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The American Public Works Association asked more than 3,000 mayors for proclamations of support when it launched National Public Works Week in 1960. These are a two of the association's newsletters from that inaugural year. Photos: APWA

Hundreds of U.S. and Canadian agencies are celebrating National Public Works Week May 17 – 23 with equipment displays, open houses, employee appreciation luncheons, media events, career fairs, parades, and more.

In doing so, they're continuing a tradition that's almost half a century old.

Backed by a U.S. Senate resolution, the first National Public Works Week was held Oct. 2 – 8, 1960. Cosponsored by the American Public Works Association (APWA) and Kiwanis International, it was supported by at least a dozen cities including Boston; Haywood, Calif.; Kansas City, Kan.; Miami; and Minneapolis, with the governors of Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Texas issuing proclamations.

Events included equipment parades, luncheons, talks, and student essays; and a documentary — Headline for Harper — aired in movie theaters. The association also announced the “Top Ten Public Works Men-of-the-Year,” which was later changed to “APWA Top Ten Leaders of the Year.”

The event has gained momentum each year.

“When I first came to the association in 1988, most marketing was done in the APWA Reporter, with one poster inserted as a centerfold into one issue of the magazine,” says Connie Hartline, publications manager and resident historian. “Since 1990, we've been selling posters and providing a [free] how-to guide to help agencies plan festivities. We recently added resources to our Web site, and we even offer two 9-foottall ‘P.W. Paws' inflatable mascot costumes.”

The association's Washington, D.C., office employees get in on the act with an annual reception honoring key Congressional leaders for their support of public infrastructure.

This decade has ushered in fun alternatives to traditional events, including:

2003: The Davenport Public Works Department in Iowa invited students and volunteers to collect water and macro invertebrate samples from streams in Scott County for quality analyses.

2004: Palm Bay, Fla., hosted a fair with live entertainment, equipment demonstrations, informational booths, free food, a scavenger hunt, and educational activities for children and adults.

2005: In Florida, equipment operators from the city of Gainesville and Alachua County squared off in a friendly “Roadeo” competition.

2006: The Economy Borough Road Department in Pennsylvania enlisted art students to paint trash cans with a “Do not litter” theme.

2007: The Sanitation Division of the city of Glendale, Ariz., held a “Design-A-Sign” contest for 6- through 9-year-olds, and displayed winning artwork on a recycling truck for a year.

2008: Macon, Ga., Public Works hosted a brick dedication commemorating former employees and a softball tournament against Bibb County Public Works employees.

But for some really unusual examples of activities, the association points to Canada.

Last year, the city of Mississagua, Ontario, and local news show “Breakfast TV” personalities produced vignettes at several public works locations on “how the city works.” Additionally, all city buses flashed “National Public Works Week” on front destination banners. Events were promoted on the city Web site, and Mayor Hazel McCallion appeared in promotional spots.

For more ideas for a memorable Public Works Week, visit www.apwa.net/npww.