New Thinking on Stronger Cities

Google "stronger cities" and you get first entries about efforts in the U.K. and Canada, and farther down, policy studies from academic institutions. This confirmed my sense that refocusing on strengthening cities as a key way to address our nation's social challenges is new, new.

Finally, the dialogue is shifting from cities as problems to be solved to cities as opportunities to be developed.

First there is the emphasis that living in the urban core is now receiving as the more eco-friendly alternative to living in the exurbs. According to Wired, June 2008, "urban living is kinder to the planet." The article, noted, "...a Manhattanite's carbon footprint is 30 percent smaller than the average American's." We are seeing more news coverage highlighting members of the "national cadre of 3.5 million 'extreme commuters,' who spend more than three hours a day in transit, ...spewing carbon dioxide between exurb home and city office."

Next we see coverage during this key election year by the Drum Major Institute and The Nation of "mayors from ten diverse cities to talk about the need for a national urban agenda and to hear about some of the innovative solutions mayors have developed to confront problems as varied as immigration, the foreclosure crisis, and retaining young people in inner cities." This series, MayorTV, is produced by our own Susan Herr.

Finally are the efforts of several of the nation's top foundations to re-energize Living Cities with new leadership, CEO Ben Hecht, and a new American City Agenda.

Living Cities has devised a blueprint of the issues. According to its website, the American City Agenda is an integrative national urban strategy, a framework for aligning local, state and federal policies and the actions of the public, private and philanthropic sectors to promote:

Individual Opportunity and Wealth: Ensuring that people have access to education and training at all levels; are able to save and build wealth; and have access to the work supports, such as childcare and education, they need to stay on the job and advance in their careers.

Business Expansion and Investment: Ensuring support for both existing and emerging businesses, and filling the capital gaps that keep small businesses from expanding.

Strong Neighborhoods: Ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing for all residents and the development of high-performing community institutions such as schools and healthcare centers.

Sustainability and Wellness: Ensuring that transit is properly aligned with economic and housing needs; that the basic health needs of all residents are met; that fresh food is broadly available; and that climate change is fundamentally addressed.

Critical Infrastructure: Maintaining and improving core infrastructure of transit, bridges and sewer systems and ensuring access to the Internet for all residents.

Living Cities is encouraging government, the business sector and philanthropy to focus on "addressing all of these priorities in a comprehensive manner that improves the quality of place, raises the quality of life and expands opportunity."

Yet it is the phenomenon of creative and passionate people returning with their ingenuity and interest to the cities, even inner cities, that is making a difference. This is the right convocation to breathe life into a host of new opportunities.

Stronger cities seem possible for the first time in decades.

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 12:00 AM, Jun 30, 2008 in Economic Development | Environment | Philanthropic Strategy | Poverty | Permalink | Comment