Five Cities Join the City Accelerator to Ramp Up Urban Innovation

And the winners are: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans and Seattle.

Each of these five cities will receive up to $170,000 in support from the Citi Foundation and Living Cities to develop innovative practices that improve resident engagement in civic life. The purpose? To spread healthier living and prosperity citywide. 

Over the next 18 months, the winning cities will use these funds to work on a variety of issues including city planning, entrepreneurship, and health care, with the goal of involving citizens in decision making and producing systemic change for how the city operates. The idea here is to create new approaches to daily operations that make the city work better for everyone, and then integrate these new approaches throughout the city.

Inclusiveness was a big theme in the City Accelerator's earlier cohort as well. As we discussed back in January, the three first cities, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Louisville, used the City Accelerator to fight poverty in different ways. Philadelphia helped streamline procedures so that more people could participate in tax credit and rebate programs. Louisville worked to identify and address problems for the mentally ill to avoid costly emergency room visits or prison stays. Nashville addressed homelessness by collecting and analyzing data better and providing access to more low-income housing options.

Eric Gordon, Director of the Engagement Lab and Associate Professor at Emerson College, will lead this new cohort. With Gordon's guidance, these cities will include residents in the work of solving problems and growing the economy, especially for marginalized populations. Gordon recently expressed excitement for how much these programs can accomplish, and what he sees as their particularly strong "out-of-the-box thinking."

Each city is on a different mission: 

Albuquerque: Home to approximately 60,000 immigrants, Albuquerque is seeking to tailor policies and services to meet the needs of immigrant entrepreneurs. The plan here is to "collaborate with the entrepreneurs on an ongoing basis to make sure that the city is helping them to launch and grow their businesses, thereby creating jobs in the community."

Atlanta: Through the Westside Future Fund, a public-private fund created in partnership with Mayor Kasim Reed to revitalize historic neighborhoods, Atlanta will engage five neighborhood communities in the work of historic rehab, with citizens participating in both the planning and execution of projects.

Baltimore: Baltimore's initiative engages with ex-offenderspeople re-entering the community from incarcerationand their families to reduce violence and help them rebuild their lives.

New Orleans: An estimated 50 percent of the city's uninsured residents are eligible for free health care through a Medicaid waiver program. The goal for the City Accelerator in New Orleans is to address barriers to health care access and get more of the city's 50,000 eligible citizens into services.

Seattle: One of the fastest growing cities in America, Seattle will use its City Accelerator funding to engage residents around its master city plan, Seattle 2035. The initiative will help to ensure residents are involved in planning for public transportation, affordable housing, and other aspects of anticipated change and growth for the city in the next 20 years.

The idea of inclusive planning and development fits in well with the idea of inclusive economies, a concept receiving more funding and attention now than ever before. Living Cities CEO Ben Hecht sees the City Accelerator's efforts at more inclusiveness as an important opportunity to "reinvigorate democracy." Citi Foundation's chair, Ed Skyler, sees this as a way to tap into a city's "strongest natural resourcetheir citizens." 

We hope it's truethat people are their own greatest resource, and that if you can make systems and plans that include everyone, you can achieve not only better living conditions but broader prosperity. Should this be the case, these efforts might hold an important key to stabilizing the American economy and fighting the tide of inequality.