Where Big Ideas Start

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This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting “big ideas” reshaping America’s cities. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #CityIdeas.

Big Ideas

A lot has been written about innovation and why particular cities are hotbeds of the big ideas that drive the U.S. economy. These analyses often focus on the conditions that enable a good idea, say dreamed up in a coffee shop, to turn into a successful business.

But innovation within longstanding institutions is an equally important story. How existing organizations – whether government, business, civic or religious – adapt to a changing world is fundamental to our country’s progress.

Regardless of where it emerges, innovation is critical because it begins by recognizing the limitations or failures of traditional ways of doing things and creating solutions that add value – solutions that every so often even fundamentally change how we live our lives.

On April 11, NLC and The University of Chicago will highlight ideas with this type of potential at the “Big Ideas for Cities” event in Chicago.  Here are just a few examples of the initiatives attendees will hear about:

St. Paul: Improving Education by Thinking Outside the Classroom

StPaul

It’s not just classroom activities that determine whether a student will succeed in life. Opportunities outside the classroom are equally important to the social and emotional development of children and youth.

Calling on the entire community, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has led the development of a national model for citywide afterschool. Referred to as “system building,”  the city has moved away from the management and funding of isolated programs in favor of in-depth coordination among city, school and nonprofit providers.

The result is “Sprockets” – a network of afterschool and summer program providers that seeks to improve the quality, availability and effectiveness of out-of-school time learning for all children and youth.

“In our cities today, afterschool programs are one of the best things we can do to keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, teach new skills and help working families,” said Mayor Coleman.

Salt Lake City: Promoting ‘Sustainability’ in Transportation

SaltLake

Innovative and efficient transportation systems can address community needs in ways that influence positive patterns of growth and economic activity. Look no further than Salt Lake City for evidence of that.

From light rail and commuter rail, bikes and pedestrian networks to the Sugar House Streetcar, Salt Lake City has set in place a transit system that provides safe travel options for residents, is affordable and efficient, limits waste and resource use and supports a vibrant economy.

With leadership from Mayor Ralph Becker, the city is working to deliver transportation services that result in a cleaner, healthier and more connected community by fostering alternative transportation use, reducing vehicle miles traveled and promoting fuel-efficient vehicles.

“As we look ahead toward 2015, we envision continued progress to a new kind of urbanism that embraces accessibility, sustainability, diversity and culture,” said Mayor Ralph Becker.

Philadelphia: Going Beyond City Limits to Reduce Violence 

Philly

“In Philadelphia, young African American men and boys are 80 percent of the homicide victims and 75 percent of all the arrests we make for violent crime,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. “Across America, black victims are nearly half of all homicides even though they are only 13 percent of the population.”

This epidemic of violence is what spurred Mayor Nutter, along with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to form Cities United, a national movement to restore hope and opportunities to young men and boys directly affected by violence.

Since its 2011 launch, the initiative has forged a growing network of 56 mayors working to equip local leaders with the tools, practices, skills and resources needed to effectively eliminate the violence-related deaths of African American men and boys.

The initiative helps city leaders focus on prevention rather than prosecution, intervention rather than incarceration and relies on data to topple systemic barriers to opportunity facing African American men and boys.