America’s cities have been places of opportunity for many since the days of our founding fathers. Migrants from Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the post-Civil War south, have long been attracted to places like New York, Miami, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles because there they could find a decent place to live, make a living, and know that their children could get a life-changing education. Key systems, such as public schools, highways and job training programs, were built to harness these population shifts and promote economic growth. These responses were innovative and best-in-class when created, but many of the assumptions upon which they were based are now outdated, such as the imperative of a nine-month school year to accommodate summer harvests and an endless supply of oil.
Today, the attraction of cities remains. More than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives in major metropolitan areas, yet the systems that once supported opportunities now frequently do not. As Matt Miller says in his book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, “Americans are in a grip of a set of ideas that are not only dubious or dead wrong—they’re on a collision course with social and economic developments now irreversible.” This reality, together with the fundamental restructuring taking place in our economy, makes business as usual unacceptable.
Living Cities, a collaborative of 22 foundations and financial institutions that have invested almost $1 billion of their own funds in cities since 1991, is seeking to demonstrate how philanthropy and the key players in the United States’ cities can create game-changing innovations to attack broken systems and solve problems long considered intractable. We are bringing together leaders from sectors that often don’t work together and addressing multiple issues simultaneously. We are working to move innovation from the periphery to the mainstream, where it is so desperately needed.
On October 28, we launched the Living Cities’ Integration Initiative, which will provide a bundle of grants, loans, and program-related investments totaling $80 million to five metropolitan regions—Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. In each, government, business, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations have agreed to take on some of the greatest barriers to opportunity for low income people, including business creation, housing, health care, transit, employment, and education.
Building on Living Cities’ lessons learned over almost 20 years of investing in cities, we’re seeking to: