Living Cities en-us Thu, 21 Aug 2014 11:36:25 -0400 15 My Seven-Year Ride on the Green Line On June 14th decades of planning, years of engineering, and two seasons of major construction culminated in the launch of the Green Line (formerly known as the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit project).

Linking the downtowns of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, the 11-mile Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, travels primarily on University Avenue through some of Saint Paul’s most diverse neighborhoods and into Minneapolis where it passes the University of Minnesota and terminates at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.

This billion dollar infrastructure project has always been about so much more than the tracks and trains. Living Cities recognized this as an early investor in the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC) – a group of 12 local and national funders seeking to create benefits “beyond the rail” for residents, businesses, and neighborhoods. They followed up their CCFC investment by selecting Corridors of Opportunity as one of five Integration Initiative sites in its inaugural round. This regional partnership invested in projects to advance equitable transit-focused growth in the Green Line and multiple other transitways in the region.

I’ve had the privilege to be part of this journey for the past seven years as a resident, consultant, partner, and funder – and here are a couple of my reflections.

Policy is Personal

In 2007, residents were questioning the station spacing along the eastern end of the line – where the train was only slated to stop at one-mile intervals through the city’s most transit-dependent neighborhoods. The primary reason for this was a federal Cost Effectiveness criterion- a pass-fail measure that focused on the travel hours saved by projected passengers and trumped all other criteria for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) project funding. Just two years earlier, when I was a policy analyst at the USEPA, our team was building a case that this criterion was penalizing smaller urban areas, basically requiring them to find ways to speed travel through the city. Fast forward, I’m consulting for a coalition of neighborhoods in order to make the case for additional stations using data and research, and am struck again by how a federal policy plays out on the ground. Fortunately in the Twin Cities, this didn’t stop the talented and persistent Stops for Us campaign who championed the stations locally and all the way to DC. The result: The Green Line experience led to overturning a flawed policy in 2010 and the Hamline, Victoria, and Western stations are now serving riders. If ever a small group of people changed the world….

Weathering the Storm – Together

Fear is the first emotion that comes to mind when I think about 2010-2012. What had been a planning exercise for years, was about to become a major construction project – which for the hundreds of small, mostly minority and immigrant-owned businesses along the line was a daunting prospect indeed. The story and details have been told many places – most recently by the Minneapolis Fed – but for me the “Prepare, Survive, Thrive” strategy devised by the Central Corridor Business Resources Collaborative (a group of business and community organizations, government and philanthropy) remains an inspiration for strategic collective action. During the two years of heavy construction a diverse team of business specialists, fluent in many of the languages spoken on the corridor, provided a mix of marketing and business planning assistance, low or zero interest loan products, and a voice for small often minority or immigrant owned businesses. The result: Of the nearly 400 businesses assisted during this time period, 99% remained in business.

Investing today for tomorrow

In places across the country, the introduction of LRT has often led to increased property values and rents. For the Green Line to be successful, members of Central Corridor Funders Collaborative and the Corridors of Opportunity (CoO) initiative wanted to ensure that low and moderate-income residents could still afford to live in the adjacent neighborhoods. The Big Picture Project partners set a goal of creating or preserving 4,500 affordable units along the corridor by 2020. The Living Cities-backed CoO loan fund invested $4.4 million in five multi-family/mixed use projects along the Green Line, which is slated to produce 483 units of housing, 67% of which are affordable. CoO resources and the Frogtown Rondo Home Fund are also increasing housing stability for homeowners and turning vacant lots and foreclosed homes into wealth-producing assets for area residents. The results: In May, the Big Picture Project released its first progress report which found that, 2,076 new and preserved units have been created, with 545 units in the pipeline. At this pace, 346 units are needed annually to meet the goal of 4,500 units by 2020, which many believe can be achieved.

One Corridor - Five Continents

Seven years ago on my now-defunct blog about the hidden gems of the Twin Cities, I penned a piece called an “Ode to University Avenue: Part 1” (I never seemed to get around to Part 2), which likened this auto-oriented arterial to the historic “El Camino Real - rather than linking missions, presidios, and peublos, it connects Hmong and Somali neighbors; African-Americans and old school St. Paul Irish; the State Capitol and the Turf Club; the U of M and the Love Doctor.” Now, the Green Line runs down University Avenue, allowing many more to experience the incredible diversity of place, spaces, people, and cuisines along the corridor. The Central Corridor as Cultural Corridor is bringing people to the corridor over the summer and fall months to highlight the arts and culture in the area. The Little Mekong district has launched a series of Night Markets this summer, introducing Twin Citians to the traditional Asian experience of food, entertainment, and vendors under a twilight sky.

Keeping the momentum and promise

With six weeks under its belt, the Green Line is exceeding ridership expectations and more than $2.5 billion in commercial and residential development has occurred near the line. But since this story has never just been about the rail, I’m struck by a recent article from Insight News, where Dr. Beverley Oliver Hawkins, CEO of the community development organization Model Cities, says:

"I smile to myself when I see all of the faces and ages at the Victoria Station. There's a lot of diversity – some in suits, some in shorts, some with babies, some senior citizens. I see it every day; many new faces coming here, some just out of curiosity. Now, we just need to give people reasons to get off at these stations and visit our businesses."

Her quote highlights the opportunities that remain now that Green Line is operational. There are local assets to showcase and strengthen, jobs to create, and projects to develop. In two years when the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative sunsets, we want to see a Green Line where businesses are healthy, residents can find and reach work more easily, low and moderate-income residents can afford to live here, and that high-quality investments continue to be made in this important corridor.

Mary Kay Bailey is the project director for the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative and the Partnership for Regional Opportunity/Corridors of Opportunity initiative at the Saint Paul Foundation. Mary Kay directs the operations of these cross-sector initiatives to support development in the region’s transitways that benefit people of all incomes and backgrounds. She initiates program activities for the working groups, boards, and other partners and has sought, reviewed, and recommended investment opportunities for both initiatives.

]]> Thu, 21 Aug 2014 11:36:25 -0400 Mary Kay Bailey
The State of Inequality in 6 Articles: Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Economic Opportunity Act Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. The Act was the centerpiece of LBJ’s War on Poverty and the fruit of the Civil Rights Movement. As President Johnson stated, it was created to “eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this nation by opening…To everyone…the opportunity for education, training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.”

Programs created through this legislation were aimed at improving access to quality education, job training, and loans for small businesses to attack the roots of unemployment and poverty.

While we’ve come a long way since 1964, there is still much work to be done, as evidenced by the unfolding events in Ferguson where decades of disinvestment and racial tensions have come to a boil following the shooting of an unarmed African American teenager. A year ago, in recognition of two other important anniversaries, our CEO, Ben Hecht, shared his reflections on the progress we’ve made as a nation to increase access to opportunity for low-income people and people of color. He found that, though there are many reasons to feel heartened by overall improvements in educational attainment and economic opportunity, the evidence still points to a sobering, expanding, wealth gap along racial lines in this country. A year later, his words still ring true.

Read more from Ben here:

At Living Cities, we are committed to catalyzing and supporting enduring change to increase the economic well-being of low-income people. We must continue to wage war on poverty, and to dismantle the systems that continue to perpetuate inequitable outcomes for people of color.

In honor of today’s anniversary, we have compiled a number of articles that shed light and provide substantive data on the state of inequality and the War on Poverty 50 years later.

We hope that you’ll read these and be encouraged to take action to disrupt inequality in America.

]]> Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:08:41 -0400 Elizabeth Vargas, Nadia Owusu
Disrupting the Teams and Score-keeping: August 19 Twitter Chat AUGUST 19th TWITTER CHAT ON DISRUPTING INEQUALITY

Tomorrow, August 19th at 1pm Eastern Time, Living Cities will host our fifth and final Twitter Chat on #DisruptingInequality. The chat, Disrupting the Teams and Score-keeping, will be co-hosted by Tynesia Boyea-Robinson (@tyboyea), our Director of Collective Impact at Living Cities. During the chat, we’ll discuss Collective Impact - What is it? What role does the framework play in disrupting inequality? And how can we apply the principles of Collective Impact in our efforts to improve the lives of low-income people?


We invite you and your organizations to participate in tomorrow’s Twitter Chat. Living Cities will moderate the chat via our Twitter handle, @Living_Cities, and the Hashtag #DisruptingInequality. You can also follow Tynesia with @tyboyea.

Over the course of an hour, we will pose a series of questions about the state of inequality and the role that collective impact plays in disrupting the issue. Participants will have 10 minutes after each question to share their thoughts, feedback, and other relevant information before we move onto the next question. At the conclusion of the hour, all participants will be invited to share their final ideas.

Questions for Participants:

  1. How is #collectiveImpact different than collaboration? Can it help in #DisruptingInequality?
  2. Have you seen the principles of #CollectiveImpact applied to address problems of #inequality? What are some examples? #DisruptingInequality
  3. We have applied #CollectiveImpact to address workforce development, TOD and health. What are other potential areas where collective impact could help in #DisruptingInequality? #TII_LC
  4. How can we authentically engage communities in #collectiveimpact efforts? Do you have examples? #DisruptingInequality
  5. Through our #CollectiveImpact work, we’ve found that feedback loops are key to success. What feedback and/or data do you track in your work? #DisruptingInequality
  6. #CollectiveImpact requires that we all change our behavior. How has/does your institution need to change in service of the result?


Your participation is crucial to disrupting inequality. Living Cities recognizes that the issue of inequality is complex, and difficult to solve. We are open-sourcing solutions to you, our followers, so that we might co-create a path forward in disrupting inequality.

Please join us tomorrow, August 19, 2014 at 1pm Eastern Time for our fifth and final Twitter Chat on #DisruptingInequality. We also encourage you to read our Annual Report, Disrupting Inequality: A Living Cities Perspective in 2013, in advance. If you have questions about participation or involvement, please email Elizabeth Vargas at

]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2014 16:23:23 -0400 Elizabeth Vargas
How City Halls Can Help Construct Stronger Neighborhoods 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.

Last week, the UN reported that more than half of humanity now lives in cities; by 2050 two-thirds of people will, up from just 30% in 1950. Given the grave challenges facing the world's booming urban areas—including global warming, economic dislocation, and crumbling basic infrastructure, among other torments—tomorrow's mayors will need to take bold steps to ensure their constituents live in dignity and safety. But public distrust of dysfunctional, faceless government is profound, resources are limited, gaps between groups are widening, and many are unaware of the role of government in their lives—which makes citizens less likely to support major initiatives.

One way to fill the drained reservoir of public trust in municipal government is to make city hall more visibly—and continuously—responsive. Digital technology can help: by using data to optimize the use of limited city resources and communicate clearly (with a friendly voice) across a range of platforms, a city can make life noticeably better for its citizens. The hard question is whether cities will use data to make genuine citizen and neighborhood engagement—affecting policy decisions and the allocation of resources, and potentially solving some problems altogether—possible. So far, cities in America are being cautious. There is much more that could be done.

A few weekends ago, at a "Civic Academy" put on by the City of Boston's Department of Information Technology aimed at training neighborhood groups to use social media tools, Mayor Marty Walsh stepped to the microphone in a short-sleeved shirt to provide some energetic cheerleading: "We want to make sure we're using every channel available" to reach constituents, he said—including every flavor of social platform, from Tumblr to Twitter to Instagram. (This is a link to a list of every social channel maintained by Boston.) What's great about Boston's training sessions, taking place in the city's new District Hall innovation space in South Boston, is that their goal is to help neighborhoods help themselves--not just publicity for city initiatives.

Communicating by way of social media is both easy and helpful. Boston's tireless tweeting following the Marathon bombing of last year and during the endless snowstorms of this past winter unquestionably made an enormous difference to Bostonians and others anxious for news. Boston is not alone in its creative use of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. New York City has more than 300 social media channels, and the City of Chicago is not far behind. Many cities collect and analyze geolocated public tweets to help them get ahead of urban issues; when people Tweet about train delays or noises, the city can listen.

When it comes to policy decisions, however, digital technology is mostly being used to announce rather than construct. The City of Palo Alto lets anyone access, visualize, and share its budget and financial information by way of its OpenGov Platform. Houston hosts an online Budget Bootcamp that decodes city budget lingo, and many cities ensure that their budget figures are easily available online.

Participatory budgeting, in which citizens have a hand in allocating resources, has both a long history in Brazil and the support of the White House but has been slow to emerge in U.S. cities. In New York City, residents of ten participating city council districts voted earlier this year on how to spend about $14 million of capital funds. Similarly small experiments in Chicago and San Francisco, as well as a recent youth-oriented effort in Boston, have not had a significant effect on policy.

Just as engineers need to build buildings that don't fall down, we need to construct public institutions that won't crumble. It is now possible for cities to use screens, data, and handheld devices to help neighborhoods be visible to themselves—what are the issues? where are the resources?—and allow citizens to organize in ways that will provide dignified, useful assistance to one another and, in partnership, to the city as a whole. (See, for example, Micah Sifry's recent story here on techPresident on the work that SeeClickFix is enabling in concert with the city of New Haven.) All the best-intentioned tweets in the world won't substitute for finding a way to authentically harness and respond to civic energy. Governments are part of neighborhoods and aren't moving; getting people used to working together this way is essential.


Susan Crawford is the John A. Reilly Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property at the Harvard Law School (2014) and a co-director of the Berkman Center. Her blog originally appeared on TechPresident.

]]> Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:39:08 -0400 Susan Crawford
Disrupting the Flow of Resources: August 13 Twitter Chat AUGUST 13th TWITTER CHAT ON DISRUPTING INEQUALITY

Tomorrow, August 13th at 1pm Eastern Time, Living Cities will host our fourth Twitter Chat on #DisruptingInequality. The chat, Disrupting the Flow of Resources, will be co-hosted by Eileen Neely (@Eileen Neely), our Director of Capital Innovation. During the chat, we’ll discuss different impact investment models and explore how innovative uses of capital can help improve the lives of low-income people.


We invite you and your organizations to participate in tomorrow’s Twitter Chat. Living Cities will moderate the chat via our Twitter handle, @Living_Cities, and the Hashtag #DisruptingInequality. You can also follow Eileen with @EileenNeely.

Over the course of an hour, we will pose a series of questions about the state of inequality and the role the capital innovation plays in disrupting the issue. Participants will have 10 minutes after each question to share their thoughts, feedback, and other relevant information before we move onto the next question. At the conclusion of the hour, all participants will be invited to share their final ideas.

Questions for Participants:

  1. How do you think impact investments can help to disrupt #inequality? #DisruptingInequality
  2. What are challenges communities might face in making efficient use of capital (debt, grants, #impinv) towards #disruptinginequality?
  3. What orgs, nonprofits or govts have you seen innovating w/capital to improve the lives of low income people? #DisruptingInequality
  4. Have you heard of #PayforSuccess? Do you think it has potential for #disruptinginequality?
  5. We invested in 2 #SIBs 2 reduce #recidivism & increase #employment. What else could we tackle w/this tool? #DisruptingInequality
  6. What gives you hope for how we can leverage capital for good in underserved communities? #DisruptingInequality


Your participation is crucial to disrupting inequality. Living Cities recognizes that the issue of inequality is complex, and difficult to solve. We are open-sourcing solutions to you, our followers, so that we might co-create a path forward in disrupting inequality.

Please join us tomorrow, August 13, 2014 at 1pm Eastern Time for our fourth Twitter Chat on #DisruptingInequality. We also encourage you to read our Annual Report, Disrupting Inequality: A Living Cities Perspective in 2013, in advance. If you have questions about participation or involvement, please email Elizabeth Vargas at

]]> Tue, 12 Aug 2014 12:06:55 -0400 Elizabeth Vargas
Momentum behind the Collective Impact Movement Could Catalyze Change As Living Cities seeks to adjust itself internally to better align with Collective Impact principals, we continue to scan the field in an effort to learn with others who are undertaking similar processes. We analyzed data from a series of funders, platforms, and initiatives to better understand the evolution of the principles and how they have spread. Through this work, we’ve started to quantify impact and define what Collective Impact looks like on the ground. The field is very much in flux and our analyses are intended to offer general insight into the movement, where it comes from, and where it’s going.

The Collective Impact landscape has been (and is!) growing in size and diversity, nationally and internationally, since Mark Kramer and John Kania’s article struck a chord with the social change field in 2011.

Collective Impact is innovative, but collaboration is not new. However, talking about initiatives with more formal collaborative structures for social change has gained popularity since the late 2000s. Collective Impact became the shared language for many practitioners in the field, and more and more initiatives and organizations are adopting Collective Impact to describe their work. And over time, both new initiatives and older collaboratives have begun applying the principles to a wide range of goals, rapidly accelerating the adoption of Collective Impact.

In addition to the rapid growth, the diversity of purpose across the landscape is striking. The principles of Collective Impact have been applied to create Alzheimer’s friendly communities, to decrease childhood obesity and to fight inner-city poverty. And these are just a few examples.

So what implications do growth and diversity in the landscape have for the individual Collective Impact initiative?

First of all, we are not alone! The promise of Collective Impact lies in how it could help us collectively learn to solve complex issues. In addition to reflecting, evaluating and measuring our own initiatives, we also should continuously look outwards.

According to the theories of social physics, innovation comes when a group strikes a balance between continuously looking inward and looking outward. Collective Impact has achieved this, in part, by facilitating face-to-face connections in a diverse cross-sector partnership. But at the same time, its shared language creates a common ground for external exchanges around the world. It has become a movement.

The growth and diversity in the Collective Impact landscape suggests that there is power in this movement. By sharing learnings and knowledge across a large and diverse set of initiatives, the potential to facilitate momentum around ideas grows. This, by extension, increases Collective Impact’s potential to create enduring change. By continuously looking inward and outward we can bump our ideas together and improve how we manage Collective Impact initiatives and how we better engage with complex issues.

Collective Impact is a promising tool for improving the lives of people all over the world by helping us to tackle some of the most complex challenges we face. Enduring change can be achieved if we continue to learn within our Collective Impact initiatives, but also from others across the landscape.

]]> Fri, 08 Aug 2014 10:18:25 -0400 Astor Carlberg
Disrupting the Status Quo in Government: August 7 Twitter Chat AUGUST 7th TWITTER CHAT ON DISRUPTING INEQUALITY

Today, August 7, 2014 at noon Eastern Time, Living Cities will host our third Twitter Chat on Disrupting Inequality. The chat, co-hosted by Arthur Burris, our Director of Public Sector Innovation, will explore different local government practices and policies aimed at improving the lives of low-income people.


We invite you and your organizations to participate in today’s Twitter Chat (Thursday, August 7, 2014) at noon Eastern Time. Living Cities will moderate the chat via our Twitter handle, @Living_Cities, and the Hashtag #DisruptingInequality. Over the course of an hour, we will pose a series of questions about the state of inequality and the role the public sector plays in disrupting the issue. Participants will have 10 minutes after each question to answer and discuss, before we move onto the next question. At the conclusion of the hour, all participants will be invited to share final thoughts and ideas.

Questions for Participants:

  1. How can the public sector work differently to overcome outdated, ineffective structures? #DisruptingInequality
  2. What are some examples of how #localgov uses tech & other innovations to improve the lives of low-income people? #DisruptingInequality
  3. How can we connect the public sector and cross-sectoral groups of problem solvers to address systemic problems? #DisruptingInequality
  4. Which local govts are effectively modernizing operations to improve the performance of systems? #DisruptingInequality
  5. What are examples where combining public, private & philanthropic $s improved outcomes during fiscal constraint? #DisruptingInequality
  6. What gives you the most hope in terms of building #gov20? #DisruptingInequality


Your participation is crucial to disrupting inequality. Living Cities recognizes that the issue of inequality is complex, and difficult to solve. We are open-sourcing solutions to you, our followers, so that we might co-create a path forward in disrupting inequality.

Please join us today, August 7, 2014 at noon Eastern Time for our third Twitter Chat on #DisruptingInequality. If you have questions about participation or involvement, please email Elizabeth Vargas at

]]> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 11:36:07 -0400 Elizabeth Vargas
What’s Equity got to do with it? It is Key to the Success of Collective Impact Last December, Living Cities embarked on a journey to intentionally embed a racial equity & inclusion lens into our work. Since then, we’ve been building our internal capacity to understand the system of racialization in order to appropriately incorporate these considerations across our portfolio.

At the same time, we’re seeking to highlight how social sector leaders are already incorporating equity into their ongoing work. This post highlights how Everyday Democracy is bringing an equity lens into collective impact efforts.


My colleagues and I posed this question—“What’s equity got to do with it?”—to those who took part in our session at the Collective Impact Forum’s funder convening in May. As foundations explore how best to support collective impact efforts amongst their grantees, they need the chance to explore blind spots when it comes to ensuring that there are no barriers in place to full community participation. That is, are there foundation practices or policies at work that may deter people of different backgrounds—racial/ethnic, educational, economic, sexual orientation, gender and language—from participating in a collective impact effort, and thus having the genuine impact they all seek?

Based on Everyday Democracy’s work with the Graustein Memorial Fund to support its grantees’ interest in having conversations about equity in their collaborative efforts, Angela Frusciante, knowledge development officer at the Memorial Fund and Collective Impact Forum advisory group member, approached us to help bring an equity focus to the May convening. Angela joined Everyday Democracy’s Carolyne Abdullah, director of community assistance, Valeriano Ramos, director of strategic partnerships and alliances, and myself, Carrie Boron, organizational effectiveness officer, to design and facilitate a conference session on equity.

A note about who we are and the perspective we bring: Everyday Democracy helps diverse community coalitions build inclusive civic engagement for community change; for the past decade, we have focused on helping them build an “equity lens” into their efforts. As a national operating foundation, we have worked less on grantmaking with an equity lens, and more on the community and technical assistance side of the equation. Through twenty-five years of experience in coaching communities around the country to organize accessible dialogue and deliberation, we have learned with and from our local partners about the difficulty and value of inclusion and equity. We have also seen the impact of foundation decisions—including our own—that have unwittingly worked against the very values of inclusion and equity that we stand for. Thus, we came to the collective impact funder convening as an intermediary—with some experience on the grantee side and some experience on the foundation side. We also came with humility about “walking the talk” as we help embed principles of equity into community change processes.

Our first priority in the conference session was to connect people personally and professionally to the issue of equity. With that grounding, we provided an opportunity for participants to use an equity lens to reflect on the practices of their foundations and that of the collective impact community.

It was not an easy session for anyone involved. From the design of the session, to helping people on the spot work through some uncomfortable realizations, to deeply listening to people’s own experiences with inequities, facilitators and participants may have walked away pained, fatigued and/or frustrated. But we hope that many also left with a powerful “a-ha,” a sense of possibility and a desire to do something to address inequities that their foundations might be inadvertently perpetuating.

For those who want to do something, we’re sharing two of our session’s activities that can help organizations surface and address inequities that may be in play when working with grantees on collective impact efforts.

  • The first exercise is “Move Forward, Move Back.” Participants step forward, remain stationary or step backward in response to a series of statements related to power and privilege. The activity illustrates how long-term accumulation of advantages based on skin color and other forms of privilege can produce gaps among groups within foundations and create or sustain inequities in the communities we hope to serve.
  • The second exercise is “Collective Impact and White Privilege Scenario.” This role-play scenario can serve as a tool to help foundation leaders begin to explore issues of white privilege, internalized bias and racial equity as part of a broader conversation on making collective impact authentic, inclusive, and equity-focused.

Another resource worth checking into is the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PRE) and the latest volume of its Critical Issues Forum, “Moving Forward on Racial Justice Philanthropy.” Martha McCoy, Everyday Democracy’s executive director and PRE advisory board member, is quoted in the volume in response to the question of whether philanthropy has made progress on structural racism:

There have been many shifts over the past two decades in the ways structural racism manifests in U.S. society—with progress on some fronts and further entrenchment of racial inequities in others. In light of this, racial justice grant making has been critical to analyzing structural racism across policy and community arenas and to assessing philanthropic approaches to addressing and flipping these destructive power arrangements.

This is hard work, but it’s much needed if we’re going to tackle today’s toughest social issues. And, you’re not alone. Everyday Democracy is happy to share additional insights and resources, and direct you to organizations that can help you as you take on equity at your foundation and in your collective impact work.

Carrie Boron is the Organizational Effectiveness and Learning Officer for Democracy now. Her post originially appeared on the Collective Impact Forum blog.

]]> Tue, 05 Aug 2014 11:12:36 -0400 Carrie Boron
Racism in America: An Unexpected Kind of Culture Shock When people, especially women, from my country, Pakistan, come to the United States, their “culture shock” includes things like the freedom to be an individual, the ease of availability of alcohol, and the perceived meritocracy of the American system. My culture shock was America’s racism, made worse by the fact that I didn’t really understand what it meant to be discriminated against for simply having a different skin color or not speaking English “perfectly.”

Racial discrimination is both a fascinating and highly distressing concept for me. In my part of the world, people don’t have a clear answer if asked to identify their race. Most of them would respond with their ethnicity. So, my knowledge of active racial discrimination came from literature or film, such as Lincoln and Amazing Grace.

In November 2008, as I listened to Barack Obama give his victory speech, I was moved to tears. From another continent, it appeared to me as not just the victory of one man, but of a whole nation against its racist past. The American people, I thought, had finally moved past their history of systemic racism, segregation, and discriminatory policies that disconnected huge segments of the population from opportunity.

Six years later, I landed in Chicago, home to Obama and to one of the largest African American populations in the U.S. I was excited to be here, especially the South Side of Chicago which is largely populated by African Americans, and to see the interaction between Americans of all races in one of America’s largest and most liberal cities. To me, Obama’s election–and re-election–signaled that the era of institutional racism against African Americans was over, but I was curious to see if people’s individual attitudes and experiences had changed.

I learned that, on too many levels, they had not.

I was shocked when I started reading Michelle Alexander’s fascinating book The New Jim Crow. The book asserts that to this day, when even rich and powerful White men like LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling end up paying a price for being racist, the US Justice System continues to discriminate against African Americans. The book further explains how the practice of mass incarceration disproportionately impacts African Americans, effectively relegating them to “second-class” citizens by denying them the very rights that were supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

I did not know how to process how the same country that could elect a black man to be its leader could at the same time brutally discriminate against a huge portion of black men through an unjust criminal justice system. Could it be that Obama, with his eloquence, intelligence, and impressive academic credentials was a less threatening figure for white Americans? Was it because everyone likes a rags-to-riches story but would rather ignore the realities of multi-generational poverty–a reality that is much more common? Indeed, moving from poverty to wealth is an almost impossible goal for most poor Americans, black or white, since the majority of the wealth in this country is inherited from one generation to the next.

Since reading Alexander’s book, I have become obsessed with learning about racial dynamics in large U.S. cities and how they are affecting American life. I couldn’t have found a better place than Living Cities to explore the intersection between race-based disadvantage and urban policymaking.

Recently during a staff brown bag meeting, my colleagues and I watched a haunting film titled Cracking the Code: The Systems of Racial Inequity.

The part of the film that spoke to me most was a segment about internalized racism, something I have myself witnessed among my own community of South Asians who moved to the United States as young adults–mostly as highly qualified doctors or engineers–and have now become naturalized U.S. citizens. They speak like white Americans, live in suburbs largely populated by white people, and their children are friends with either children of South Asian descent or from white families. Although they were born in a culture that didn’t recognize race, once they came to America, they realized at some point that they needed to be like the White-Folk in order to “make it” in America. Many now exhibit racist attitudes and behaviors towards all non-white people, particularly black people, who they view as members of society they must not mingle with if they want to be accepted.

It is the prevalence of this sort of attitude–the subconscious racism that still persists in American society–that makes Living Cities’ Racial Equity and Inclusion (REI) initiative so important to a new framework for analyzing urban policy and using it for the benefit of all those who populate these urban areas.

Cities should not just be places for better economic opportunities, but also for economic inclusion where all residents can equally benefit from all that their city has to offer. To that end, policymakers, the movers and shakers in cities, must incorporate the racial lens into how they think about their cities and the opportunities that they provide for lower-income families of color.

The author is a Knowledge and Impact summer intern at Living Cities, and a Masters in Public Policy student at The University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. She tweets at @zainabimam and blogs at

]]> Fri, 01 Aug 2014 10:52:47 -0400 Zainab Imam
Where do Collective Impact, Community Engagement & Racial Equity Intersect? At Living Cities, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to change the systems that consistently produce poverty, income inequality, and all their related disparities. One of our core beliefs is that the seemingly intractable problems facing cities today can only be addressed when decision-makers from across different sectors come together around a common vision to re-engineer the systems that produce these outcomes in the first place. This approach - also known as Collective Impact - is one that Living Cities has been testing in the social sector over the past several years.

We also recognize that race influences and shapes the same systems that together produce uneven outcomes for low-income people in U.S. cities - from housing to health to education. Given this reality, we recently committed to incorporating a racial equity & inclusion lens across all our work in order to more effectively disrupt the persistent inequality and poverty in our cities.

And at the same, the importance of community voice and engagement in Collective Impact has emerged as a critical issue in the field. More and more, a national conversation around how to authentically engage community stakeholders at all levels of Collective Impact work has grown. Indeed, it makes sense that the perspective of community members is needed to inform and guide the social change efforts that seek to impact their everyday lives.

What is less clear, however, is how Collective Impact, racial equity, and community engagement all intersect. How do we effectively integrate community voice into institution-heavy Collective Impact efforts? How do we authentically and meaningfully involve communities who have historically been left out of decision-making processes? And how do we engage stakeholders in the sensitive conversations about race, class and culture without driving away those who need to sit at the problem-solving table?

Living Cities’ Exploration with StriveTogether

The importance of these conversations can be easily ignored when working systematically. In order to more intentionally address these issues (and in direct response to a call to action by leaders on the ground), StriveTogether and Living Cities are convening a work group of practitioners currently grappling with these issues in their work. By convening this group we seek to build our collective knowledge on how to apply an equity lens in Collective Impact work focused on improving outcomes for youth from cradle to career. We’re working to identify the support that local partnerships need in order to engage communities more equitably in their work and ultimately reduce inequality across different races, cultures, and class groups.

4 Early Insights

While these conversations are still going on, we’ve identified 4 early insights that we think may be useful to others working on similar efforts.

  • First: Conversations about race and class can be incredibly difficult to navigate, and some communities may not have the capacity to constructively facilitate them. Given the sensitive nature of the topics, a common language is often useful to help communities engage in constructive conversations. Language is contextual and certain words can turn some people away while bringing others in. For example, ‘underserved’ or ‘underrepresented’ or ‘minority’ are often used interchangeably to identify target communities, yet they can each inspire different reactions in different people. Regardless, these tough, courageous conversations are an important starting point for any movement towards incorporating equity considerations into Collective Impact work.
  • Second: We need to be clear on who we mean by the community. The first half of an answer is that community is defined as the people who will be impacted by the changes the Collective Impact partnership seeks to make. Going one step further, in equitable community engagement, the targeted community can be defined as those individuals who will be impacted by social change efforts and who are also historically left out of the decision-making process. In cradle-to-career work, this can include local students and youth as well as communities of color.
  • Third: We need to recognize the difference between equity and equality in community engagement. It’s not enough to give all community members an equal opportunity to engage in the Collective Impact effort; we need to actively meet communities where they are and create targeted opportunities around the unique needs of community members historically disengaged from civic decision-making. For example, equitable engagement could include offering translation services for non-English speakers or timing engagement opportunities later in the day so that working parents are able to join.
  • Fourth: We need to more carefully redefine power in Collective Impact efforts. Conventionally, power resides in the leaders and institutions that have authority to make unilateral decisions. Yet, in Collective Impact, power also resides within community members who have the ability to quickly identify what is and isn’t working. Collective Impact partnerships themselves may have a role to play in helping drive this shift by highlighting the importance of incorporating community feedback into the work of the larger partnership.

Join the Dialogue

This is only the beginning of our exploration into equitable community engagement as a way to address inequality. As we continue to explore this question, we’re committed to sharing our insights and questions through this blog. Over the next several months, we will share knowledge ranging from examples of equitable engagement in the field to insights gained from our ongoing discussions. I invite you to join us in this dialogue by reaching out to me - either through email at or through twitter at @_jsarias.

]]> Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:21:02 -0400 Juan Sebastian Arias
June 2014 Learning Community Summary Living Cities’ signature effort, The Integration Initiative, supports teams of leaders in cities as they transform systems to produce outcomes for all. Three times a year, Living Cities brings together The Integration Initiative (TII) site teams for a multi-day event focused on sharing lessons learned and providing assistance on cross-site challenges. These events, called “Learning Communities,” offer insights into challenges and opportunities for collaborative initiatives focused on improving low-income communities.

On June 17th and 18th, 2014, teams from the second cohort of sites selected to participate in TII—Albuquerque, New Orleans, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Seattle–met in Chicago for their first “Learning Community.” The two day event, hosted by Living Cities at the Catalyst Ranch, was, for some of the teams, the first opportunity to work together for a significant period of time on their initiative planning. The event featured several presentations from Living Cities staff, as well as facilitated work time for sites to dig deeper into the problems they are trying to tackle, their large scale result, and the outcomes they hope to achieve.

This document outlines the themes and takeaways from the June Learning Community of The Integration Initiative. These key takeaways are categorized into general takeaways, as well as takeaways within Living Cities’ three levers of change: Collective Impact, Capital Innovation, and Public Sector Innovation, with a primary focus on Collective Impact. Each lever section includes an example of the themes at work from the first round of TII, as requested by the attendees.

]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:00:53 -0400 (Living Cities)
9 Pieces of Advice on Cross-Sector Partnerships What works in a cross-sector partnership? What doesn’t? What can we learn from past cross-sector partnerships?

We had a panel of cross-sector partnership leaders share their thoughts on these questions at a recent gathering of our sites in The Integration Initiative. Each gave three pieces of advice. Watch the video for a more in-depth discussion:

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Collective Impact Principles Overview Success is the right tool meeting the right solution. Read more about Collective Impact principles from our Director of Collective Impact, Tynesia Boyea-Robinson.

]]> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:51:12 -0400 (Living Cities)
6 Questions on Disrupting the Pace of Adoption Join our July 16 Twitter Chat with the hashtag #DisruptingInequality. Over the course of an hour, we will pose a series of six questions about disrupting the pace of adoption of innovations that expand the scope and scale of social change. We call this #opensourcechange. Participants will have 10 minutes to respond to each question. At the conclusion of the hour, all participants will be invited to share final thoughts and ideas.

Questions for Participants:

  1. How would you define “open sourcing” social change? #DisruptingInequality
  2. What are some innovative approaches you have seen to #opensourcechange? #DisruptingInequality
  3. What technologies and tools do you see being used to #OpenSourceChange across geographies? #DisruptingInequality
  4. How can we better leverage disruptive #technology to accelerate the pace of social change? #DisruptingInequality
  5. How could the social sector work differently to better #opensourcechange? #DisruptingInequality
  6. What innovation/practice in #OpenSourceChange do you think have the greatest potential towards #DisruptingInequality?


Your participation is crucial to disrupting inequality. Living Cities recognizes that the issue of inequality is complex, and difficult to solve. We are open-sourcing solutions to you, our followers, so that we might co-create a path forward in disrupting inequality.

If you have questions about participation or involvement, please email Elizabeth Vargas at

]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 10:43:25 -0400 (Living Cities)
Cross-Sector Partnerships 101: Structuring Your Cross-Sector Partnership So It Can Support Your Success Tue, 08 Jul 2014 13:16:08 -0400 (Living Cities) #DisruptingInequality: A Twitter Chat with Living Cities JULY 2 TWITTER CHAT ON DISRUPTING INEQUALITY

On Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 1pm Eastern Time, Living Cities will host our first Twitter Chat on Disrupting Inequality. The Twitter Chat intentionally coincides with the 50th Anniversary of The Civil Rights Act. We believe that we are at a unique moment in time to bring the issue of disrupting inequality to the mainstream. We must address these trends with the urgency of now.


We invite you and your organizations to participate in the Twitter Chat on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Living Cities will moderate the chat via our Twitter handle, @Living_Cities, and the Hashtag #DisruptingInequality. Over the course of an hour, we will pose a series of questions about the state of inequality and the role cities play in driving change. Participants will have 10 minutes after each question to answer and discuss, before we move onto the next question. At the conclusion of the hour, all participants will be invited to share final thoughts and ideas.

Questions for Participants:

  1. As the U.S. celebrates the 50th Aniv of the #CivilRightsAct, where has the nation made the most progress on #DisruptingInequality?
  2. What are the most vital issue areas, locally and nationally, where we must move the agenda forward on #DisruptingInequality?
  3. How are leaders in your city working towards #DisruptingInequality?
  4. What are the most promising innovations for #DisruptingInequality in your city?
  5. How are you measuring the impact of your work #DisruptingInequality?
  6. When you think about the future of access to opportunity in America, what makes you the most hopeful? #DisruptingInequality
]]> Tue, 01 Jul 2014 16:50:13 -0400 (Living Cities)
Innovation in the Air and on Land Noel Harmon, Director of the National Talent Dividend, reflects on private-sector initatives to fund college tuition and workforce development. Check out her article and our prior reflections on the benefits of free college tuition:]]> http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Wed, 18 Jun 2014 10:13:29 -0400 (Living Cities) Living Cities: Toward Open-Sourcing Social Change 2013 Snapshot As social change communications becomes less about PR and more about open sourcing change, we need to build ways to measure how our strategies are doing in supporting not just our brand recognition, but also our ability to be better partners and co-create better solutions.

In the meantime, standard communications metrics can still provide useful data and insights about how our networks are, or aren’t, engaging with us. In the spirit of learning in public, here is a snapshot of what our communications looked like in 2013, including some of these standard metrics.

]]> Mon, 16 Jun 2014 10:16:43 -0400 (Living Cities)
Linking Minneapolis And St. Paul With A Transit Project That Doesn't Destroy Communities Fast Company dives deep into our Integration Intiative work in Minneapolis/St.Paul. The Corridor of Opportunities project is creating a new rail line and helping surrounding communities in the process.

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Tue, 10 Jun 2014 17:06:14 -0400 (Living Cities)
The New Scarlet Letter?: Negotiating the U.S. Labor Market with a Criminal Record Download a free PDF copy Steven Raphael's new report. Raphael first studies the factors that influence the market’s supply and demand sides. Next, he presents an empirical portrait of the inmate population, recently released inmates, and the youth who eventually enter the prison system as young adults.

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:22:42 -0400 (Living Cities)
Non-Skill Employment Barriers | Strategic Conversation On May 8th, Living Cities hosted a conversation exploring specific strategies to address the non-skill barriers to employment faced by formerly incarcerated workers. This conversation was a follow-up to a March 26th webinar on the same issues . Featuring field leaders from across the country, the conversation highlighted lessons from organizations working at the city, state, regional, and national level to overcome the barriers faced by people who have criminal records.

Listen on SoundCloud

]]> Mon, 19 May 2014 13:45:58 -0400 (Living Cities)
Reflections on Living Cities' Integration Initiative The pace of social change is simply too slow; the scale, too small. In 2010, Living Cities, a long-standing collaborative of 22 of the world's leading foundations and financial institutions, created the Integration Initiative (TII) to try to change that. We set out to work with a 'coalition of the willing'- a cross-sector group of leaders from a limited number of cities - committed to learning how to achieve needle moving outcomes for low-income people. Each site incorporated four high-impact strategies into their work: (1) move beyond delivering programs and instead focus on transforming systems; (2) build a resilient civic infrastructure where decision-makers from across sectors and jurisdictions formally and work together to address complex social problems, a framework now often referred to as collective impact; (3) bring disruptive innovations into the mainstream and redirect funds away from obsolete and ineffective approaches toward what works; and (4) supplement traditional government and philanthropic funding streams by driving the private market to work on behalf of low-income people.

The problems being targeted address many of the nation's seemingly intractable urban challenges, such as workforce readiness & jobs (Baltimore), economic development (Cleveland), urban revitalization (Detroit), equitable transit-oriented development or ETOD (Minneapolis/St. Paul), and education and health (Newark).

As we embark on the next phase of TII, continuing the work with four of the five original sites and expanding the Initiative to include Albuquerque, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Seattle/King County,, I thought it would be valuable to reflect on some of the things that I believe that we have learned along the way that could be of value to others doing this kind of work.

]]> Fri, 16 May 2014 16:20:23 -0400 (Living Cities)
Cities and the Maker Movement The Congressional Maker Caucus is a bipartisan group of legislators aimed at promoting American manufacturing and entrepreneurship by giving congressional support to new technologies that revolutionize manufacturing and help eliminate barriers to entrepreneurship.

The White House will hold the first ever White House Maker Faire (date TBD). The Obama Administration believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to advance several national goals, including STEM education/workforce development, and entrepreneurship/job creation.

Many cities are already playing an important role, the White House is interested in highlighting new/expanded commitments and a “sign on” letter.

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Thu, 08 May 2014 16:53:35 -0400 (Living Cities)
The Small Business Development Work of the Integration Initiative Executive Summary Fri, 25 Apr 2014 14:21:13 -0400 (Living Cities) VIDEO: Introducing Nigel Jacob, Urban Technologist in Residence Thu, 17 Apr 2014 13:36:27 -0400 (Living Cities) Putting Community in Collective Impact Five characteristics of civic culture that collective impact efforts must address.

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:19:22 -0400 (Living Cities)
Letting the Dollars Land To realize the promise of community investment, the capacity of specific places to absorb available capital needs to grow. New article in Shelterforce from our Robin Hacke.

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:45:12 -0400 (Living Cities)
Case Studies: Steps to Avoid Stalled Equitable TOD Projects The following case studies highlight a) the predevelopmentpitfalls faced in station areas by groups of real estatedevelopment projects and b) the predevelopment pitfalls faced in station areas by groups of real estatedevelopment projects. For each case, we identified a list ofcritical predevelopment factors.

]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 09:56:35 -0400 (Living Cities)
Collective Action for Community Development The most recent issue of Community Investments, a San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank publication, explores emerging Collective Impact practices and lifts up early learnings from pioneers in the field. The issues is a great resource for tools and cases about collective impact work on the ground. Discover the central role of a strong cross-sector partnership in organizing and leading collective impact initiatives in our featured article: How Do you Build the Right Cross-Sector Partnership to Implement Collective Impact Approaches?

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Tue, 01 Apr 2014 14:37:35 -0400 (Living Cities)
Why You Should Stop Brainstorming We loved this little video (3:49 seconds) on the Harvard Business Review blog about a concept called "brainswarming." It offers a tool for enabling groups that are trying to achieve a specific result, to identify all their existing resources to leverage, as well as propose ideas for how the resources can be turned into strategies that can produce their results. It seems promising because it starts from the results, allows the group to generate a vast amount of ideas, and also enables different styles of learners (as well as both introverts and extroverts) to contribute. Check it out!

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Mon, 31 Mar 2014 12:47:58 -0400 (Living Cities)
INTERVIEW: How to Make Detroit’s Data Accessible Interview with Erica Raleigh of Data Driven Detroit on making data accessible. Erica is the data partner in Living Cities Integration Initative work in Detroit: Read more on Next City:

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 21 Mar 2014 15:52:45 -0400 (Living Cities)
Catalyzing Impact Investments Through Coordinated Grantmaking Philanthropy and the practice of grantmaking traditionally have been very separate from traditional investing in both culture and approach, but the emerging field of impact investing invites a productive collaboration between these two disciplines... From our Amy Chung, Associate Director of Capital Innovation.

http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Wed, 19 Mar 2014 18:16:45 -0400 (Living Cities)
Citi Foundation and Living Cities Launch City Accelerator Program to Drive Innovation and Collaboration in U.S. Cities http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 14 Mar 2014 10:40:07 -0400 (Living Cities) The Public-Private Partnership Whisperer http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 14 Jun 2013 10:02:24 -0400 The Atlantic Cities 5 Transformational Forces That Should Be Driving The Social Sector (But Aren’t) http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:51:52 -0400 Fast.CoExist From Community to Prosperity http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:49:02 -0400 What Works for America What Cincinnati Could Teach New York about Hurricane Readiness http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:47:49 -0400 Harvard Business Review Community Development: Reflecting on What Works http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:45:36 -0400 Stanford Social Innovation Review Louisville working with national group to engage poor citizens http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:43:31 -0400 Business First Aligning Grants with Impact Investments http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:42:33 -0400 Rooflines Catalytic Philanthropy and Private Capital: To Use or Not to Use http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:42:06 -0400 Harvard Institute for Responsible Investment Stuck on the Bus, or, Civic Engagement in a Networked World http://www.livingcities.org http://www.livingcities.org Fri, 19 Apr 2013 11:41:04 -0400 The Slow Hunch VIDEO: Highlights from Living Cities Trends in Focus: Technology & Civic Change Mon, 30 Apr 2012 12:14:48 -0400 (Living Cities) VIDEO: Living Cities- Improving the infrastructure of low-income communities Tue, 17 Apr 2012 15:21:33 -0400 (Living Cities) VIDEO: Robin Hacke, Director of Capital Formation, Keynote at Healthy Communities: 2012 Las Vegas, Nevada Tue, 13 Mar 2012 15:01:03 -0400 (Living Cities) Trends in Focus: Technology and Civic Change Thu, 26 Jan 2012 12:14:50 -0500 (Living Cities) Keynote from HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan at Living Cities 20th Anniversary Mon, 07 Nov 2011 15:43:07 -0500 (Living Cities) Integrating People, Place & Opportunity: An Inside Look at the Integration Initiative (Part 2) Mon, 07 Nov 2011 15:08:19 -0500 (Living Cities) Integrating People, Place & Opportunity: An Inside Look at the Integration Initiative (Part 1) Mon, 07 Nov 2011 15:07:50 -0500 (Living Cities) Dynamic Collaboration: Cities & The Future Mon, 07 Nov 2011 15:06:22 -0500 (Living Cities)