We are excited to celebrate 20 years of our Living Cities collaborative, a unique partnership of foundations and financial institutions dedicated to strengthening cities as they strive to provide opportunity for all their communities and create a vibrant and thriving civic infrastructure that fosters innovation.
Living Cities has developed far beyond what anyone could have anticipated when it was launched in 1991 as an informal partnership among seven foundations and an insurance company. The commitment to help improve underinvested urban neighborhoods and local community development organizations was a cutting-edge approach that recognized the critical importance of making markets work by aggregating philanthropic investments to achieve meaningful results.
As Henry Cisneros, who supported the development of the organization while he served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, suggests:
The partnership was the right idea at the right moment. It was clear the nation’s cities needed more resources than government alone could apply. Foundations and other intermediaries could bring specialized expertise and long-standing networks to reach the entire nation.
During its first decade of operation, Living Cities became a unique collaborative that sought to combine the collective experience and influence of the foundations and financial institutions that made up its membership. In fact, by committing to membership in Living Cities, institutions also committed to the active engagement of their top executives. Working together, these institutions, each of which was powerful in its own right, could have an even greater impact as it addressed the problems faced by low-income people living in America’s cities.
Members have come and gone over the years and we have continued to refine our strategies for achieving results. But our platform and this belief in our collective impact have remained. Today we are comprise of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions and represent the largest philanthropic collaborative dedicated to improving cities and the lives of low-income people who live in them. As a mature collaborative, we are committed to innovation and have evolved by developing a new focus on integrative responses to the challenges of today’s cities.
Our current approach brings together innovators across silos that often separate work on people, place, and opportunity. Going beyond the traditional investments in housing and local services, Living Cities is supporting some of the most innovative leaders in urban change and creating a platform for collaboration across the philanthropic, civic and political leadership of our cities. This means engaging in new areas, such as linking education reform and community revitalization, by developing new mechanisms that leverage grants and investments for impact. As Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York and co-founder of Strive, an education reform collaborative in the Cincinnati region, writes:
Living Cities' support has helped make the case nationally for evidence-based demonstration sites for education reform so local reformers can implement strategies with greater confidence and improved likelihood for success. Truly, Living Cities is helping people and institutions find their most effective role in bettering their schools and communities.
In this special 20th anniversary collection, some of our founders, current members, grantees, and others who have been touched by Living Cities offer their reflections on our work and how it has impacted them, low-income people and field at large.
Living Cities is just as critical today as it was 20 years ago. As we celebrate our successes, we look to a future of sustained involvement in America’s cities.