This has been an extraordinary year. In January 2009, an almost unbridled optimism swept the country after the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. Since then, a steady stream of incredibly talented Americans has been migrating to Washington to be a part of crafting our nation’s future. For the first time in decades, the promise and prominence of our cities has been acknowledged through the creation of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. In the economic stimulus bill, billions of new dollars have been made available to jumpstart urban economies — from transit and schools to green jobs and foreclosure mitigation.
In stark contrast, 7 million more Americans have become unemployed since January. The bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler have exacerbated job losses in older, already struggling industrial cities such as Cleveland and Detroit. Foreclosures continue to rise, especially in cities like Chicago and Seattle, which had previously not been that hard hit. Foreclosure actions have already been initiated on more than 1 million homes. And, data have shown that in the past 12 months, American households have lost more than $5 trillion of stock market and housing wealth.
These extreme contrasts, however, have created an environment ripe for change. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to, as Matt Miller said in his book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, “expose the conventional wisdom as obsolete, and open people’s minds to a new vision of what is possible and what is necessary” for cities. Part of this is a growing recognition that we have put the hard choices off for too long and must act now to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.
As this annual report describes, Living Cities has been working to establish this new foundation and is beginning to make it a reality.
We are helping cities re-imagine what should be done with underinvested neighborhoods, and ind new ways to connect low-income people to economic opportunities wherever they exist in a region. We are supporting efforts to 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, like 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 its benefits help both low-income people and the planet.
We do our work by harnessing he unique and diverse knowledge of our 22 member organizations, attracting new investors to cities, blending philanthropic and private sector capital in new ways, and creating problem-solving platforms that help people and institutions work together more effectively.
We intentionally have sought to serve serve as the spark for innovation when appropriate and as the glue for slower-going efforts designed to knit together disconnected fields such as housing, transportation and jobs.
We are deeply encouraged by the changes we see happening throughout the country. New public sector leaders are expending their political capital to take important risks. Local philanthropy is providing leadership on problems thought to be intractable. Private capital is slowly coming back to leverage new public and philanthropic investments. Finally, a new type of community engagement is being created before our eyes through the use of social media.Earlier this year, we welcomed the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Morgan Stanley as new members of our Living Cities family. We look forward to working with you as well in the coming year as we continue to set a new course for our nation’s cities.