensure all our community members have a place to call home when Lincoln became one of just 22 cities in the nation to win a federal grant for a project that aims to end youth homelessness. Working in partnership with local agencies, this project will help us create a vital safety net for Lincoln youth.

Ending homelessness requires a multifaceted approach which is why we are taking an additional, pivotal step to house our most vulnerable residents. I am pleased to announce today that my administration is allocating $4.2 million dollars in federal relief funds to build a 24-room permanent supportive housing facility to help alleviate chronic homelessness in Lincoln.

These efforts to house people experiencing homelessness are ones we undertake in addition to the work our City team does each day to facilitate growth in the supply of all housing types. Our work to support the private sector in growing Lincoln’s housing stock is resulting in historic levels of residential construction. The combined number of housing construction permits the City issued last and this year to date exceeds the number of residential permits issued in Lincoln during any other two-year period since the 1970s.

Beyond these daily efforts to support the creation of housing at every price point, I am so pleased to report that we are well ahead of schedule to meet my administration’s ambitious goal to create 5,000 new or rehabilitated affordable housing units by 2030. In just two years, we have incentivized the creation of over 1,200 new or rehabilitated unit s. To preserve and enhance the quality of our existing affordable housing stock, we recently launched a rental rehabilitation program in the South of Downtown neighborhood. The first phase of this multi-year program aims to improve 100 older dwellings and maintain affordable rental rates in this historic part of town.

While there is much to celebrate in building and improving housing locally, we are wise to remember we all inhabit a much larger home that supports everything – and everyone – we hold dear. We live in a crucial moment for the future of our planet, where the decisions we make today determine the type of world our children and grandchildren will inherit.

If that maybe sounds too abstract or daunting, it's worth remembering the words of the Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who long ago said, “Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless when facing them.”

This fearless spirit animates the work of my administration’s Resilient Lincoln initiative, through which we tackle the reality of our climate-related risks and recognize that embedded in these risks lie opportunities. Opportunities presented in our City’s Climate Action Plan – the first of its kind in Nebraska. Actions we are taking to build a more sustainable, resilient future for everyone who calls Lincoln home.

We took a huge step toward a more sustainable, resilient Lincoln this summer when, shoulder to shoulder with key stakeholders, we launched our city’s efforts to secure a second source of water. While projections indicate that we have an adequate water supply for the next 26 years, we must begin planning now to ensure Lincoln can continue to grow and thrive in a hotter, drier future. This work will take decades, and while many of us won’t be there when the ribbon is cut, we owe our children this future.

Our city’s public transportation system is accelerating toward this more sustainable, resilient future – but without putting a foot on the gas. LTU secured one of the largest federal grants in City history to build a new multimodal transportation center. The transportation center will connect people more efficiently to their jobs and schools, enhance the rider experience, improve working conditions for our bus drivers, and help us meet two climate goals my administration has set : to convert our City fleet to 100% electric, renewable, or alternatively fueled vehicles by 2040 and to reduce Lincoln’s net greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 .

Preparing our infrastructure and community to be more secure and resilient in the face of accelerating climate change necessitates a collective effort. That’s why the City created a Climate-Smart Collaborative with Lincoln Public Schools, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln Electric System, and Lancaster County. Working together, we are positioning our community to become a leader in powering our vehicles with clean and renewable energy while reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

As we advance climate action strategies, natural climate solutions play an important role, which is part of why our Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department works so hard to protect and grow greenspaces and our urban tree canopy. I’m particularly proud of their partnership with the Nebraska Forest Service, the Lincoln Community Foundation, and our team at the Urban Development Department that is piloting a new grant-funded effort to remove and replace at-risk trees on the properties of low-income homeowners. This investment in maintaining our urban forest cleans our air, conserves energy, cools streets, and preserves the high quality of life we enjoy.

In tandem with our actions to support sustainable, long-term growth, we prioritize current economic growth opportunities for residents and businesses through our Lincoln Forward initiative. Our efforts bolster those of the private sector by making strategic investments in workforce development that connect workers to the careers they desire, and businesses to the workers they need.

We delivered in an historic way on this commitment to cultivate economic opportunity when we awarded $12 million from our American Rescue Plan funds to develop the workforce we need in Lincoln. Six local recipient organizations will train and connect people with high-demand skills to jobs in key industries, including welding, health sciences, I.T., manufacturing, and childcare.

The work to move Lincoln Forward happens literally every day at City Hall. Our voter-approved Lincoln on the Move initiative has been paving the way for new road construction and improvements to existing streets since 2019. This initiative has supplemented our regular budget for streets by nearly $42 million so far, and it will invest millions more over the course of its six-year duration, helping us to ensure Lincoln is a city that aligns mobility, safety, growth, and economic opportunity.

Our work to move Lincoln Forward is clear not only on our streets, but also in our skyline. Remember that record-setting building and construction activity I spoke about earlier?

Here are just a few of the projects, supported by the City with financial incentives and infrastructure, that have put building cranes in the air and construction crews to work:

  • Duncan Aviation is expanding and adding new job opportunities.
  • The new Scarlet Hotel is allowing us to welcome more visitors to Innovation Campus and our city.
  • The Telegraph District is creating a thriving new neighborhood for work and life (and some really good hot yoga).
  • Centerpointe is transforming Trabert Hall into a Campus for Health and Wellbeing that will provide housing, substance-use prevention, medical, and mental health services.
  • Gatehouse Rows will become the largest affordable housing project since we adopted our Affordable Housing Coordinated Action Plan.
  • Tabitha’s Intergenerational Living Community will house elder residents and nursing students who are training to care for them.
  • And the American Job Center will soon connect more job seekers with skills, resources, and opportunities from their new headquarters on the first floor of the newly renovated Eagle Parking Garage.

As we move Lincoln Forward, we step up to the plate with our private sector partners to launch game-changing, catalyst projects that grow economic opportunity and our quality of life. Standing with our partners in the grass near Oak Lake last week, we unveiled plans for the Lincoln Youth Complex that will turn a Field of Dreams into eight real-life ballfields. This complex will become the first youth sports program in Lincoln targeted to include underserved youth on a significant scale, while also playing host to tournaments and visitors that infuse dollars into our economy for years to come.

Another catalyst project aims to capitalize on our community’s status as a hub for live music: I am excited to announce today that we are officially kicking off our Downtown Music District project. We want Lincoln to be in the vanguard of the “Music Cities” movement and potentially one of the first communities in the country to create a district focused on the live music scene. We are convening a Music District Advisory Committee that will meet for the first time this week to support development of a flourishing local music ecosystem that fuels job creation, talent retention and attraction, entrepreneurialism, tourism, and some really good times!

As we enjoy and grow “the good life” in the Capital City, I hope you share my sense of pride in calling Lincoln home. Like the corn our state is known for, Lincoln has the juice!

Lincoln also has something else – for the first time in 90 years, we have a new, shared symbol for this place we call home.

Last year, residents offered their ideas for that symbol in the form of a new City flag. Of the more than 190 people who submitted designs, local artist Ed Mejia who is here with us this morning, created one entitled “All Roads Lead to Lincoln” that rose to the top.

Ed’s design – now our flag – invites people to see themselves in it. To see themselves as that little star in the middle as they create new things, and as they build their families, careers, and lives here.

To see Lincoln’s flag is to feel we are rooted in a very special place.

We are home.

A home where we feel safe, secure, and well.

Where we have opportunities to build our lives and livelihoods.

Where we belong.

This home we call Lincoln is a great place to plant our flag – to proudly raise it and affirm that the state of our city is strong!

Thank you all!