This weekly roundup of articles and information explores topics related to urban opportunity, justice and data.

Reading recommendations from our staff this week give you a window into the world of urban opportunity. Kick off your weekend with a new collection of essays that seek to answer the question, “What makes a Just City?” Then, explore stories of how data, both qualitative and quantitative, are being used by change-makers and civic leaders to get dramatically better results for low-income people, faster.


The Just City Essays: Visions for Urban Equity, Inclusivity and Opportunity - From Next City

Recommended by Nadia Owusu, Assistant Director, Strategic Communications and Storytelling

The J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the City College of New York, The Nature of Cities, and Next City partnered to curate this collection of essays exploring what a ‘just city’ would look like and what it would take to create one. Contributors include architects, mayors, artists, doctors, designers, scholars, philanthropists, ecologists, urban planners, community activists, and our own CEO Ben Hecht. At Living Cities, we believe that everyone has a role to play in creating a just city, so we encourage folks to share their own reflections in the comments section, and to join the conversation on social media using #justcity.

Collective Impact

Building Many Stories into Collective Impact - By Sheri Brady, Aspen Forum for Community Solutions

Recommended by Jeff Raderstrong, Program Associate, Collective Impact

How do you avoid the “danger of a single story” in collective impact? Sometimes, a community representative in a cross-sector partnership can represent only one perspective of that community, and not the full depth and breadth of the needs and desires of that community. Sheri Brady says that to achieve true equity in collective impact, “all perspectives and voices must be able to enter into the conversation in full voice.”

Capital Innovation

Best Interests, Better Outcomes - By Thomas E. Perez, The Huffington Post

Recommended by Ellen Ward, Senior Investment Associate, Capital Innovation

Yesterday Tom Perez, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, announced a landmark decision that has enormous potential for scaling the impact investing field. The department issued new guidance on Economically Targeted Investing which essentially allows pension plans governed by federal regulations ($8.4 trillion in assets) to invest for both a financial and social return. For me, this has two larger implications. First, it signals that the way we invest is changing and it’s changing at market-moving levels ($8.4 trillion is no small chunk of change) to consider both the financial but also the social impact of our investments. Second, it demonstrates the power of a group of people collaborating to affect change. This policy change was one of the priorities set forth by the National Advisory Board on Impact Investing, on which Ben Hecht served. Using their collective influence they were able to advocate for this important ruling.

Reframing the Debate About Payday Lending - By Robert DeYoung, Ronald J. Mann, Donald P. Morgan and Michael R. Strain , Liberty Street Economics

Recommended by Sindhu Lakshmanan, Intern, Capital Innovation

The payday lending industry has received a great deal of criticism for its practices, and people- ranging from President Obama to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau- have raised concerns about the effects of payday lenders. This week, though, a team of New York Federal Reserve researchers published a blog cautioning against payday lending curbs. While their logic makes sense, it doesn’t change the fact that payday lending disproportionately affects low-income people. And the “choice” to use payday lending isn’t a real choice – it’s a last resort for those who don’t have access to the mainstream financial system. There are approximately 68 million Americans who are unbanked or underbanked – and these are the people who have to turn to payday lending, pawn shops, or other means of getting cash. While payday lenders may be filling a gap in the market, there has to be a better solution out there. Innovation, data and technology can help us find a way to provide capital and credit to those who need it most.

Public Sector Innovation

Big Data Are Reducing Homicides in Cities across the Americas - By Rodrigo Guerrero Velasco, Scientific American

Recommended by Elizabeth Reynoso, Assistant Director, Public Sector Innovation

Cali, Colombia Mayor Guerrero’s experience in his article describes empowering examples of how city officials can use data to experiment to make big changes for low-income people. For example, he experimented with unpopular policies like banning weapon permits and restricting alcohol sales in public places for three months on selected dates that the data proved high risks of violence and crime: New Year’s eve, Mother’s Day, as well as days when payments to employees coincided with a Friday. “After only two weeks, hospitals reported such a drastic reduction in violence-related emergencies that abandoning the measure was not an option.” There was a 35% reduction in homicides on days when the restrictions were enforced versus days when neither were in force. Mayor Guerrero also wanted to increase crime prevention and he did so by launching a privately funded program to help police officers become homeowners- because he wanted to make sure the people responsible for carrying out the challenging work were supported.

The results in Cali were so dramatic that Guerrero Velasco’s approach became a model for Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, and elsewhere to tackle an epidemic of violent homicides.

Happy Reading!