The organization, a collaborative of 22 foundations and financial institutions, seeks to address "intractable problems" in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark and Minneapolis-St.Paul by offering financial packages of grants and loans that, with help from the public, private, philanthropic and non-profit sectors.
The aim: improve "access to opportunity" for low-income people, including education, housing, transit, healthcare and employment.
"Cities need flexible resources to help them move innovation from the periphery to the mainstream, to integrate change across disciplines, geographies, sectors and funding sources," Living Cities CEO Ben Hecht said in a statement.
The project, which Living Cities calls its "Integration Initiative," has four primary objectives:
- Create a framework for solving complex problems. Remove bureaucratic silos and get policy in lockstep through communication among leaders in government, philanthropy, the non-profit sector and the business community.
- Challenge conventional wisdom, a.k.a. "disrupt." What we've got now is outdated and based on false or obsolete assumptions. (Example: the nine-month school year, which was born from summer harvests.)
- Drive the private market to work on behalf of low-income people. Attract private sector capital by structuring investments in underserved markets to balance risk and reward. Examples: grocery stores and financial services.
- Create a "new normal." Go beyond the pilot program. Re-prioritize funding and use data to track what's going on to ensure accountability for results.
The project also includes $50 million in intermediate-term commercial debt provided by Living Cities financial members, to be used for buying land and property, constructing affordable housing and developing mixed use facilities.
It's no surprise, then, that the five cities chosen are spread along America's Rust Belt, which has suffered as manufacturing jobs have declined.
Can Living Cities create a "new normal" in these metropolitan areas, some of which have been plagued by working class problems for decades?
Here's a look at what each city is doing:
- Baltimore, Md. (up to $19 million): Create job opportunities and improve neighborhoods in Central and East Baltimore. Build the Red Line, a 14-mile east-west transit line. Partners: Johns Hopkins University, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, city and state government and non-profits.
- Cleveland, Ohio (up to $15 million): Create local jobs and opportunities by implementing programs for procurement, hiring, employee incentives and capital investment. Partners: the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University.
- Detroit, Mich. (up to $17 million): Concentrate population and activity in sustainable city corridors (e.g. the Woodward Corridor). Create a model for older industrial cities, reuse vacant land and expand opportunity.
- Newark, N.J. (up to $15 million): Alleviate environmental conditions that create barriers to residents’ advancement. Create a "wellness economy" that improves supply of and demand for safe, healthy and affordable options. Invest in housing, public safety, access to healthcare, green space, fresh and healthy foods and employment.
- Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. (up to $16 million): "Substantial investments" in three regional transit lines to better serve low income people and connect the Twin Cities. Create and preserve transit-accessible affordable housing and mixed-use, mixed-income developments. Help small businesses deal with transit construction, link residents with job opportunities and make transit corridors attractive to private investment.
Writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy last week, Hecht says the time is ripe for change with regard to American cities and the philanthropy that supports them:
In the midst of the rapid change that we are witnessing, philanthropy must not squander this opportunity to reinvent itself. We are in a time of crisis. We cannot center our work on practices and principles from a century ago. We must address our contemporary reality. And our efforts must go far beyond a scattershot approach. They must become the new normal.
What do you think: can the neighborhood be a lever for change in the systems that drive cities and regions?
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com