Living Cities Blog en-us Thu, 24 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 15 When It Comes to Reshaping Metro Areas, Local Leaders Have More Flexibility Than They Think Judging by the bloom on the trees and the potholes in the roads, springtime appears to have finally arrived, bringing with it a renewed call on Capitol Hill for aggressively funding our nation’s infrastructure. The federal surface transportation authorization, commonly referred to as MAP-21, is up for renewal this fall. Meanwhile, the US DOT projects that the Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent this summer, and public investment in infrastructure is at an all-time low.

Countdown to Insolvency: US DOT’s Highway Trust Fund Ticker

Against this backdrop, leaders in cities and metropolitan regions are working to re-shape their built environments to better connect all their residents to jobs, essential services and other amenities. Even in less-lean times, the scale of this undertaking dwarfs the resources available.

That said, cities and metropolitan regions have more flexibility than they think in using current public funding to its greatest effect, as well as in leveraging private investment. Federal rules finalized in January 2013 require transit project sponsors to show how their project will further economic development goals, reduce carbon emissions, facilitate walking and active living, and advance social equity goals. Moreover, awards from the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities in over 150 communities and regions have helped cities experiment with bike share, car share and new information technologies to make living without owning a car easier than it’s been in 50 years.

The big secret often not discussed in transportation circles is that states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) decide where and how to spend billions of dollars in transportation funding each year – not the federal government. MAP-21 gives a fair amount of flexibility in deciding how to make these decisions, requiring that a process be established that is transparent, inclusive, financially constrained and follow federal labor and environmental laws. A recent MZ Strategies, LLC review of six different MPOs uncovered a wide variation in how regions allocate these resources. Some such as Seattle set aside a portion of their federal funds to support non-motorized local transportation projects, and others such as Denver allocate a portion of their federal funds for larger-scale regional transportation priorities. A white paper released last fall by Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. includes a number of such examples to help illustrate the potential for MPOs to use federal funds to support local needs, including preserving affordable housing near transit.

Road builders, transit agencies, chambers of commerce, and other advocates are joining to call for expanded transportation funding. Yet, expanding flexibility in the use of these federal funds must also be a part of the debate. Failure to demand this kind of alignment means that we will never have the resources available to fund the kinds of investments supported by the public and the marketplace for innovative local solutions.

]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Mariia V. Zimmerman
3 Things to Consider When Launching an Equity Atlas: Advice for Regions Looking to Measure Access to Opportunity In a previous blog, I outlined how the Equity Atlas is a useful informational tool with potential to influence investment decisions and policy outcomes. Ideally, the Equity Atlas can also help evaluate progress toward social equity over time as transit lines open, as development decisions are made, and as policies are passed. It is also a flexible tool that can help with casemaking for advocates, with fundraising for community development nonprofits, and with benchmarking to track neighborhood change as new transit lines or major developments come online.

Since working on the Denver and Los Angeles Equity Atlases, I often get questions from other regions wanting to know what it would take for them to create their own Equity Atlas. The Equity Atlas has some universal applications to social equity issues in our built environment, but there is no universal approach or dollar amount it would take to create one.

My best advice to those considering creating an Equity Atlas is to first answer the following three questions:

1. What critical issues does your community or region face? Many often think that an Equity Atlas is a one-size-fits-all strategy, but that’s not really true. When thinking about launching an atlas, you need to think about the overall issues facing your community or region; this will shape how you develop the mapping and organize the data to be mapped. In both Denver and Los Angeles, major mass transit investments were the impetus for the analysis, since the regions wanted to maximize the opportunity. Leaders were then able to leverage the transit investment with other resources, including affordable housing financing streams, business incentive programs, workforce training, grocery store investment and other community development resources. In Atlanta, the issues the community is facing are the legacy of geographic inequality and lack of investments in housing, transportation and other areas. Atlanta stakeholders used the Equity Atlas to advocate for better policy and investment decisions. By identifying the critical issues facing the community upfront, regions can better focus the analysis conducted through the Equity Atlas report.

2. What data and mapping resources do you already have available? In most cases, the collection of new data won’t be a realistic starting point. Instead, Equity Atlases largely repackage existing data. So after identifying the critical issues, it helps to take an inventory of what resources already exists and which of those are actually accessible. Access is critical here, since the public use and sharing of certain data can be limited by confidentiality concerns. Overall, there are several cost and capacity implications to this question. With a sense of what resources both currently exist and are accessible, you can begin to understand how much work will be needed to repackage that data and what organizations you will need to bring in for support. You will also be able to begin identifying which organizations or government agencies may potentially provide staff time or resources to the project (e.g., are there graduate students that can add capacity?). In Denver we learned that by taking the lead on the first iteration of the Equity Atlas, we were able to get support from the local Metropolitan Planning Organization for the second iteration. By understanding what data resources are available, regions can begin charting the path needed to get to an Equity Atlas that is usable by decision makers, community groups and others who would benefit from the ability to pull quick data points or maps when needed.

3. What end goal do you want to accomplish? Depending on its implementation and execution, an Equity Atlas can be used to help change policy outcomes and investment decisions, or it can end up being just a trendy tool that a few people use and that ultimately becomes obsolete. By identifying the end goal at the beginning, regions can be more intentional about using the Equity Atlas as an accountability tool. Communities are constantly changing, so if you’re focused on long-term policy changes, you’ll have to think about updating the Equity Atlas regularly to keep it relevant and useful as a tool. To get to that point, both Denver and Portland turned their Equity Atlases into websites to make them more interactive and expand the amount of data and information available. Still, there are important capacity considerations since these sites were expensive to create and will require regular maintenance and data updates to keep them relevant. If regions are clear about the end goal they seek to achieve, they will be able to better shape the Equity Atlas to be an effective tool for their local context and regional vision.

The Equity Atlas has great potential to drive long-term policy change and inform investment decisions. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution and needs to be tailored to each region’s particular needs, existing data resources, and target end goals. These are all important considerations to take into account as regions explore launching an Equity Atlas.

Links to Equity Atlases:


Los Angeles:



New York:

Bill Sadler is a consultant for the Urban Solutions Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Los Angeles, California. Bill previously worked as a Project Manager at Reconnecting America in Denver, Colorado, leading the creation of the Denver Regional Equity Atlas and helping found the Mile High Connects collaborative. Bill can be reached at

]]> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Bill Sadler
Putting Equity on the Map: Measuring Access to Opportunity with an Equity Atlas Cities and regions across the country are interested in investing in and building new mass transit systems and revitalizing urban neighborhoods around them. These efforts, known as “transit-oriented development” (TOD), can provide a significant boost to economic development and increase access to opportunity. But they can also have negative effects, including the displacement of existing low-income residents and small businesses as rents increase, the elimination of bus routes that overlap with new transit lines, and the shifting of resources away from communities farther from transit.

Given the potential outcomes, how can regions ensure that we make smart and equitable decisions about how and where we invest resources?

To answer this question, several regions (Portland, New York City, Denver, Los Angeles and Atlanta) have launched Equity Atlas reports to map out the existing inventory of housing, jobs, schools, grocery stores, parks, hospitals and other amenities communities need to thrive. While each Equity Atlas is led by different actors and focuses on different outcomes, the key component is mapping, usually at the regional scale, with the transportation network as a core component.

Uses in the Field

Equity Atlases are information tools. They provide data that shows how communities are connected by transit and other transportation modes, and highlight where regions are falling short in providing access to opportunity for low-income populations. In particular, the tool provides a way to visualize the spatial relationship between disparate issues like affordable housing and good jobs.

That said, the information contained in an Equity Atlas can be used in different ways by different stakeholders. Looking across all five regions, at least three trends in how Equity Atlases are used can be found:

1. Bringing Together Stakeholders. By visually mapping the relationships between different issues, stakeholders can better see, for example, how preschool facilities are laid out in a region and how they intersect (or don’t) with where people work. In this way, the Equity Atlas can bring together regional stakeholders by helping them visualize how their resources and capacity could be better leveraged by working together. For example, the Denver Regional Equity Atlas served as the call to action for forming Mile High Connects, a collaborative of nonprofits, funders and financial institutions that want to ensure that the region’s $7.8 billion investment in expanding the transit system will improve access to opportunity for all. While all of these groups had been working on social equity issues for years, the Equity Atlas helped them see how their work intersected.

2. Driving Advocacy & Case-Making. The information in an Equity Atlas can also be used to bring attention to equity issues. In many cases, it helps identify communities vulnerable to displacement or gentrification because of new real estate and infrastructure investments. This is the case in Los Angeles. The LA THRIVES collaborative is using their Equity Atlas to make the case for greater investment in affordable housing near transit by highlighting spatial disparities in existing affordable housing stock. Advocates have also been able to identify where existing policy needs to be enforced better, e.g., the City of LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance. Similarly, Atlanta’s TOD Collaborative is using the Equity Atlas to call out the region’s jobs-housing divide. In Atlanta, most low-income workers live in the western and southern parts of the city, far away from the region’s jobs in the downtown and northern parts. By mapping job access disparity, the TOD Collaborative is using the Equity Atlas as a tool to convince local leaders to prioritize affordable housing and community investment near MARTA stations so that low-income workers can live closer to the region’s jobs.

3. Steering Investment. Lastly, the data and maps contained in an Equity Atlas also have the potential to help decision makers adjust their activities and investments accordingly. In Denver, creating an equity atlas has helped investors in the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Fund identify sites near transit for affordable housing investments, highlight gaps in existing small business and neighborhood incentive programs, and promote the use of a healthy food financing fund for sites near transit stations that are within food deserts.

The Equity Atlas 2.0: What’s Next?

The Equity Atlas is a relatively new tool, with a great deal of excitement about its uses and implications. While each region is in the process of evaluating how effective their Equity Atlas has been, we can already see how the tool is evolving to meet the needs of local stakeholders.

In an ideal world, the Equity Atlas should monitor and respond to neighborhood changes over time; it should be a living document updated regularly. It should also provide information to show regional interconnectedness and spatial disparities in access to opportunity. However, policy and investment decisions are usually made at a more local scale, so more detailed information on a particular community or specific site is usually needed.

Reflecting this reality, both Denver and Portland recently updated their Equity Atlas reports as interactive online tools that allow users to create maps, layer datasets on top of each other, and zoom in on neighborhoods or corridors. The online tools provide greater flexibility and access to the data and maps for advocates, researchers and policymakers who may not have the capacity to find the data on their own. They also provide a centralized portal for information on community demographics, economic, education, health, and other data.

Overall, the Equity Atlas brings a very valuable data-driven perspective to community development and social equity issues, and puts data and maps in the hands of those who would not otherwise have them. In times of dwindling public resources and increasing income inequality, data and maps can help tell the story of why our communities matter and where we need to prioritize our investments to make sure everyone has access to the people, places and things they need to thrive.

Links to Equity Atlases:


Los Angeles:



New York:

Bill Sadler is a consultant for the Urban Solutions Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Los Angeles, California. Bill previously worked as a Project Manager at Reconnecting America in Denver, Colorado, leading the creation of the Denver Regional Equity Atlas and helping found the Mile High Connects collaborative. Bill can be reached at

]]> Mon, 21 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Bill Sadler
Harnessing Government Technology for Good It’s no surprise that technology has changed how people interact and redefined our notion of community. What you may not know is the extent to which governments today are using technology—moving towards a vision for ‘government as platform’. Cities across the U.S. are turning to data, software and application development, and even social media to improve operations and service provision, transform the relationship between citizen and government, and reduce costs. Boston, for example, has created smartphone applications to help the city track and report problems, from potholes to graffiti. There is great potential in how this transformation can replace the expertise of bureaucracy with a new service-oriented model that democratizes the real-time exchange of information and services, particularly for low-income people. New tools in data and technology should help make cities places of widespread opportunity for all residents.

Living Cities’ Urban Technologist in Residence, Nigel Jacob, helped found the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, which incubates innovative experiments designed to improve city services for residents. In this video, Jacob explains how cities can harness technology and innovation for good.

Video by Jenna Pace Productions,

]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Ben Hecht
The Real Promise of Pay for Success: It’s About People Pay for Success (PFS) is all over the news these days. PFS is a new and experimental partnership model between government, social service providers, and private investors to tackle chronic social problems. In a nutshell, private capital, both philanthropic and commercial, is deployed to support high-performing social preventative interventions. These private investors assume the risk by financing the services up front, getting repaid only if agreed-upon measurable social impacts are achieved. In exchange for taking the risk, the investors receive a financial return. This means that precious government resources are spent only in the event of proven success and government savings.

While much of the discussion around PFS has focused on the contracting and the financial model itself as the innovation, Living Cities is especially excited about the possibilities that PFS opens up in terms of investing in people and in promising solutions to our nation’s most wicked problems. To prime the pump and test if PFS is a viable channel for investing in human capital, Living Cities, through the Catalyst Fund, invested $1.5 million in the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice PFS transaction. This seven-year, $27 million deal is focused on reducing recidivism and increasing employment for at-risk, formerly incarcerated young men in the Boston, Chelsea and Springfield areas. This is the largest PFS transaction in the world to date.

Recently, the New York Times ‘Fixes’ column highlighted Roca, the service provider in the Massachusetts PFS initiative. While the column touched upon the details of the transaction, it focused on telling the stories of the youth who are benefitting from Roca’s comprehensive portfolio of programs. We meet Kelord, a young man who went from feeling trapped in a cycle of selling drugs, jail, and chronic unemployment to, at 24, completing his G.E.D., holding a permanent job, and believing in a better future for himself and his family.

PFS enables Living Cities and other investors to make a bet and invest in organizations like Roca. And, Roca makes bets on youth like Kelord—investing in them through a combination of skills training, transitional employment, job placement, motivational sessions that encourage reflection, and a rigorous data system for monitoring all participants’ progress. This, in turn, gives participants the opportunity to bet on themselves. This is where we see the real promise of PFS, whether the issue area is recidivism, early childhood education, foster care or preventative health—it is about how it all comes together to make a material positive impact in people’s lives.

]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Eileen Neely
Investing in Infrastructure When most of us start our days by turning on the water in our homes, we take for granted the clean, safe water that comes out of the faucet. But the essential and invisible infrastructure that delivers it to our homes is at risk. And it’s hardly the only infrastructure that is aging and degrading. In many ways we are coasting on the investments our grandparents made, and it’s time to get serious.

The well-documented infrastructure investment gap around the country is significant on the West Coast. One estimate pegs needed infrastructure investments at $1 trillion in the next three decades. A 2008 study commissioned by Metro showed that the Portland area alone faces a $20 billion gap in needed infrastructure by 2035 if traditional financing and procurement models are used.

With that need and with declining federal support, it’s clear that infrastructure finance is a challenge that’s not going away. What we’ve done for the past half century won’t work to build the future we want.

In Oregon we’re proud to be playing a leadership role in creating the regional approach supported by Living Cities.

Just last month, the Oregon legislature took action on this approach, passing House Bill 4111. Significantly, HB 411 will require state projects over $50 million to be screened for their potential innovative financing and design -- the first such requirement of its kind in the United States. This screening step will be managed by the State Treasurer’s office.

HB 4111 also codifies Oregon’s participation in the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange and creates the Public Infrastructure Commission (PIC). The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, led by Oregonian Chris Taylor, and Oregon’s newly created Public Infrastructure Commission are central to building the capacity and the expertise we need.

Instead of deciding ahead of time what kind of infrastructure we need, we should ask designers, architects, engineers, contractors and other experts to bring the best innovation to bear. They’ll help us decide how we should build, renovate, generate true public equity and think creatively.

And when we decide collaboratively, we shouldn’t just ask how cheaply the infrastructure can be built. We should create an ongoing relationship with a team of experts whose incentives are aligned around keeping the infrastructure open and operating as designed. This alternative model opens up the project (design, build, finance, operate, and maintain) for private investment and expertise. Projects remain publicly owned, and are subject to the same labor standards, but risk can be better shared between the public and private sectors, and the approach allows for much more creativity, and attention to the asset throughout its useful life. Performance-based contracting means contractors get paid when the infrastructure does what it should.

That’s the concept behind the local centers of expertise, already created in British Columbia, begun in Oregon and under consideration in Washington and California. The pioneering Partnerships BC has managed more than forty projects since 2002, totaling $17 billion in procurement, including $7.6 billion in private capital. They’ve helped bridge the financing gap with private capital, bringing significant gains in cost savings and on-time or early project completion, all while creating what is now a self-sustaining operation.

The West Coast states are lucky to have the leadership of Partnerships BC and their model to follow. But the best local expertise won’t work without a regional facilitator.

The West Coast Infrastructure Exchange ushers shovel-ready projects to fruition. By aggregating projects and coordinating expertise and resources across the region we get the chance to share experiences, expertise, and connect with the best ways to deliver better value to taxpayers and investors. And we get big enough that the world financial markets might take notice and provide the capital needed to address the financing gap.

With Governor Kitzhaber’s signature and Treasurer Wheeler’s leadership, Oregon, through the PIC, will continue to be a full participant in the exchange and, working with Partnerships BC, will pursue several important pilot projects that we are confident can stretch taxpayer dollars and deliver better results.

These projects – totaling $940 million in public investment -- range from the Multnomah County Courthouse, at the center of Oregon’s most populous city and county, to the Wise Water Project that will deliver vastly improved performance to a vital irrigation system in water-starved southern Oregon. These and other pilot projects allow us to determine the changes we need to Oregon laws and how best to create a permanent center of expertise in Oregon. That’s a conversation we will take up again during the legislature’s next session in 2015. It’s one I look forward to eagerly.

If we do this right, and I have every confidence we can, the West Coast can become the world leaders on infrastructure that works. Our economy, our kids, and our future depend on it.

Our success in this effort depends on you too. Cooperation between the public, private, and non-profit sectors is essential. While we are grateful for all your support to date, we also want you to be involved going forward. We look forward to hearing from you.

Tobias Read is the State Representative for House District 27, serving parts of Beaverton, Portland, and unincorporated Washington and Multnomah Counties. He has served in the legislature since 2007, and is the Majority Whip and the Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development. He can be reached at and

]]> Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Tobias Read
Regulating Rideshares This piece is cross posted from the Data-Smart City Solutions blog hosted by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School. The emergence of rideshare as a form of transportation - and how cities are responding to the innovation - is of particular interest to Living Cities as we explore ways to increase the number of low-income people who are able to connect to job opportunities and essential services such as childcare, health services, etc.

As cities respond to the growing presence of ridesharing services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and others, even the name “ridesharing” is up for debate.

Traditionally, for-hire car services have fallen into two broad categories, distinguished by how customers connect with their rides. Taxis, which customers hail on the street and black cars (or limos), which customers arrange for by calling ahead of time. Is something like UberX really a rideshare, closer to carpooling, or is it effectively a cheaper version of black car service? Are these app-based companies more like dispatch services or networks of amateur drivers?

As cities consider how (or whether) they should regulate rideshare services, they must determine whether existing classifications adequately describe them or whether new sets of rules are needed to address concerns for public safety and consumer protection.

The following review of what cities and states are doing now - or considering doing - to respond to rideshare services is not comprehensive, but will hopefully give a sense of the current landscape.

Reclassify & regulate

California: Created category of “Transportation Network Companies” which must be licensed with the California Public Utilities Commission, conduct criminal background checks, train drivers, and hold commercial insurance policies with at least $1M per-incident coverage.

Seattle: City Council unanimously voted to limit each rideshare company to 150 total vehicles. Measure includes increasing number of licensed taxis in city by 200 over the next two years. Mayor Murray has said that this legislation is a “‘necessary first step’ in legalizing TNCs in Seattle, will pursue a more long-term comprehensive solution.”

Arizona: A bill passed by the house and approved by a state senate committee proposes a new classification of “transportation network services” that requires drivers and vehicles to register with the Arizona Corporation Commission (the state Department of Weights and Measures oversees licensing of taxis and other existing for-hire vehicle services). It would also require TNS to do background checks on drivers and obtain commercial liability insurance.

Chicago: Mayor Emanuel proposed ordinance to license rideshare companies and require insurance. Services in the new category of “Transportation Network Providers” would be required to register with city for annual $25,000 fee, submit to annual inspections of vehicles by cities, and hold commercial liability insurance.

Colorado: State senate passed a bill designating ridesharing companies “transportation network” companies. They would be required to hold insurance, do background checks, and driver training as well as submit to utility commission oversight. House still to vote.

Minneapolis: Proposal to add “transportation network companies” to lists of transportation companies that may operate in the city. Currently, rideshare companies must have a taxi license to operate. In neighboring St. Paul, the city’s code narrowly defines taxis as metered vehicles, so rideshare companies currently operate without licensing.

Georgia: House Bill 907 proposed to require rideshare companies to follow the same set of regulation - namely insurance and licensing requirements - as existing taxicab and limousine companies, but the bill failed to reach the floor for a vote.

Fit into existing frameworks

Florida: The state legislature is considering two bills that would prevent local governments from regulating “chauffeured limousine” services. In practice, that would leave the state government as the only body capable of regulating any non-metered for-hire vehicles, including rideshare services.

Jacksonville: City council approved legislation to remove the 30-minute advanced-notice requirement for black car services, allowing rideshare companies to operate as long as they conform to the existing rules and regulations for black car services.

Madison: Mayor Paul Soglin, a former cab driver, has described taxi service as “a legitimate area of government regulation,” citing the need to provide transportation for people with disabilities. He suggests that the city will not create new policies to regulate ridesharing companies as a distinct service, but they will be subjected to the same regulations as existing taxi companies.

Refused entry
Austin: The city has threatened to impound cars in rideshare service over lack of insurance, which led to Sidecar leaving the city.

Detroit: City Attorney says UberX does not comply with Detroit’s licensing requirements. State and local police authorized to ticket cars driving for UberX.

Miami-Dade County: County commissioners stalled bill suggesting changes similar to those rejected in Portland.

New Orleans: Uber has been barred from offering services in the city, and Lyft said it has no plans to enter the market.

Portland: In December the Private for-Hire Transportation Board of Review rejected changes to the city code regulating limousine and black car services, including a minimum lead time of one hour before pickup and fixed 35% premium over taxi rates. The Board is discussing changes to the City Code to better reflect developments in the industry, including smart phone app-centric rideshare services.

Considering action?

San Francisco: Including taxis, limos, rideshares, and any other similar services, there may be about 4,000 vehicles for hire in the city at any given time. As this increased competition leads taxi companies to return some medallions (for drivers likely leaving to drive for competing rideshares), service to the disabled may be disproportionately reduced: the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in operation per month has dropped from 1,400 to 600.

Dallas: A transportation-for-hire work group is reviewing city regulations for possible changes. The City Council committee reviewing tech-based transportation services distinguishes Taxi Magic, an app partnering with traditional cab companies representing 750 taxis, from rideshare companies on the basis that it does not connect riders directly to drivers.

The recent leak of Uber’s “secret, ‘proprietary’ insurance policy” lends some clarity to the legal liability debate around ridesharing. Between that and the apparent rise of Uber as a “cause célèbre” in national partisan politics, activity in this sphere is only going to increase. Follow our Local Reg Reform project (@SmartLocalReg) on Twitter to keep up with this national conversation.

Matthew McClellan works as a research assistant and writer for the Project on Municipal Innovation Advisory Group.

]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Matthew McClellan
A Few Thoughts Towards More Inclusive Philanthropy

“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids-and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Last summer, I read with interest a slew of articles critiquing the philanthropic sector and calling for large-scale change.

Wrote Peter Buffett, son of Warren, in an op-ed in the New York Times: “People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem…over and over I would hear people discuss transplanting what worked in one setting directly into another with little regard for culture, geography or societal norms.” Buffet went on to describe how; despite the fact that until 2006 when his father handed him the reins of a foundation, he had little experience or knowledge of “the world of philanthropy as practiced by the very wealthy”; his lineage gave him entrée into the most upper-crust of philanthropic circles. He calls some of what he discovered there ‘damaging’, noting that in rooms where heads of state, finance power-players, and corporate leaders get together to wrestle with the important social issues of our time, including inequality, the focus is too often on what Albert Einstein famously warned against: trying to solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it.

Author Courtney Martin expanded upon these ideas in Al Jazeera America. The problem with philanthropy, she argued, is that solutions to wicked problems like poverty are sought in conference rooms in ‘the abstract’ with thought partners who “have little experience of the problems poverty creates-while real, poor people continue to innovate, organize and fight for their own dignity, each and every day.” So, philanthropy and the people that the field endeavors to serve operate on two deeply disconnected planes of reality.

Around the same time that these stories, and many others in response to Buffett’s op-ed, were released, events of national significance such as the Trayvon Martin case and the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech sparked a robust national conversation about issues of race, equity, and inclusion. Living Cities brought this conversation ‘home’ as staff committed ourselves to think about and engage (with each other and others in our networks) around how these issues intersect with the lives of low-income people in US cities, and therefore necessarily, with our work that aims to expand economic opportunity for these communities.

Now, we are embarking on a long-term organizational learning and change process aimed at intentionally embedding a racial equity and inclusion lens across our entire portfolio—acknowledging that our ability to effect lasting and meaningful change requires us to better understand current realities and barriers.

In my mind, the critique of philanthropy presented by Buffett, Martin and others, and the questions that Living Cities is grappling with through this change process are intensely related.

I worked, for a time, in ‘direct service’, meaning that every day I said good morning to the people that my organization served. I answered their questions; I asked them about their families; I was connected to them, and to their lives, in a way that was immediate and tangible. I found satisfaction and meaning in that, and I learned a great deal from the people I met, but I also began to feel frustration and disillusionment with the growing belief that the need for such service was seemingly without end. Every evening I said goodnight, and every day I said good morning again. Poverty did not, even for a single individual who walked through the door, go away. The burdens that it brought could be eased slightly, some of its weight lifted momentarily, but the ‘wins’ were small and fleeting.

Conversely, the mission of Living Cities, where I currently work, is one of large-scale systems change. What will it take; we ask ourselves; to reverse growing income inequality and disparate outcomes in education, employment, mobility, health and housing? What will it take; I ask myself often; to make it so that everyone can dream of a better life at night and truly believe that dream attainable when the sun comes up? I relish this big-picture thinking, just as I relished connecting to people on a personal level. Yet, I believe that when you work ‘further from the ground,’ it is important to be diligent about holding those that we serve close, even if our connection to them is less tangible, less personal. While we push ourselves to do that at Living Cities, and I know that many others in the field do as well, there is always room to push ourselves further, particularly considering what is at stake.

I am not necessarily making an argument for a philanthropic sector that is ‘closer to the ground’. In terms of what works, there is very, very little that I know for certain. What I have is a messy collection of hunches, of insights, of data, and of experiences--my own and those of others with far more experience than me. Together, these elements are like the many small pieces of a giant puzzle for which the box has been lost so that, although I have begun to fit some of the pieces together, I have no idea what picture they will eventually reveal. I do believe that there is ultimately a need for the type of work that I used to do, the type of work that I do now, and many other types of work between and beyond.

However, I can’t help but wonder, particularly in this hyperconnected world where engagement and conversation with nearly anyone on earth is, through technology, possible: What would happen if we better connected the two planes described by Martin (that occupied by philanthropy and that occupied by the communities we serve) with a system of ‘bridges and tunnels’?

I am not alone in raising this question. Many leaders, particularly in the public sector innovation space, are harnessing technology and other tools to better connect to constituents. Could philanthropy benefit from these types of efforts? At Living Cities, a group of staff are in regular conversation (largely informal at this stage) with each other and other emerging practitioners in philanthropy to begin to think collectively about what this system could look like, and how the field might build it. I’m certain that these types of conversations are happening elsewhere too. I would love to hear about them and to work together to build a vibrant dialogue.

Ultimately, critique can be a great force for good, particularly if it drives people and institutions to strive to do better. Too often, and for too many, poor people are, in many ways, invisible. This cannot be the case for philanthropy, or for the broader social sector. No matter how far we work from the ground, we must continuously ask, as Martin similarly urges, who isn’t in the ‘room’ and how does their absence (or invisibility) stand in the way of our ability to move the needle on the issues that we care about? And, further, how can we create more inclusive philanthropy?

]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Nadia Owusu
Applying Collective Impact Principles to the Workforce Ecosystem This post is a reponse to a March 21, 2014 article in the San Francisco Business Times: San Francisco Seeks to Coordinate Workforce Development Programs.

As public focus has turned toward domestic issues more heavily in the last few years, there has been a renewed emphasis on addressing unemployment. As a result, the number of workforce development programs has expanded significantly, but there is a notable lack of collaboration and coordination across the many initiatives that often operate in the same places doing the same things. To address this disconnect, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has proposed a new entity that will facilitate a more cohesive approach to the work. I hope that this pivot will enable cross-sector collaboration, mutually agreed upon target outcomes, and a learning environment as these are some of the principles of Collective Impact that we have seen point to early evidence of needle moving results inThe Integration Initiative at Living Cities.

]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Brittany Ramos
Bringing the “Development” to Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Equitable Transit Oriented Development (ETOD) has become a key priority on the planning agenda for many regional and local communities over the last several years. As housing and transportation costs continue to rise, regions across the country are looking for ways to ensure that all their citizens can affordably access housing, jobs, health, childcare and other essential services near transit. To meet this need, planners, policy-makers, non-profits and others, are looking to support the investment and production of equitable transit-oriented development to ensure that development and transit benefits all people along a transit corridor, including those who are low-income.

At Living Cities, we are exploring how we can work with lenders, nonprofit advocates, metropolitan organizations and many other groups to help accelerate the transition from planning to implementation. This shift toward implementing ETOD requires a deeper understanding of how financing decisions affect and are affected by policy decisions. Toward this end, through our Connect Initiative, we commissioned William Fleissig of Communitas Development and Ian Carlton of ICRC to write a paper for stakeholders involved in making the critical decisions that drive equitable transit-oriented development to learn from what has worked - and not worked - in the past.

Their research highlights why ETOD projects often get stuck in what is typically called the predevelopment phase. Predevelopment is the first phase of a real estate project, when the developer identifies land, designs a project, engages partners, secures financing and obtains regulatory approval. This predevelopment process allows developers to revise their project plans and proposals to improve the feasibility of the overall development and mitigate for further costs. It is during this process that a developer makes a “go” or “no-go” decision on moving forward with a development.

However, the authors found that the ETOD delivery process - unlike a typical development process - begins long before the predevelopment phase as decisions integral to ETOD success are made several years, even decades, before the beginning of predevelopment. ETOD projects often get stuck during predevelopment because decisions made by transit and land use planners that determine public transit routes, station locations and infrastructure plans often do not take into consideration the site conditions and market characteristics required to support private development. Consequently, developers seeking to develop sites near transit must spend additional time and money finding funding, filing for zoning exemptions, and pursuing other actions to make these sites financially feasible.

This misalignment between what the author’s call “upstream” and “downstream” decisions is caused by many factors, including the different criteria and objectives that transit planners use vs. those that developers use. For example, transit planners are often required to limit costs. In some cases, this results in transit routes being built along unused former freight rail facilities which can be purchased at low prices, resulting in the surrounding sites being poor prospects for real estate development without significant time and subsidy. As noted in the case studies that accompany the paper, one of the key attributes of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor in Arlington, one of the most successful TOD efforts in the US, was the decision to locate the Metro system along a key existing urban corridor, rather than in freeway medians.

A key recommendation from the paper is for market feasibility assessments to be incorporated early in transit planning so that transit build-out can support development. In order to help regions avoid predevelopment pitfalls, the paper also proposes two new tools:

  • TOD Site Evaluation Checklist that stakeholders making transit and land use decisions could use to evaluate the feasibility of a site or proposed equitable TOD project. This checklist would include standard feasibility and market analyses as well as onsite expectations for housing and other amenities and other complicating factors such as land ownership, safety and security and physical site features. Having such a checklist would help regional stakeholders identify which stations could be developable.
  • TOD Investment Scorecard that allows investors to look across sites to compare the feasibility of different sites and then develop appropriate short- and long-term strategies to improve the potential for site development.

We are in process of learning more about the barriers to building equitable transit-oriented development and are excited to share these lessons from our research with William Fleissig and Ian Carlton with all of you. We invite you to read this paper and join the discussion. Please contact me at to join the dialogue.

*This blog and paper are being released as part of the Living Cities Connect Initiative which is exploring ways to increase the number of low-income people connected to job opportunities and essential services such as childcare, health services, etc.

]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Amy Chung
Social Change Communications: Where the ‘Story’ Meets the ‘Telling’ This recent article in Forbes got me thinking about storytelling. Well, actually, I’m always thinking about storytelling--It’s both my job (I lead communications at Living Cities) and one of my great passions. Stories have been, ever since our earliest ancestors began scratching art on the walls of caves (visual storytelling!), how we have taught and preserved knowledge. They are the thread between our past, present, and future; enabling us to process what we have learned so that we can make choices about what’s next. They are the building blocks of culture, community, and shared values; they are how we organize and make sense of the world and of our lives; they are how we make connections; and they are how we inspire. From marketing campaigns to social movements, stories capture the human imagination and drive it to action like nothing else can.

Brands understand that the stories they tell about their products are just as, if not more important than the products themselves. It’s about tapping into people’s aspirations and desires and motivating them to advance them (ostensibly by buying the product).

Savvy social change leaders get this concept too: They blend compelling data with narrative to communicate what is, what could or should be, and how we can get there. As David Bornstein of the New York Times said at a conference I attended about a month ago, good social change stories "lead with what's possible. The goal is to get people to lean into problems and to see how they can get involved."

Technology, as the Forbes article outlines through some great specific examples, can help us to do this better: “Storytelling will always be about connecting people on a human level….using technology in a way that excites people to the core is what will propel the medium forward.” We know that no one person, institution, or even sector can solve our most intractable problems on its own. So, unlike with stories about brands, good stories about social change are inclusive rather than focused just on parochial interests—finding the connections amongst stories in order to create new, vibrant meta-narratives. Towards these ‘beyond PR’ ends, there is probably less potential in a press release about one program to accelerate change than there is in an interactive platform where ideas, insights, and experience collide.

At Living Cities, we know that our work and investments in areas like cradle to career education, community and workforce development, and civic engagement must be thought of as a small contribution to a much bigger whole made up of the work of many other individuals and organizations tackling these problems. So, we have made real-time sharing and engaging around what we and others are learning core to everything we do as we seek to help grow and build a network effect of innovators, practitioners and leaders working together in new ways to move successes from the periphery of practice to the mainstream as fast as possible. We call this ‘open sourcing social change’.

Many others are taking this on as well—experimenting with applying new tools to the age old art of storytelling. Communications can be thought of as where the ‘story’ meets the ‘telling’. At its core is the interaction between the ‘storyteller’ and the ‘audience’. To harness that dynamic towards social change, we must think of audiences not as passive ‘listeners’, but rather as active partners whose needs, perspectives, and imaginations are vital to the ability of the story to spread, grow, and thrive. I am very excited about the possibilities of this type of thinking, and the marrying of it with creative uses of technology!

]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Nadia Owusu
Lessons from the Field: A Deeper Dive into the Role of the Public Sector in the Integration Initiative The Integration Initiative, Living Cities’ signature collective impact effort, has taught us a great deal about the role of the public sector in complex, cross-sector initiatives. In order to improve the lives of low-income people, the public sector is an essential partner in these initiatives. As part of The Integration Initiative (TII) design, we reviewed challenges in the community development field and concluded that many similar efforts to improve the lives of low-income residents in cities have been constrained by outdated public sector models, including:

  • Poor collaboration with other sectors;
  • Siloed architecture inadequately suited to current economic conditions;
  • Failure to use data to drive strategy; and
  • Poorly deployed resources that were neither aligned with philanthropy nor designed to leverage private resources.

In spite of these challenges, only government, with its vast resources and formal and informal authority, can do what every city needs—combine local, state, and federal funds and redirect these resources from approaches that don’t work to those that do. Given this reality, one of the fundamental elements of The Integration Initiative from its inception was the belief that involving the public sector directly in the Initiative was essential to achieving systems change in cities.

While we were clear about the necessity of engaging the public sector and promoting changes in how government interacts with other sectors and deploys its resources, we did not require an explicit strategy or approach to working with the public sector in the initial Integration Initiative sites. All five sites ended up including city officials in their governance groups, but there was a great deal of diversity in the form and degree of public sector participation and in the type of work in each site that involved the public sector.

A recent evaluation from Mt. Auburn Associated captured the learnings from our public sector efforts in round one. This research has helped us better understand the impact of the initial sites’ work on public sector related outcomes and the factors that led to those outcomes. The four types of public sector related outcomes we measured across the TII sites are:

  1. Increasing Capacity to Collaborate Across Sectors and Agencies: At several sites, TII has influenced the civic infrastructure, with some public sector stakeholders developing new relationships with philanthropy and seeing an increased value in working collaboratively to address problems.
  2. Redirecting Resources: There is evidence at most of the sites that the Living Cities funds and the new collaborative activities have contributed to shifting the flow of funding from the public sector towards priorities that were developed through TII’s process.
  3. Addressing Systemic Barriers Through Administrative, Regulatory, and Policy Changes: There is evidence that some public policy changes or improvements in the way agencies operated were meaningful steps towards addressing the systemic barriers to advancing the goals of the sites.
  4. Using Data in New Ways: The increased use of data by the public sector was prominent in one site where a TII-supported data analyst was able to accelerate progress around the collection, analysis, and use of data to advance a clearer understanding of the site’s challenges, progress, and shortfalls.

The evaluation revealed five factors critical to achieving public sector-related outcomes:

  1. Have a Public Sector Champion for the Work: Having a state, county, or city staff person who really understood TII and saw the site’s work as aligned with their agency’s agenda was an important factor in achieving public sector-related outcomes. The “champion” did not have to be a top elected official. Through site visits and learning communities, Living Cities’ engagement with the sites helped public sector stakeholders better understand TII and the importance of the public sector to this work, which enhanced their likelihood of “championing” TII.
  2. Get Buy-In from On-The-Ground Staff: Even when public sector leaders are firmly committed to the goals and work of TII in their community, getting the buy-in of the staff responsible for implementation remains a significant challenge. The structure and process of communication between cross-sector collaborations and city agencies can make a big difference in the level of buy-in. However, some of these structures (e.g. human resources systems, agency or occupational culture, federal grant requirements) are deeply entrenched and may be resistant to change.
  3. Ensure There is Municipal Authority Over Systems Being Targeted: The focus of the public sector-related activities at each site was largely determined by the areas of work that were clearly within the control of participating public sector actors. When strategies involved systems stretching beyond city government, such as workforce, education, or federal grant administration, the work tended to encounter more challenges.
  4. Foster Shared Philanthropic and Government Ownership: Engagement of the public sector was more challenging when TII was seen primarily as a philanthropic initiative. Two factors that seemed to foster shared ownership: 1) having a public sector representative as a co-chair of the governance group, and 2) pre-existing positive relationships between the philanthropic community and the public sector.
  5. Connect the “Big Result” to Mayoral Priorities: A lot of competing high priorities can complicate both alignment and level of city engagement. Although TII work was usually not in conflict with the city’s priorities and was often aligned with priorities of agency staff, most sites’ primary focus was not the primary focus of city political leadership. This lack of alignment affected the level of city engagement in TII as well as progress in some of the system change work.

As we move into the next round of work in the Integration Initiative, in both current and new city sites, we are using these insights to support improved partnership with the public sector. For a detailed look at TII public sector-related outcomes in three of the cities check out these mini-case studies on: the administrative and regulatory policy changes made in Minneapolis/St. Paul, redirecting of public resources that took place in Detroit, and use of data in new ways in Newark. And for more findings from Mt. Auburn’s research on the public sector in The Integration Initiative, you can download the Executive Summary of their report here .

]]> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Ronda Jackson
The Power Behind Collective Impact Many of you know that I recently started as the Director of Collective Impact at Living Cities. When I share I’m doing this in addition to running my business, people often ask why. I do not see myself as an evangelist or advocate for Collective Impact. It is a tool that I and many others have wielded for quite some time, even before it had a popular name. But as I have applied the principles of Collective Impact for my clients and others, I’ve been struck by how bogged down everyone seems to get during the process. People start arguing over who should be at the table, what is the right level of data, and even on what each step is called! And in the course of sorting through this messiness, many get confused or, in the worst case scenarios, discouraged. And every time someone is so overwhelmed they disengage, it becomes more and more likely our country’s most pressing problems will persist. And as a values driven entrepreneur who cares about changing the way the world does business, I have to do everything I can whenever an opportunity presents itself. This is not because I see myself as a hero. It’s because this work is incredibly personal to me.

Growing up, I was often trotted out on stages as an exemplar student. I was a girl who liked math, a person of color who did well in school, and a ham who never found a spotlight she didn’t love. What often happened as I stood on stage was that I looked at my parents and saw them swelling with equal parts pride and pain. Often as I received my accolades, there was a clear implication. I got there in spite of my parents and their upbringing. While this couldn’t be farther from the case I was often embarrassed by what I know were well intentioned ceremonies. They were designed to let “people like me” know what was possible if they just “worked hard enough”. But over the years, my sisters didn’t feel like that. Their boredom grew to annoyance at what started to seem like the Tynesia show. It was clear that instead of feeling like they could be “just like me”, they internalized instead that I was somehow different. I know from experience and from intention that it was often my personality and not my smarts that provided me with different opportunities than my intelligent sisters. And as a result of being offered different paths, we ended up in different places with different choices.

When I was in high school, I was taken off the waiting list to intern for a summer at NASA. My project was to work on the international space station. It was there that I learned about a culture that believed they had the brains to make the impossible possible. After college when I worked at GE, I learned what happens when a culture demands excellence. They equip you with the tools to achieve consistent results and they build systems that hold everyone accountable at all levels of the organization. This in itself was an amazing feat since we had over 100,000 employees in over a dozen different industries across the world. And at Year Up I learned that no matter how smart you think you are or how many tools you have to help, there is a way to bring that experience while still sharing your passion. People, especially those committed to social missions, don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

So I bring to Living Cities an unyielding belief that the intractable problems our country faces are not only solvable, but the tools exist to achieve them. And whether it’s Collective Impact or something else doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not driven by the tool. Instead, I’m committed to building a country where no parent feels inadequate because of where they started when they began raising their children. Where no child feels they don’t have the same opportunity because of the way of the way they relate to the world. And no little girl stands alone on stage ripped from the very support systems that would sustain her success.

My main goal while at Living Cities is to make tools like Collective Impact actionable and accessible because I know that I’m not the only one who cares deeply about creating the change we seek in this world. And the more we’re confused and arguing over the tools the less we’re focused on fulfilling our mission and building the vision enabled by those resources. Because the true power behind Collective Impact is not just the people using the tools, but the reasons why they wield them.

This post originally appeared on Tynesia Boyea-Robinson's blog, Shared Roots:

]]> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Tynesia Boyea-Robinson
Building and Sustaining Thriving Mixed-Income Communities Creating thriving, sustainable mixed-income communities is a goal for many of the cities that are part of Living Cities’ The Integration Initiative (TII). Income mixing within neighborhoods, districts, cities, and regions holds promise for addressing several different kinds of problems – improving safety and amenities in distressed neighborhoods, increasing equity of resource distribution and benefits from public investments, and ensuring that cities offer homes and opportunities for individuals of all income levels.

Different cities involved in TII have different goals and face different challenges in fostering mixed-income communities:

  • Detroit faces a weak housing market and inner city neighborhoods with high vacancies. There, the goal is to attract and integrate higher-income residents into distressed high-poverty neighborhoods in the central city, improving overall neighborhood quality, and also benefit existing and long term low-income residents, while contributing to the citywide tax base.
  • In New Orleans, concern about gentrification in pockets of the city has inspired efforts to protect affordable housing in affected areas, so that low-income residents can benefit from new neighborhood investments.
  • San Francisco faces an intensely tight housing market that threatens to price low-income households out of the city. There, the redevelopment of a large section of the city is being designed to offer homes for diverse income levels, including significant public housing.

Translating these varied goals for mixed-income communities into effective interventions can be difficult. At a recent TII Learning Community, we explored the goals, challenges, and strategies for developing and sustaining mixed-income communities, in both weak and strong housing markets. We considered questions such as: What strategies and incentives can be used to create mixed-income neighborhoods and districts? What is needed to make sure a community can sustain a mix of incomes over time? How do policies and systems at the larger scale of city, region, or even state enable or hinder income-mixing efforts?

The framing paper developed as part of this learning process draws on existing research about mixed-income communities and interviews with leaders in the field. Designed to inform the practical efforts of TII site teams, it provides a framework for considering the goals, scale, and locations for income-mixing interventions, understanding key challenges, and identifying policies and incentives that can be used to achieve site-specific income-mixing goals.

View or download the framing paper: Building and Sustaining Thriving Mixed-Income Communities.

]]> Wed, 02 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Brian Reilly
Four “Keep it Real” Insights About Applying the Principles of Collective Impact In recent years, data driven cross-sector partnerships have refined promising collective impact principles for tackling society’s largest, messiest problems. Here are some “keep it real insights” about what these principles look like in practice and what it takes to apply these principles effectively.

1. Is Collective Impact Really Innovative?

The short answer is yes! The long answer is not for the reasons people often think. The process of leveraging data to develop solutions that lead to desired outcomes is not what's new. Your doctor does that when she takes your vital signs and prescribes medications. Your mechanic does it when he runs diagnostics on your engine and charges you way too much money to fix your car. Heck, even our fellow colleagues in the social sector use evidence-based decision making to improve their programs that fight hunger, homelessness, and other symptoms of income inequity.There are three things in tandem that make Collective Impact "innovative".

Wait, do you feel tricked? Do you not get what all the fuss is about if Collective Impact's innovation is those three seemingly simple steps? Some of the challenge is that when people hear "innovation" they often think "new". But the fact is, while people have been convening cross-sector tables for years, they often didn't agree on shared goals. And on the off chance they did, the goals were usually modest so no one was embarrassed. And even if they did agree to something big, they rarely had a mechanism to show whether or not they were on track in real time. When you look at it that way, Collective Impact quite frankly rocks my socks.

2. My hips feedback loops don’t lie

My family and I are rabid Duke fans. One thing my husband often yells when the other team misses a shot is "ball don't lie". This passionately obnoxious comment is basically his shorthand for the fact that no matter how awesome you think you are, you either make the shot or you don't. This magically brings us to one of the most critical elements of Collective Impact - the feedback loop.

When designed well, the feedback loop don't... err doesn't lie either. One challenge folks often face with Collective Impact is that they get so bogged down in the individual elements of the feedback loop that they never actually get around to building one at all, much less one that doesn't lie. Many initiative leaders call each element different things and use those words interchangeably so people are too confused to even start the process. In order to explain more clearly, I’m going to use the terms “large scale result”, “three-year outcome”, and “leading indicator”.

Staying with the basketball example, let's say our large scale result is for Coach K to supplant John Wooden as the best coach ever. After analyzing what we think will make a material impact on this large scale result, we assess that the key driver of people's perceptions of John Wooden as a coach is the number of national championships he won during his tenure. Thus, we set as one of our three-year target outcomes "an average of one national championship every three years". This is an audacious goal since NO ONE wins championships at that pace! However, all systems-change goals must, by nature be audacious (though not totally impossible).

Once everyone agrees that having that as a three-year outcome will help them reach their large scale result (even if everyone is absolutely terrified by it), the next step is to define a set of leading indicators. So, Duke sends a team of folks to carefully analyze all national championship winners and they found a statistically significant correlation in the following three areas:

  1. Win games by an average of 10 points or more
  2. Win their conference championship
  3. Have a minimum of three evenly distributed top scorers each game

Armed with this feedback loop that consists of the three-year outcome of winning an average of one championship every three years and the leading indicators that demonstrate whether or not Coach K and his staff are on the right track, you can imagine that Duke could come up with a series of different experiments to drive those indicators. They might spend more time on teamwork so that three players would always score regardless of who they are. They might switch their offensive strategy if they won three games in a row at an average of four points. They might throw out everything they've ever done if they lost two conference championships. Regardless of what they changed or experimented with, at the end of the season, they will have won the championship or not and it is that level of clarity that is required to achieve the systems level change we all seek.

Sadly, Duke has lost in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament for the last three years, so if my hypothetical scenario were real, they would have a lot of work to do.

3. Peanut Butter and Jelly: Why Adaptive Leadership and Collective Impact are a Yummy Pair

Here’s a little secret: The hardest part about applying Collective Impact principles is NOT the technical stuff. While learning how to build feedback loops that "don't lie" is daunting at first, once you get the hang of it, it's more straightforward than it seems.

The real rub is getting people to change their behavior: It is much easier for systems change efforts to define what needs to change than get the stakeholders to actually change.

So what's a Change Agent to do? Cross your fingers? Clap your hands and say you believe in fairies? Put your head down, do the work, and assume that it will sort itself out? Nope. The answer is adaptive leadership!

The goal is to wield your adaptive leadership superpowers to build a "systems change culture". I wrote about that in an article a while back and the book ‘Tribal Leadership’ does a great job of depicting what this type of culture will look like in practice. David Logan and his team describe five stages that naturally occur when bringing groups, or "tribes," together to achieve a shared outcome. Those looking to support Collective Impact initiatives would do well by starting with cross-sector tables that are already in Stage three whenever possible. Stage three is characterized by the phrase "I'm great, you're not". That might seem odd at first, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Hopefully, you're bringing high performing cross-sector stakeholders together who know that they're good at what THEY do, but are still building a shared mental model with the others around the table.

Once this starting place is established, then the focus can shift to moving the members of the cross-sector table from stage three to stage four. In the "We're Great, You're Not" stage, the "you" in that phrase is generally thought of as having a lowercase "y" (i.e. - another initiative, another city, another company). But over time, "you" should translate into the problem they're trying to solve (cancer, income inequity, etc.). When the group is at stage four, they have such a sense of clarity and urgency about the big hairy audacious goal as the enemy that it is easier to navigate the adaptive leadership challenges inherent in this work.

Sound like nirvana? While ‘Tribal Leadership’ has some really good examples, another great book that shows what's possible when you build stage four teams is ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.’ I would highly recommend these to anyone grappling with the challenges of this complex work.

4. Putting It All Together

To recap, the principles of Collective Impact are:

  • A cross-sector table of both decision-makers and doers who
  • Have agreed to hold each other accountable to achieving a BHAG; and
  • Develop a feedback loop that tells them if they are on or off track.

The gap that many grapple with once they begin to do this work is in understanding how these steps actually drive systems change. Success would look like an explicit commitment by all participating stakeholders to change behavior. Through Living Cities’ work around capital innovation, we have seen promising early indicators that redirecting funding flows might be a good place to start.

But, we also know that in order to expand our understanding of how to apply the principles of Collective Impact to wicked problems, those working in this way will need to continue to build, measure, and learn so that we can pivot or swarm. Not sure what this means? This is what it looks like for Living Cities’ work:

  • BUILD a set of pilots and/or tests that we believe will put us on the path to achieving our BHAG of improving cities and lives across the country.
  • MEASURE the efficacy of the approach so we can
  • LEARN what's working, what's not working, and most importantly why. We will use this to
  • PIVOT away from behaviors that aren't getting us closer to our BHAG and
  • SWARM resources (time, talent and treasure) to double down on promising practices.

If we do this, we will begin to collect the proof points we need to catalyze change and insist that it persists and thrives in the long term. Through this process, we will hopefully produce enough powerful evidence that earns us the right to enable others to shift policies, processes, and practices that will ensure lasting outcomes for generations to come.

]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Tynesia Boyea-Robinson
4 Insights into Overcoming the Employment Barriers Faced by Formerly Incarcerated People (Storify) On March 26th, Living Cities hosted a webinar exploring the non-skill barriers to employment faced by formerly incarcerated individuals. Featuring field leaders from across the country, the webinar also highlighted how organizations are working at the city, state, regional, and national level to overcome the barriers faced by people who have criminal records. Through the webinar, we learned about the magnitude of the problem and heard at least four insights into what it takes to overcome these barriers. We invite you to check out our recap on Storify, 4 Insights into Overcoming the Employment Barriers Faced by Formerly Incarcerated People.Barriers to Employment Storify

]]> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Juan Sebastian Arias
Connecting All City Residents to Economic Opportunity: A Group Blogging Event on May 12, 2014 Meeting of the Minds and Living Cities invite civic-minded leaders across sectors to participate in a group blogging event focused on the question:

How could cities better connect all their residents to economic opportunity?

How It Works
Participants are invited to publish responses to this question on their blog on May 12, 2014.

Anyone can participate, but we ask that posts incorporate the event guidelines. Authors or organizations without their own blog can send their post to by May 6, 2014, for posting to the Meeting of the Minds blog.

An accompanying webinar on May 14, 2014 will feature event participants and be followed by an interactive online discussion.

The Challenge: Restoring Cities as Engines of Economic Opportunity

America’s cities have historically been engines of economic opportunity for their residents. For generations, people from around the world came to cities to build better futures for themselves and their families. However, as global economic, social, and technological realities have changed over recent decades, this path has become harder to follow.

Restoring our cities as engines of economic opportunity for all will require the ingenuity of urban leaders across sectors, disciplines, and points of view. Every day, leaders from business, government, nonprofits, philanthropy, the arts, and more innovate to make our cities better. But rarely do we have the opportunity to reflect openly and together about the same issues. This virtual conversation is intended to create a space for this kind of thinking.

Focus Topic: Connecting City Residents to Economic opportunity

One barrier to economic opportunity is the challenge of accessing jobs, education and training, and essentials like childcare, healthcare, financial services, and even healthy food. Today, few people have the opportunity to work, live, and learn within a conveniently connected or narrowly defined geographic area. Instead, individuals often travel across cities, counties, or even entire regions to commute to jobs and obtain essential services. Many low-income individuals are cut off from opportunity by distance, lack of access to a car or public transit, the high cost of commuting, limited childcare options, and other barriers.

At the same time, cities and urban leaders are experimenting with new and bold approaches to addressing these challenges, including building out transportation networks (e.g., LA 30/10); developing new tools and partnerships to help implement ambitious development plans; pioneering alternative transportation options such as ride sharing; testing innovations in Big Data, technology and social media being used to connect people to opportunity in new ways; trying out new ways of delivering healthcare (e.g., offering flu shots in big-box stores); and even transforming public spaces like libraries into conduits to opportunity.

While participants are free to respond to this prompt any way they choose, we offer the following questions to help surface ideas:

  • What might it look like for a city to connect all its residents to economic opportunity?
  • How are cities and urban innovators already working to connect people to opportunity?
  • What more could different players across sectors do – individually and together – towards this end?
  • How could cities more effectively move their ambitious visions from planning to implementation?
  • How can we ensure that these innovations benefit all city residents, particularly lower-income residents and residents of color?
  • How could emerging, 21st-century trends like the rise of Big Data, social media, mass-customization and the sharing economy “change the game?”

This event is an opportunity for participants to engage a global audience of corporate, philanthropic, government, and nonprofit citizens in an important discussion regarding the future of cities. We hope you will join us on May 12th and we look forward to your ideas.

If you have questions, please email to, or tweet your questions to #urbanopportunity.

The original post appeared on

]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Arthur Burris, Jessie Feller
Getting Back to Basics in Creating Jobs This piece is the second in a series on job creation strategies to benefit low-income city residents. Click here to read the first blog.

Despite widespread agreement on the need to create more and better jobs, there’s very little agreement on how to actually go about that. That’s leading to a lot of wasted effort and resources. It may also be making conditions worse for low-income residents.

Wasting Effort and Resources

One example of wasted effort is that many communities are still preoccupied with attracting jobs from other places using various marketing strategies and incentive packages, even though, according to my research, attraction strategies only accounted for 1% of all net new jobs created in the US over the past decade. Partly in response, some communities have been focusing on growing their own businesses, which has mainly taken the form of launching new businesses. That’s made some difference, but not as much as you might think. Start-ups only accounted for around 7% of net new jobs in the past decade.


Sources of Net New Jobs, 1995-2010. Source: National Establishment Time Series

As it turns out, the vast majority of new jobs (92%) come from the expansion of existing businesses. But, ironically, that’s the area that gets the least funding and attention, and has the weakest infrastructure to support it. Public funding for local economic development organizations that are in the best position to support existing businesses has been cut by 40% since 2007. On top of that, most of the work economic developers do with existing businesses continues to focus on job retention, which has more to do with managing decline than promoting growth.

That creates a big dilemma for communities concerned about their economic vitality – the systems that currently have the most infrastructure and funding to support them have the least job creation potential. And those systems are proving very resistant to change because there are strong vested political and economic interests in maintaining them. A study by the New York Times found that state and local incentive packages are fueling an $80 billion a year industry. Meanwhile, the entire program budget for the federal Economic Development Administration last year was $221 million.

Making Things Worse for Low-Income People

Another dilemma that communities face is that not all job growth is good for the community as a whole. Recent research shows that a rising regional tide does not lift all boats.

A recent study by the Fund for Our Economic Future looked at 115 metros to determine which factors were most closely associated with growth in jobs and income. They found that the metros that had the fastest growth between 1990 and 2011 also had the highest levels of inequality, poverty and crime. That suggests that the faster the growth, the more unequal the result. Similarly, there’s evidence that too much emphasis on creating high-wage jobs may make income inequality worse, with employment increasingly concentrated at the high and low ends of the job market. In addition, recent research by the Brookings Institution suggests that may also be true in regions that have targeted high-tech and knowledge-intensive industries, in contrast to regions where the focus has been on manufacturing, transportation, and logistics.


Local policy could be worsening the hollowing out of the job market. Data Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

These findings suggest that cities can’t just focus on creating jobs and assume that the benefits will trickle down to everyone. Planners need to be intentional and strategic about making sure that low-income residents don’t get left behind.

What Should We Do? One possible starting point

Clearly, we need to start doing things differently if we want a different result. While it’s not clear yet what the answer is, research by the Institute for Exceptional Growth Companies points toward an intriguing possibility.

It suggests that most new jobs are being creating through the sustained, incremental expansion of relatively small existing businesses across a wide range of industries. Those businesses tend to be spread across rural areas, small towns, small cities and large urban areas alike, making it possible to spread the benefits of growth across an entire region. Moreover, those businesses comprise a broader range of occupations than those in high-tech or knowledge-intensive industries, making them a more likely source for middle skill jobs. And they include a disproportionate number of women and minority-owned businesses.

Consequently, it may be that the job creation strategy that holds the most promise for long-term job growth also holds the most promise for reducing income inequality by generating the broadest job growth at the same time. In other words, the answer could be as simple as getting back to basics, finding ways to directly support the expansion of existing businesses.

And even if that turns out not to be the answer, it’s not a bad place to start looking.

Pete Carlson is the President of Regional Growth Strategies.

]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Pete Carlson
Structuring Innovation This piece is cross posted from the Data-Smart City Solutions blog hosted by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School.

In July 2011, Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded five cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Memphis, and New Orleans, support to fund Innovation Delivery Teams. The three-year initiative will help mayors effectively design and implement solutions to pressing challenges in their cities.

At the same time, in July 2011, Denver’s Mayor Hancock launched his Peak Performance Academy to support his administration's priorities of kids, jobs and safety net for the less fortunate. The Peak Performance approach invests in Denver's employees by giving them the tools to solve city problems. Through this initiative, city employees have identified inefficiencies and embraced a new culture of innovation and improvement to eliminate inadequacies and provide the best service possible.

In February 2014, Philadelphia announced the launch of the Municipal Innovation Academy, a model somewhat similar to Denver’s Peak Performance Academy. Through a partnership with Philadelphia University, the city will create a network of innovators to think and work together to institutionalize processes and ideas that drive government innovation.

What are the key elements that make these models successful? How can cities replicate these key elements? And how are they sustained for long term success?
These questions and others were discussed at the eleventh Project on Municipal Innovation – Advisory Group (PMI-AG) meeting, held at the Harvard Kennedy School in January 2014. PMI-AG is a groundbreaking forum of America’s largest and most creative cities, convened by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Stephen Goldsmith and Living Cities. As part of this network, more than 30 municipal leaders from across the country discussed the adoption and replication of innovative ideas in urban governance. In this case, the discussion focused on Driving Innovation: The Replication and Adaptation of Innovation Models.

Below are our takeaways:

Innovation models practiced by PMI-AG cities include distributed, centralized, collaborative, and mixed models. In distributed innovation employee empowerment models, like Denver’s Peak Academy, build innovation into everyday processes and operations through various lean six sigma training sessions geared to front line workers. A second model is centralized innovation, where innovation is lead directly from the mayor’s office. Examples of this include the Innovation Delivery Teams funded through Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. A third model is focused on collaborative innovation, where a diverse set of actors comes together around a common goal to deliver government services in a more effective way through a non-profit or for-profit partnership. A fourth model is the mixed model of innovation, where there is a mix of approaches, like that found in Louisville where the city employs an Innovation Delivery Team alongside an Office of Innovation and an Office of Performance Management. Each team has its own responsibilities, but this multi-pronged approach helps foster the development, implementation, and sustainability of creative initiatives across government verticals.

Each model has its pros and cons. The innovation model replicated or adapted within city government should reflect what the city is trying to institutionalize. Key elements from each model can be pieced together to create an approach that best suits the city’s goals and aspirations. In Denver’s case, the city decided it was best to carve its own innovation path, borrowing particular practices from other models, but for the most part creating a bottom-up model that would speak to the culture and objectives of the city, where stewards of innovation can be found throughout each agency across the city. Philadelphia adapted this model and partnered with Philadelphia University to implement a slightly different approach.

Leadership is required. Regardless of the model it is clear that strong leadership is required to drive innovation and institutionalize practices across government agencies. PMI-AG members identified that innovation led by the executive office provides a clear message of mayoral support and has a greater chance of uptake and long term success. City leadership has the ability to manage the high level of risk associated with innovation and can instill the confidence required by city government to support this work.

Measuring is important! Data is important! Using data to measure success and failures is important for cities to understand which innovative practices are working and which practices need improvement. In thinking about the sustainability of these innovative models, it is important to have the proper framing and communications that provide a concrete and transparent message. It will also allow city government to drive resources to the initiatives that create results. Innovation and data are inextricably linked.

Challenges to the development, implementation and sustainability of innovation models are ever present in local government. How do cities introduce a common language for innovation, much like Louisville’s “The Job” coined by Mayor Fischer? How do cities staff innovation teams, from building excitement among residents about government innovation to investing in existing employees and recruiting the right external talent? As we continue to think about innovation models ahead of our next convening, we will write about these topics and more in the coming weeks and months.

Please read more about other session takeaways and challenges identified throughout the eleventh PMI Advisory Group convening by browsing our other entries here on Data-Smart City Solutions.

Jessica Casey is the Associate Director for the Project on Municipal Innovation Advisory Group.

Rohan Mascarenhas is an MPP candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Jessica Casey, Rohan Mascarenhas
Exploring Collective Impact Potential in the South and West: Lessons Learned Through Living Cities’ TII Round 2 This past fall, Living Cities undertook a major exploration of new potential grantee sites for the second round of The Integration Initiative (TII). One of our goals with this second round of TII was to expand Living Cities’ geographic footprint to work more deeply in areas of the country where we hadn’t worked before. Since our current portfolio is concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, we focused on potential new sites in the West and South.

We initially investigated 36 possible sites, ultimately narrowing the list down to five finalists. In the process, we learned many things about the current state of collective impact work, as well as the capacity needed for different sectors to carry out transformative community change in these relatively young and diverse regions of the country.

In the interviews and site visits we conducted, we were interested to see how much the concept of collective impact had percolated into knowledge and practice among community leaders in these cities and regions:

  • We found that nearly everyone was familiar with collective impact in name, but examples of implementation were less common (though established Strive education initiatives were an exception). Many communities had collaborative initiatives that involved a sector or two, but far fewer had true cross-sector tables where leaders from three or more sectors had really taken on an issue together. One local leader described her community’s current efforts as “collective action” – “hopefully on the road to collective impact, but not there yet.”
  • As with our first-round TII sites, in the places we visited we saw that public outcry over a major local problem often brought leaders together, particularly when the problem had ramifications for the city as a whole – such as attention-grabbing unemployment rates or very low college completion rates among key populations. While problems were often the catalyst for initiating change, the critical next step was identifying and working from key assets related to preparing, creating, or connecting work and low income people – whether those were an unusually high number of engineers and PhDs among city residents, or agricultural assets that suggested opportunities to develop food manufacturing and other related industries.
  • In terms of individual leaders, strong boundary spanners who were respected, connected, and understood the language of multiple sectors were key to bringing diverse people to the table and activating issues. Many leaders worked to institutionalize public demand for their priorities to ensure that focus and results would outlast their personal leadership – for example by creating an independent nonprofit to house the city’s collective impact effort.

In terms of capacity to successfully carry out collective impact work, we saw some trends across the sites we investigated:

  • Public sector strength: A key criterion we used in selecting potential sites was a strong public sector with an appetite for innovation. In general, public sector capacity was weaker in the South and stronger in the West and Southwest. Western coastal cities such as San Francisco and Seattle had long-established and well-institutionalized capacity. Younger inland cities in the West and Southwest were more dependent on particular mayors, but also often showed less bureaucracy, fewer entrenched interests, a hunger for national best practices, and sometimes particular openness to new ways of doing things.
  • Philanthropy engagement: Compared to cities where we’ve worked in the Northeast and Midwest, the sites we explored in the South and West generally had weaker and more varied philanthropic capacity. Community foundations and locally-based independent, family, and corporate foundations were often smaller and less active in these regions. National funders were also typically less engaged.
  • Capital capacity: Many of the sites we explored in the South and West had somewhat limited CDFI capacity and often less investment by banks and other financial institutions. However, community leaders showed high interest in learning about and developing capacity for capital absorption.

It was interesting to note that where there were gaps in capacity in one sector, we often saw that another sector had stepped up to provide needed leadership. In cities lacking a strong CDFI, for example, the public housing authority often played a larger role in developing affordable housing. In cities without a strong community foundation, a United Way, local nonprofit, or national funder often took the initiative to fill the gap.

Overall, our research into new TII sites in the South and West was a valuable learning process that will inform Living Cities’ work going forward particularly as we grow Living Cities networks around our Prepare and Connect work, which often involve some of the same cities hosting round two TII efforts. With endeavors we found, our new TII sites and emerging network tables, we’re excited to see the strong potential for collective impact in these regions. Moreover, we look forward to continuing to learn and growing our own capacity to catalyze and support this work as Living Cities expands our engagement in these new areas.

]]> Thu, 27 Mar 2014 00:00:00 -0400 Brian Reilly