What Living Cities is Doing With Citi to Push Innovation in Urban America

With $3 million dollars in technical assistance and consulting from the Citi Foundation and Living Cities, three poverty-stricken U.S. cities now have more irons in the fire for improving government and building an inclusive economy.

In case you don't know Living Cities, it was founded in 1991 and is now backed by 22 foundations and several financial institutions that partner with it "to develop and scale new approaches to dramatically improve the economic well-being of low-income people." The big names in philanthropy are all behind this place, including Gates, Rockefeller and Ford, and big banks like Bank of America, Citi, and JP Morgan Chase are onboard as well.

Living Cities has been around long enough to watch concerns about urban poverty come in and out of vogue. These days it is most definitely in vogue. Not only is inequality writ large a hot issue, but there's a huge amount of excitement about urban renewal and a number of mayors are doing interesting things to help cities create opportunity and stability for low-income people. There's also a lot of energy around making city governments more innovative agents of change, which is crucial for enabling the local public sector to reduce poverty and drive economic growth. Creative programs are happening in many cities, but often in isolation. 

That's where the City Accelerator, an initiative of Living Cities and the Citi Foundation, comes in. The idea is to tap into cool things happening in government and "speed the spread of these kinds of innovation through in-depth engagement within and across cities." 

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The first cohort of cities to participate in the initiative includes Philadelphia, Louisville, and Nashville, which all have serious poverty problems. Philadelphia's poverty is the highest of the three, with 27 percent of the city living below the poverty line. Louisville comes in second at 21.6 percent poverty, and Nashville is in slightly better shape with a poverty rate of 18.9 percent.

With a focus on helping low-income residents, assistance funds are advancing different approaches to fighting poverty. Philadelphia is looking at ways to help more people participate in tax credit and rebate programs. Louisville is working to identify and address problems for people with mental illness so that they don't end up in the emergency room or prison. Nashville is trying to reduce its homeless population through data collection and analysis as well as by providing access to more low-income housing options.

Two new cities will be selected for the City Accelerator program in the spring and fall of 2015, and these cities' initiatives will not need to be focused specifically on poverty.