3 Steps Cities Can Take to Anchor Economic Partnerships

With a new approach, anchor institutions have the ability to accelerate economic development priorities and reshape their hometowns for the better.

This is a guest post by Neil Kleiman.

Anchor institutions — colleges, universities and hospitals — are predominant local economic actors, often the largest employers within a city. These institutions provide a knowledge foundation for their home cities while also being drivers of local development. Medical centers and research universities foster an entrepreneurial climate that attracts young professionals and leads to spin-off companies in the growing tech economy. In virtually every city in the United States, there is recognition of this mutual interdependence, but rarely does that awareness extend to a consistent working relationship. The full potential of these partnerships has not been realized because of mistrust, half-starts and half-realized results.

While partnerships — the best of which rely on the combined efforts of the philanthropic, anchor and public sectors — have been lacking, they are getting stronger. Smaller cities, to their credit, tend to have a greater connection to their anchor leadership. Cities like Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Waco Texas, and Kansas City, Kansas are great examples of turnaround strategies jointly planned by anchor institution and local leadership. However, partnerships between anchors and cities often go awry. A university or hospital may work with local government on one specific project or community service program, but on others relationships can be marked by tense negotiations around real estate expansion, arguments over tax-exempt status and miscommunications stemming from a lack of understanding about how to engage productively with one another.

In our recently released report, Striking a (Local) Grand Bargain, the National Resource Network, NYU Wagner and the Urban Institute provide the following steps to establishing a productive and far-reaching connection between anchor institutions and cites that will lead to structured, systematic partnerships in pursuit of mutual self-interest and large-scale improvements.

Step One: Establishing the Bargain

Building a grand bargain may sound intuitive, but it means local leaders must take the initiative with the following actions:

  1. Identify clear community priorities appropriate for anchor institution partnership.
  2. Identify the best external partners from the philanthropic sector, business community or the federal government to advance local effort.
  3. Build on what you have. Many local communities felt that they don’t know where to begin, but invariably there is already some collaborative activity — even if at a small scale — that can be built on.
  4. Engage senior level leadership at local institutions to craft shared goals and strategies together.

Step Two: Leveraging Supportive Mechanisms

There are a number of mechanisms that can greatly advance any local compact. The federal government, as in years past, has developed tools and programs that can support partnership efforts, but it’s incumbent on local leaders to put them to good use. Tactics for leveraging supportive mechanisms include:

  1. Build a platform to increase community engagement in the community health needs assessment process (part of the new Affordable Care Act) so that hospitals and community groups can drive investment tailored to specific community needs.
  2. Use the tax code to encourage hospital community and economic development activity.

Step Three: Maintaining an Ecosystem for Collaboration

Without strong, consistent and regenerative leadership, compacts and partnerships will not withstand the test of time. An infrastructure of education and support must be put in place to keep the local ecosystem healthy. Even those anchor institutions that engage in major outreach efforts find that the focus and cultural change needed within their institutions is significant. The following are tactics for maintaining an ecosystem for collaboration:

  1. Rally all stakeholders around a laser focus on local and regional workforce needs. Colleges should use data and engage local firms to build curricular-based pathways around the exact skills and credentials employers need.
  2. Implement leadership trainings for institutions, public officials and community leaders. Regionally based trainings can clarify roles and interests and establish clear lines of communication.

Anchor institutions, despite their namesake, are not holding cities back. With a new approach, a Grand Bargain based on shared interests, anchor institutions have the ability to accelerate economic development priorities and reshape their hometowns for the better.

About the Author: Neil Kleiman is the Director of NYU’s Wagner Innovation Labs, and serves as the National Resource Network’s Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Research.

Children and Families are a City’s Most Valuable Resources

NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) grew out of the belief that to thrive, cities need strong leaders who make the education, safety and health of the families and children in their communities a citywide priority.

At this year’s Congress of Cities in Nashville, the YEF Institute celebrated its 15th anniversary with a special, interactive session, Completing the Puzzle for Children and Families, and a video (above) highlighting our work to help local leaders improve the lives of kids and families in their communities.

puzzle piece discussion

Tameika Isaac Devine, councilmember, Columbia, S.C., (center) leads a discussion on “assembling the pieces” to create better communities for children and families. (Alyia Gaskins)

In other Congress of Cities news, we had over 200 youth delegates from cities across the country participate in the conference. The youth delegates had a fantastic program that included a mock Iowa caucus and a singer-songwriter showcase and party at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. In addition, the youth delegates had the opportunity to meet and share ideas with local officials throughout the conference and at a special event at Vanderbilt University. Read more about their adventures in Nashville.

YEF Council_blog

Leadership of NLC’s YEF Council pose for a photo. From left, Vice-Chair Ken Shetter, mayor, Burleson, Texas; Co-chair Kristin Szakos, city councilor, Charlottesville, Va.; Clifford Johnson, executive director, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families; Co-chair Bill Peduto, mayor, Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Vice Chair Joyce Sutton Cameron, mayor, Trotwood, Ohio.

NLC’s Youth, Education, and Familes (YEF) Council, co-chaired by Bill Peduto, mayor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Kristin Szakos, city councilor, Charlottesville, Virginia, convened at the conference and discussed the YEF Institute’s upcoming “education playbook,” which will be a resource for local leaders in small and large cities looking to implement next steps for improving educational outcomes.

And at a celebratory event for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, we honored 36 cities and counties and five city leaders for their leadership and commitment to preventing childhood obesity and improving community health.

Emily PickrenAbout the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Three Supreme Court Cases that Impact Local Juvenile Justice Reform Efforts

This post was co-written by Laura E. Furr.

In the last decade, the Supreme Court has ruled three times on the rights of juvenile offenders to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. These cases provide important context for city leaders joining a national movement for reforming juvenile justice practices to hold youth accountable in developmentally appropriate ways.

Children are Different Infographic

Credit: Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

First, in Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Court ruled that states may not impose the death penalty on anyone who has committed a crime under the age of 18. In Graham v. Florida (2010), the Court held that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for any crime except for homicide. In Miller v. Alabama (2012), the Court held that a state cannot impose life in prison without parole on a juvenile without taking into consideration mitigating evidence about the offender’s age

And the Court has not finished addressing the rights of juvenile offenders. By the end of June 2016, the Court will decide whether Miller should apply retroactively to juvenile life in prison sentences issued before they originally decided the case.

Whereas the decisions in these cases and their reasoning seems straightforward, state and local implementation of these decisions often proves complex. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative recently released The Supreme Court and the Transformation of Juvenile Sentencing, which discusses how to implement these decisions and provides examples of jurisdictions that have adopted juvenile sentencing reforms.

The common theme across these 54 decisions: that juvenile offenders have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform,” and the state should spare juveniles the death penalty and only issue sentences for life in prison without parole for the most serious crimes.

Recent and emerging brain and adolescent development research underpins this common theme, and provides crucial support for the development of policies and programs that seek to decrease juvenile crime and improve positive outcomes for young people. Juveniles lack maturity and are more vulnerable to negative influences than adults, but are more capable of reform because their character is not yet fixed.

The core principle that “children are different” – related to the common theme in the decisions — applies throughout the local legal system, including in police interactions with youth, and in local regulation of young people, such as curfew and attempts to provide services for youth in need of help.

NLC’s juvenile justice reform initiative supports city leadership of reforms that hold youth accountable in ways that reflect the reasoning of the Supreme Court in this groundbreaking series of opinions.

About the Authors:

Lisa Soronen bio photo
Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.


Laura Furr
Laura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr.

Youth Delegates Take Center Stage in Music City

This post was co-written by Indira Jimenez.

NLC’s annual Congress of Cities is the largest gathering of local elected officials and staff in the country. This year’s conference in Nashville also included a large number of youth delegates.

Youth delegate quote 1Over 200 youth delegates, from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington, came together in Nashville to learn from and network with local officials and their peers and gain valuable leadership skills

NLC’s youth delegate program offers young people the opportunity to attend the many workshops and general sessions alongside adult delegates. This year, youth delegates had the unique opportunity to hear Vice President Joe Biden speak to a standing room crowd about the important role that local leaders play in improving the lives of Americans.

The youth delegate program also includes youth-specific events. This year featured keynote addresses from high school students who founded and direct two national nonprofits, The Elevator Project and Chess for Humanity. Vanderbilt University also hosted a dinner for the youth delegates at the historic Wyatt Center, which included a very engaging discussion of current social issues.

mock Iowa caucus

Youth delegates at the mock Iowa caucus. (Jason Dixson)

Another new addition to this year’s programming, and a highlight for many of the youth delegates was a mock Iowa Caucus, where they demonstrated their passion and interest in political issues. The youth delegates followed the unique model of caucus used in Iowa’s political primaries. Youth delegates served as precinct captains for a total of 10 candidates from both parties, and did their best to influence their peers to support their candidate. After a very spirited three rounds of voting, Hillary Clinton (D) and Ben Carson (R) emerged as the victors in each party.

Youth delegates watch Nashville singer-songwriters at a special performance at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

Youth delegates watch Nashville singer-songwriters at a special performance at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

It wasn’t all work and no play though. Nashville youth leaders organized a fun Instagr-avenger Hunt that used photos inthe popular app Instagram as the answers to clues about Nashville’s culture and history that were hidden throughout downtown. Afterwards, the group of future leaders went to the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum for a Music City-style celebration. Nashville singer-songwriters Levi Hummon, Sarahbeth Taite and Jimmy Robbins showcased their incredible talents in a private performance. After the show, these rising stars posed for pictures with the youth delegates.

About the Authors:

Laura Furr
Laura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr.


Indira Jimenez
Indira Jimenez is the associate for communications in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

A Smarter Way to Make Smart Cities

Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact on cities as expensive, big business projects for only a fraction of the price.

Songdo, South Korea has been billed as the world’s first “smart city.” (Image: Gale International)

This is a guest post by Isabel Munson.

Today, when we hear the term “smart city”, massive interventions powered by some of the world’s largest companies come to mind. Take the $35 billion+ city of Songdo, South Korea, which was built from the ground-up with the help of Cisco. The planned city boasts 16 miles of bike paths, 40 percent of its area dedicated to outdoor spaces, and a designation as the biggest project outside the U.S. to be included in the LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Plan (and first LEED Accredited district in South Korea). Most impressive of all is the city’s pneumatic waste disposal system, which funnels garbage from every kitchen in the city directly to a central waste processing center. Only seven employees handle waste for the whole city, and there are no garbage trucks or cans on the street.

But how can you make a smart city if you don’t have several billion dollars or the ability to build a development from the ground up? Aren’t expensive projects by big companies the only way to make your city smart? Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact with a fraction of the price. The creation of small smart cities companies may seem unrelated to any municipality’s actions, but cities can do a lot to encourage and empower these innovations.

For example, the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston focuses on incorporating futuristic design and technology into the city’s development. Its willingness to invest resources and take chances on new technology has helped small companies succeed while ensuring that Boston remains innovative. I work for one of those small companies, Soofa, a MIT Media Lab spinoff founded in 2014. With the support of New Urban Mechanics, Soofa was able to pilot 10 pieces of smart urban furniture — solar-powered charging benches — just a few months after creating the first prototype.

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

The feedback gained from this pilot phase allowed Soofa to make major bench improvements and complete their first production run this spring, with benches being installed in eight U.S. states and three countries.

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

Across the river, Cambridge was also willing to take a risk on a new startup by being an early adopter of Soofa Benches and a R&D partner. The Soofa Bench features a sensor brain that detects the environment around it — from noise and nitrogen levels to humidity and temperature. Cambridge realized that this wealth of data gained from urban environments can be harnessed for more effective city planning, evaluating the efficacy of various programs and developments, and most importantly, helping citizens enjoy their urban spaces! As such, Cambridge was willing to be Soofa’s R&D partner as they develop the most comprehensive sensor brain and data platform possible. This R&D project was recently the feature of a Governing Magazine article which discusses in greater detail Soofa’s data collection capabilities.

So, why are small interventions better? When entrepreneurs envision ways to improve the city, they dream big, but are constrained by cost and practicality. The resulting products have big potential with a much smaller price tag. Installing a bench is much easier than retrofitting aged infrastructure with sensors, and more cost effective. A solar-powered bench can seem like an unnecessary expenditure, especially to smaller cities, but this investment enables cities to be more efficient and enjoyable in the future.

Creating a space where local entrepreneurs can have their city-improving ideas heard and potentially supported by city governments is critical to the creation of smart cities. Even if no investments are made, gaining the input of stakeholders from professors to designers and engineers is invaluable to future city planning. Chicago’s Array of Things project is another great example of a city using their valuable local academic and technological resources to create a low-cost, high-impact smart cities intervention.

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa, participates in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC's 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa. Soofa was recently invited to participate in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Chicago still took input from smart-cities giants like Cisco, but made a conscious choice to loop in local talent for the research and design behind the project. Though here we encourage cities to support small companies creating smart cities interventions, we must give big companies credit where credit is due. Without their push to encourage smart cities projects, smaller companies would never be able to sell their products or get funding — because no one would know what a smart city is! The research, awareness and funding from major companies in the smart cities space has been invaluable. That said, any city can be cost-effectively made into a smart city through small interventions powered by small businesses.

So, how do you future-proof your city? Prioritize the creation of civic innovation offices similar to New Urban Mechanics to support local talent and small businesses. Small, agile interventions end up having a big impact.

About the Author: Isabel Munson is the Data Strategy Lead at Soofa, an Internet-of-Things company dedicated to creating social, sustainable and smart cities. Her other musings on smart cities, #Soofatalk, may be found at www.soofa.co or @mysoofa.

Three Ways This State Is Housing All Homeless Veterans

On a day when the nation pauses to give thanks for the sacrifices made by Veterans and their families, Virginians are celebrating that all of their Veterans have access to the basic dignity of a place to call home.

Today, Governor Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) Executive Director Matthew Doherty announced that the Commonwealth of Virginia had achieved the historic accomplishment of ensuring all Veterans are on the path to a safe, stable place to call home by housing more Veterans than are being identified as homeless each month.

Gov. McAuliffe, Sec. Castro and Matthew Doherty make historic announcement at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of HUD)

Since October 2014, the Commonwealth has housed 1,432 Veterans and their families. Earlier this year, an estimated 605 Veterans were homeless.

“Even in declaring our victory with this battle, the war is still not over,” said Governor McAuliffe. “We must remain committed to keeping homelessness among veterans, and, all Virginians, to being rare, brief and non-recurring.

The progress made by Virginia has come as the result of an unprecedented focus on the issue by all levels of government. But local, state and federal officials were not alone. They were joined by the non-profit and business communities, which recognized the need to transform the systems that serve Veterans. For the first time, Virginia has shown how an entire state can implement data-driven best practices that ensure available resources are used effectively and efficiently.

The Path to Success

Local Leadership

Since June 2014, after more than 30 years of being viewed as an unsolvable fixture of modern life, 854 local leaders have stepped forward to give their commitment to housing all Veterans through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. The National League of Cities is proud to be the lead partner with the Administration in this effort.

Across Virginia, 18 mayors and 2 county executives joined with Gov. McAuliffe on the Mayors Challenge. Their leadership has brought attention and focus to homeless Veterans in their city and across the state in ways never seen before.

The Governor’s commitment resulted a redoubling of efforts guided by the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness, the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness.

Systems Coordination

With high-level support from state and local leaders, non-profits in communities such as Richmond, Roanoke, South Hampton Roads and the Peninsula area, as well as other cities across the Commonwealth, joined with experts from Community Solutions and the Rapid Results Institute. Together with representatives from area public housing authorities, HUD and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, these stakeholders began communicating and coordinating in a variety of new ways.

Importantly, all of the partners agreed on the principal of Housing First. Recognizing that the solution to homelessness is housing, Housing First puts housing and the services needed to successfully maintain a home as the first line of treatment.

In the past, homeless individuals and families were regularly required to go through shelters and/or transitional housing programs, which may require lengths of sobriety or participation in other programs prior to placement into housing. This line of treatment is both expensive and prolongs a person’s instability, which can perpetuate problems at the core of an individual’s homelessness.

In addition to using the Housing First model, community partners began coordinating their assessment processes and prioritizing clients for placement into housing. This coordination allows VA staff and non-profit partners to consolidate their lists of individuals and families coming to them for assistance. Beyond the consolidation of lists, the coordination has allowed communities to develop a by name list of people experiencing homelessness and understand which person needs to access housing most urgently to avoid death.

No longer are homeless Veterans known as “that guy by the I-95 underpass.”

Instead, “that guy” is James, a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran with diabetes who has previously been treated for mental illness and substance abuse, and has lived on the street for more than 15 years.

Community partners not only know James by name, but they know which organization has an available housing voucher. They have a deeper sense of his medical and mental health needs. They know which organization can work with James to find a home. They know which organization can develop and implement a treatment plan that will allow him to keep his home and transition to a new chapter of life.

Available Resources

For the first time since modern homelessness has emerged, cities and community partners have been given the resources they need to tackle the issue. The focus on the Veteran subpopulation has generated bi-partisan support for programs such as the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program.

Since fiscal year 2008, more than 1,260 HUD-VASH vouchers have been made available in Virginia. In the past three years, the VA’s SSVF program has provided communities in the Commonwealth with more than $5.1 million for homelessness prevention and rapid-rehousing efforts.

The availability of these resources in the Commonwealth and across the country has been the difference between the rhetoric of supporting our Veterans and making a meaningful, lasting impact on the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children nationwide.

In Virginia, Gov. McAuliffe recognized the need to supplement these federal investments. He designated $500,000 of a new $1 million program to help veterans access housing through the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. He also proposed increasing the number of housing resource specialists working as part of Virginia’s Veteran and Family Support program under the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. The specialists support veterans as they navigate the housing process and connect them with needed services.

These new levels of partnership, coordination and investment inspired the engagement of businesses to also make contributions. Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power Company have made commitments to help Veterans meet their energy needs in their new homes.

Parades and proclamations are laudable ways to honor our Veterans. But the true measure of our appreciation is shown in the lives of our Veterans.

Virginia’s achievement brings the progress already seen in cities across the country to a new level. Communities such as New Orleans, Houston, Winston-Salem and Mobile have made similar announcements this year. As the first state in the nation to make this announcement, Virginia is showing that large-scale success can be achieved when local leaders commit to a bold goal and do not relent.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

NLC Honors Communities and Local Officials for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties Achievements

At a celebratory event at the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Congress of Cities in Nashville, NLC honored cities and counties for their leadership and commitment to preventing childhood obesity and improving community health.

2015 LMCTC AwardsClifford Johnson, executive director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (left) congratulates Osner Charlers, acting director of recreation and cultural services for East Orange, New Jersey. Mr Charles is one of three recipients of LMCTC’s Most Dedicated City Staff Award this year. (Photo: Jason Dixson)

Local elected officials have an important role to play in ensuring children in their communities reach their full potential and live healthy lives. Through their participation in Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC), local leaders across the country can adopt policies that improve access to healthy, affordable food and opportunities for physical activity, and receive recognition for their efforts!

Nearly 80 million Americans (that’s 1 in 4) in over 500 cities, towns and counties now participate in LMCTC.

Through LMCTC, communities can earn bronze, silver and gold medals in each of the initiative’s five goals, which aim to help young people eat healthy and be physically active. Since July 2012, NLC has awarded over 2,800 medals to participating local elected officials.

At a celebratory event at NLC’s Congress of Cities in Nashville, NLC honored 36 cities and counties who have earned gold medals in all five LMCTC goal areas within the last year.

Additionally, NLC honored five city leaders for their leadership and dedication to addressing childhood obesity and improving the health of their residents. Councilmember Michael Gomez of Hawaiian Gardens, California and Commissioner Veronica Whitacre of McAllen, Texas received the Most Dedicated Official Award.

Councilmember Gomez has worked tirelessly to promote health through Activate Hawaiian Gardens. The city and its partners have been able to reduce childhood obesity rates among a largely socioeconomically disadvantaged Hispanic majority.  Commissioner Whitacre has been a champion for bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities. She created the Run, Ride and Share Awareness Program and has been instrumental in increasing the miles of bike lanes and trails in McAllen.

Tina Amato, nutrition and physical activity program manager for Allentown, Pennsylvania; Osner Charles, acting director of recreation and cultural services for East Orange, New Jersey; and Kathleen Gibi, public affairs specialist for Knoxville, Tennessee, received the Most Dedicated City Staff Award.

Tina Amato leads the Allentown’s efforts on Let’s Move! and has brought a coalition of community stakeholders together to assure youth serving programs provide a healthy environment for children. Osner Charles recently oversaw the implementation of East Orange’s afterschool and summer meal program, and has also facilitated trainings for child care providers on the benefits making healthy food choices and limiting screen time for children. Ms. Gibi works to promote Knoxville’s outdoor amenities and leads planning efforts for Knoxville’s annual Let’s Move! event held each May.

These award winners are just a few of the many local elected officials and city and county staff who work to advance change in their community to create environments that support healthy eating and physical activity. City and county leaders are building new partnerships with their health and human services agencies, parks and recreation departments, planning offices, community- and faith-based organizations, and parents and early care and education providers to foster a healthy start for children.

There is a lot to celebrate in communities across the country!

For more information about the LMCTC initiative, its accomplishments, and how local elected officials can sign up, visit www.HealthyCommunitiesHealthyFuture.org.

Elena Hoffnagle
About the Author: 
Elena Hoffnagle is the Senior Associate for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties at the National League of Cities. Contact Elena at Hoffnagle@nlc.org.

19 Tech Startups That Are Shaping the Future of the Sharing Economy

This is a guest post by Tristan Pollock.

The future of the sharing economy looks a bit like the past. Tristan Pollock explains how the technology we are seeing introduced to our cities is spurring a return to small town values and making our communities more social, localized and connected.

Technologies are shaping the future of the sharing economy in a way that’s enabling a return to small town life – and allowing for stronger connections to our neighbors, for better or for worse. (Credit: andrewgenn/Getty Images)

Right now, there are battles being fought in our cities. Ridesharing services are at war with taxi companies, homesharing apps are fighting to win customers from hotels, and carsharing services are battling for market share with car rental providers. But if we focus only on the negative consequences of these battles, I think we’re missing the bigger picture.

The technology we’re seeing introduced to our cities via sharing economy services is having a greater positive impact than we could have ever expected. It’s making our communities more social, localized and connected. In fact, we’re returning to the days of small town America when we left our doors unlocked, doctors made house calls, and we actually connected with our neighbors.

Here’s how 19 tech startups are changing the way you connect with your neighbors and your community:

You can leave your doors unlocked (and lock them remotely).

1) August and Lockitron are smart lock companies for your home or office. Now you can let your friend in without being home, or let your neighbor in to borrow an electric drill or some sugar.

And if you need to borrow something…

2) Rooster, Peerby and NeighborGoods help you borrow from, or share things with, the people on your block.

Doctors can make home visits again.

3) Heal and Pager bring doctors in your city right to your front door.

Neighbors are talking to each other more than ever.

4) NextDoor is connecting neighbors via a mobile app making it possible to to have more conversations between neighbors now than ever before.

5) VillageDefense is digitizing your neighborhood crime watch. The company was created after founder Sharath Mekala’s Atlanta home was broken into by a burglar. Now, in Atlanta and Detroit, VillageDefense has reduced home burglaries by up to 80 percent by notifying neighbors when a crime has happened nearby.

6) Lyft maintains the motto of ‘your friend with a car’ and aims to make inner city commuting more social. Lyft Line takes that a step further and allows you to simply share your ride with others going the same way.

Local government is listening to your needs (and responding).

7) SeeClickFix allows for seamless reporting of needed city improvements to local government officials.

8) Change.org allows for easy creation of online petition for local issues.

9) Neighborland empowers people to take action on local issues.

You can put your dollars to work locally.

10) StartSomeGood helps local changemakers crowdfund social impact projects.

11) Neighborly is a community investing platform that allows you to search and filter for bond issuances by community, cause, or yield.

12) HandUp helps you donate to homeless people trying to break the cycle in your city.

13) KivaZip allows you to easily support small business owners on your block.

You can share meals with your neighbors.

14) Mealsharing and Feastly bring locals together to share meals with each other or invite travelers to the table.

And that’s just a small sample of the services being created right now. More startups are launching everyday to bring us closer to our neighbors. One key takeaway from these developments is the idea that, even though technology can bring us closer, it’s not a substitute for face-to-face relationships. Online, humans can only build relationships to a certain point – we need to go offline to create deeper bonds with the community around us.

About the Author: Tristan Pollock is the co-founder of Storefront, the marketplace that connects makers, including Kanye West, with retail space. Previously, he co-founded SocialEarth, a social impact media platform acquired by 3BL Media. Tristan has been named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” list, and his street art was featured in a TEDx talk on creative cities. A Minnesota native from a family of makers, Tristan now lives and creates in San Francisco, California. Connect with him at tristanpollock.com.

How Public Libraries Can Support Broadband Adoption

This is a guest post by Katherine Bates and Angela Siefer.

Libraries are searching for and experimenting with innovative digital divide solutions that include increasing home broadband access.

Libraries like the New York Public Library pictured above are helping to bridge the digital divide and bring broadband access to more residents through partnerships with cities and local community-based organizations. (Getty Images)

Libraries are an integral part of every community. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, Libraries at the Crossroads, two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say that closing their local public library would have a major impact on their community. Even more telling, low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities.

Every day in our cities, libraries offer programs, services, and resources that introduce the possibilities of technology and build digital literacy skills. This change has happened almost seamlessly and has been spurring modern changes to many libraries from the way they are designed and built to the services they offer. Libraries have become an essential partner to achieve success in today’s digital environment. As the “great equalizer,” the resources and services they provide open doors of opportunity to people of all ages and economic backgrounds, demystify technology for new users, and give people the skills and support to participate in the digital environment.

The barriers to broadband adoption are well-documented, and include digital literacy, relevancy and cost. Digital literacy and relevancy are often addressed simultaneously; libraries and non-profit organizations teach digital literacy skills through relevant use of the Internet and often provide direct training classes. To successfully increase broadband use in communities, all three barriers must be addressed through a diverse set of local partners with established roots in the community.

Libraries are searching for and experimenting with innovative digital divide solutions that include increasing home broadband access. They are accomplishing this through partnerships with cities and local community-based organizations and developing engagement strategies that meet the unique needs of their residents. Each solution must tailored to the individual community. Trust of the individual and organization providing instruction on technology use and explaining broadband provider options is essential. As one of the most trusted institutions in every community, libraries play an important role in the solution.

A great example of this is occurring in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) coordinates the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion whose mission is to facilitate collaboration among organizations and initiatives working to bridge the digital divide in order to maximize the resources for the greatest impact. KCPL has hosted a regional digital inclusion summit, regularly gathers local partners, created the Coalition’s website, and leads cooperative fundraising efforts. According to KCPL Deputy Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, the Institute of Museum and Library Services initiative Building Digital Communities made it clear that digital inclusion could not be accomplished by the library alone, but must be coordinated in concert with other community groups and agencies. For example, KCPL is looking at how to address multiple pieces of broadband adoption, including home access.

As Deputy Director Kositany-Bucker notes, “Libraries need to make digital inclusion a priority. There are a lot of digital divide issues, including access, devices and content. Can people access the content? As we increase the e-content, are we doing so for all our community members? Demand for public access shows there is a need for home access. What are our priorities? We talk of libraries moving to digital age, but are we bringing our communities along?”

To learn more about the role libraries play in broadband adoption, attend the Congress of Cities session: Game-Changing Strategies to Increase Broadband Access in Your Community, or visit the Urban Libraries Council and National Digital Inclusion Alliance websites.

About the Authors: Katherine Bates is a Senior Program Manager at the Urban Library Council (ULC). Her focus is on the digital evolution and transformation that urban libraries are undergoing. ULC, founded in 1971, is a membership association of leading public library systems in the U.S. and Canada. Katherine has worked in state and local government for almost 25 years.  
Angela Siefer is the Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. NDIA’s purpose is to work collaboratively to craft, identify and disseminate financial and operation resources for digital inclusion programs while serving as a bridge to policy makers and the general public. Angela has worked in the field of digital inclusion for 19 years.

Libraries, the Creative Class, and Incentive Deals: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

Libraries Emerge as a Support System for Entrepreneurs. Libraries aren’t just for books anymore. Increasingly, cities are turning to libraries as an established community resource for entrepreneurs. The Dallas Business Resource and Information Network (B.R.A.I.N.) is a new partnership between the city’s economic development office and public library branches that will help increase access to entrepreneurial support services. Chattanooga and Tel Aviv are two other cities leveraging libraries as a key element of their ecosystems.


Lessons from Roanoke on Attracting the Creative Class to Smaller Cities. NLC’s Trevor Langan examines the growth of the creative class in Roanoke, Va., and suggests how other cities can follow suit. The main takeaways are to focus on placemaking strategies, bolstering creative sectors (such as software development and medical research), and marketing community assets and amenities.

Who’s Getting Economic Development Incentives? A new study from Good Jobs First, the Surdna Foundation, and the Kauffman Foundation found that large companies receive the lion’s share of state economic development incentives compared to small businesses. Among the companies in the study, the larger ones collect 90 percent of available incentive funding. The author calls this discrepancy a harmful “bias against small businesses.” On a related note, Smart Incentives explains three key steps for conducting a cost-benefit analysis on incentive deals.

Cities Share Big Ideas for Small Business. The third annual Big Ideas for Small Business Summit convened in Los Angeles, where over 50 city colleagues shared ideas for how to support small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs in their communities. The convening focused on best practices for creating an equitable ecosystem, such as proactively preventing predatory small business lending, implementing business retention strategies, and developing an inclusive and diverse pipeline of entrepreneurs.

P3s for Small Projects, Too. Governing explores the untapped potential of popular public-private-partnerships (P3s) for small development projects, not just large ones. As the article notes, these types of deals are particularly attractive because cities are still slowly recovering from the deep fiscal repercussions of the recession (Related: NLC’s latest City Fiscal Conditions report and NLC’s Lynn Cherry’s blog on P3s.)

New Action Against Predatory Small Business Lending. Several months ago we shared that predatory lending is a growing concern in the small business community, with many business owners paying exorbitantly high interest rates and fees. Good news, there is a new initiative to combat this problem. The Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights pushes for more transparent and fair lending practices, and is a first step towards regulating the alternative lending market.

Idea of the Month: Local Government Address the Gender Wage Gap. Mayor Marty Walsh in Boston developed free workshops for women offering tips on salary negotiation.

What We’re Reading. Want your city to be an innovation hub? Follow Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto’s lead.

Robbins_small (2)About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.