Author Richard Florida refers to the financial meltdowns that have occurred throughout U.S. history as “Great Resets'. He argues that these events create pathways for innovation and encourage new ways of doing business. As examples, he points to the urbanization and rapid industrialization that followed the Long Depression of the late 19th century and the more recent technological expansion that followed the Great Depression in the 1930s. Without these crisis points, he contends, innovators would not have had the motivation necessary to move beyond existing approaches to create something new.
Such a crisis point is evident today in the continuing economic uncertainty that grips our nation. Unemployment is at once-in-a-lifetime highs and historically sturdy industries–such as construction and automobile manufacturing–remain in free-fall. Americans have lost trillions of dollars in the stock market, and for the first time in generations, home ownership cannot be assumed to be the best path for accumulation of wealth.
Living Cities is intent on capturing the opportunities inherent in the current crisis. We are working to support entrepreneurial leaders and seed innovations that move us forward to a new Reset. We are seeing a number of promising signs. New models are emerging within philanthropy. The financial services sector remains prepared to take calculated risks. And within government, strategies such as social investment funds and funding "what works” provide evidence of public sector change. The challenge, however, is that much of this work remains disjointed and unintegrated. There is little push to move these efforts from pilots to mainstream–from exceptional undertakings to a New Normal.
Living Cities is a collaborative of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions working to re-engineer America’s cities. In nearly 20 years, Living Cities members have collectively invested almost $1 billion. These resources have been leveraged many times over, helping shape federal funding programs, redirecting public and private resources and helping to build homes, stores, schools, community facilities and more.
We have spent the last three years working to determine how we can best serve as a trigger to brig philanthropy, investors, and the public sector together to create a New Normal. We are helping cities re-imagine what should be done with underinvested neighborhoods and find new ways to connect low-income people to economic opportunities wherever they exist in a region. We are supporting efforts t align local, state and federal policies so these resources can have more impact on the ground. Instead of trying to work around long-broken public systems, such as education, workforce development and transportation, we are helping to re-engineer them for the 21st century.
Finally, we are investing strategically in the emerging green economy to ensure that it benefits low-income people and the planet.
We will soon celebrate our 20th year as a collaborative, and our members agreed earlier this year to an unprecedented seventh round of funding. During this round, from 2010 through 2013, we will build on our history and bring together a more concentrated and integrated focus on people, place and opportunity.
The new Living Cities Integration Initiative, as described in this report, will be a key part of our work during this round. Through it, we will demonstrate how philanthropy, financial service companies and leaders in America’s cities can tackle problems long considered intractable. In this new approach to both philanthropy and systems change,Living Cities will provide bundles of grants, loans, and Program Related Investments (PRIs) totaling $80 million to Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul to take on some of our nation’s most challenging issues, including jobs, business creation, housing, health care, transit and education.
In the midst of the rapid change that we are witnessing, philanthropy and the financial services sector must not squander this opportunity for reinvention. We are in a time of crisis. We cannot center our work on practices and principles from a century ago. We must address our contemporary reality. And our efforts must go far beyond the scattershot. They must become the New Normal.