Boston Youth Inspire Peers Nationally

This post was written by Stephanie Killiam, a summer intern for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families.


The Boston Youth Zone deserves a huge spotlight for their historic involvement in the nation’s first ever youth-led participatory budgeting project. Last November, Boston’s former Mayor Thomas Menino challenged Boston’s Youth to decide how to spend $1 million of the city’s capital budget.

As a result of the challenge, the Boston Youth Council encouraged Boston’s youth and young adults to become involved in the decision for allocating the funds. The city’s adopted 2014 fiscal budget is set at $2.6 billion, allowing the youth community to take control of 3.8 percent of the city’s budget.

Boston named the nation’s first youth participatory budgeting process, Youth Lead the Change. The goal of the groundbreaking process is not only to encourage citizen participation in government funding but also to allow the youth voice to be heard. This project is founded on the belief that citizens, specifically youth, will show more interest initially and in the long-term when given the power to be engaged in community decisions. During the brainstorming process, youth and the community are educated on what projects would be eligible for capital funding.

The participatory budgeting process includes four steps:

  1. Community members brainstorm ideas;
  2. Volunteers translate the ideas into project proposals;
  3. Community members vote on most needed or most popular projects; and
  4. The projects with the most votes are funded.

In March 2014, a steering committee had seven brainstorming sessions allowing youth to voice their ideas on how to allocate the $1 million. Youth unable to attend the sessions could submit their ideas online. Youth volunteers, identified as “change agents,” compiled the online and youth assembly submissions for review. These change agents, with the help of contracted adult experts, worked together to research and design program proposals for the shared ideas. After completion of the program proposals, youth chose 14 of the best projects to advance to the community ballot.

For six consecutive days, beginning June 14, Boston youth residents ages 12 to 25 took to the polling stations. Each ballot listed a total of 14 projects in one of four categories: Streets and safety; Parks, Environment and Health; Community and Culture; and Education. Voters selected their favorite four projects, one per category. Boston’s youth community, ages 12 to 25, includes a population of approximately 150,000 residents. From this population the polling stations collected over 1,500 eligible votes.

The result of the first ever youth participatory budgeting process includes the selection of seven capital funding projects, an estimated budget and a description of the funding details. The selected projects are:

  1. Franklin Park Playground and Picnic Area Update ($400,000)
  2. Boston Art Walls ($60,000)
  3. Chromebooks for High Schools in East Boston, South Boston, and Charlestown ($90,000)
  4. Skate Park Feasibility Study ($50,000)
  5. Security Cameras for Dr. Loesch Family Park ($110,000)
  6. Paris Street Playground Extreme Makeover ($100,000)
  7. New Sidewalks for New Parks ($105,000)

The spotlight will continue to shine on Boston as youth councils and committees across the country anticipate completion of the Youth Lead the Change Participatory Budgeting improvement projects. Best practices for youth civic engagement efforts such as youth summits, youth councils/advisory boards, and voting youth positions on city boards and commissions, in the past have yielded many positive results.

To learn more about youth civic engagement and to network with youth leaders across the country, attend the 90th Anniversary Congress of Cities Conference and Exhibition in Austin, Texas, November 19-22, 2014. The Harnessing the Strenth of Millennials and Boomers in Your Community workshop will highlight how cities are engaging the millennial and baby boomer generations in decision making.


Highlighting Advances in City Policy for Disconnected Youth

The annual member’s forum of the National Youth Employment Coalition serves as a hothouse of ideas for advancing young people through work and education, in the face of the ongoing youth jobs deficit and dropout crisis.

This year, three cities’ approaches to better policy and practice for disconnected youth stand out for their breadth and inventiveness. After ten years of policy attention to disconnected youth, perhaps this marks the beginning of a solid wave of broad citywide stage-setting and improved resource allocation and alignment. Which city will “catch the wave” next?

  • In San Diego, the regional Workforce Partnership has incorporated a focus on dropout reengagement in its current request for proposals for youth case management services funded under the Workforce Investment Act. As with the Los Angeles reengagement network of 16 reengagement centers, San Diego’s approach has a high potential for sustainability and for links to jobs, because it blends federal workforce funds with ongoing activities of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). For a target group of “youth who are at-severe risk of dropout or who have dropped out of school…the funded proposer will partner with SDUSD to expand their dropout recovery efforts and enhance supports provided to those students who are at severe risk of dropout due to chronic absences, credit deficiency, low reading and math skills and English language proficiency.”
  • In San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee commissioned the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families led a 16-month effort to update the city’s policy framework and objectives for Transition-Age Youth (TAY). In a process thoroughly informed by youth voices and vetted by numerous other participating city agencies, the document sets out baseline conditions and establishes measurable objectives for improving transitions for the 8,000 transition-age youth in need of additional supports in the city. An appendix offers a glance back at the path-breaking 2007 recommendations of the Mayor’s Transitional Youth Task Force (one-third of whom are youth) and a sample letter from the mayor that other cities could readily adapt to launch the policy development process among city agencies.
  • In Boston, now undergoing its first mayoral transition in 20 years, advocates and service providers from three coalitions focused on disconnected/opportunity youth came together to develop recommendations for the incoming Walsh Administration.   The brief document highlights ways the new mayor can lead to connect the city’s 12,000 youth and young adults who are not progressing in school and who are not employed. Nontraditional yet plausible roles for Mayor Martin J. Walsh include leading on development of postsecondary and career pathways, expanding alternative education options and supports, and appointing a school superintendent who will maintain a focus on recovering out-of-school youth. Expanding employment options for high school students and disconnected youth makes the short list as well.

Andrew Moore
About the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Innovation Districts Create New Urban Spaces for Creativity and Growth

This post also appears on CityMinded’s blog.

District Hall, Boston Innovation District. Photo by: Gustav Hoiland/Flagship Photo.

District Hall, Boston Innovation District. Photo by: Gustav Hoiland/Flagship Photo.

Cities incubate creativity and serve as labs for innovative ideas and policies. One such idea arising more and more is the innovation district. These districts are creative, energy-laden ecosystems with a focus on building partnerships across sectors. Innovation districts attract entrepreneurs, established companies, and leaders in all walks of life, and provide them with the space to create unexpected relationships and find transformative solutions.

Innovation district growth in cities as far afield as Boston, Las Vegas, and Barcelona belies their success in reflecting our ever-more complex world, which demands increased collaboration to understand the latest trends, let alone address problems with solutions that are more and more frequently found at the boundaries between different fields. In short, Innovation Districts are places designed to bridge gaps between fields and make unusual collaboration more likely to happen.

Bruce Katz of the Brookings Metropolitan Center has been exploring the growth of these districts and the increasing impact they are having on wider metropolitan economies: “This new model — the Innovation District — clusters leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms, connecting them with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, office, retail and 21st century urban amenities.”

In the American Institute of Architects report I co-authored while with the AIA, Cities as a Lab: Designing the Innovation Economy, we examined the key role that innovation districts are beginning to play in cities. Design, ideas, and proximity are being used as significant assets in turning our cities into “innovation labs,” transforming spaces and fostering connections in imaginative new ways. These high performance districts can animate a brighter future and attract funding and investment, enterprises and entrepreneurs, all while serving as a platform for rapid change.

A key example of this can be seen in Boston. Boston’s Innovation District demonstrates what can happen with strong civic leadership, long-range planning, and pioneering designers collaborating toward a shared vision. The once derelict wharves along the Boston waterfront have been transformed into a multidisciplinary hub for innovation and manufacturing, attracting 200 companies and over 4,000 jobs.

Boston’s former Mayor Thomas Menino launched the Boston Innovation District (I/D) with his 2010 inaugural address, and captured the impetus for its creation when he said, “Our mandate to all will be to invent a 21st Century district that meets the needs of the innovators who live and work in Boston—to create a job magnet, an urban lab on our shore, and to harvest its lessons for the city.”

Now here we are in 2014, and his vision is transforming 1,000 acres of the South Boston waterfront into a unique live-work-play innovation community. Over ten million square feet of space has already been developed in the district, with 20 million more square feet planned.

Having first written about this project back in late 2012 it is astounding to see how it has taken off to the point where the ongoing success of the I/D is now leading to rapidly increasing rents that are pushing some of the early companies out. Rents have soaredto near parity with the Back Bay, the most expensive office district in Boston, rising 43 percent in just a few short years.

Within this district a new innovation infrastructure has been created, which includes numerous accelerators and co-working facilities, new types of housing, and America’s first public innovation center in a connected urban community, District Hall. This recently opened 12,000-square-foot, experimental community hub supports events, exhibitions, and meetings that have no niche elsewhere in the innovation market.

Among the companies that have located in the Innovation District, 40% share offices in co-working spaces and incubators, 25 percent have 10 employees or less, and 11 percent are in the education and non-profit sectors. Of the jobs created, 30 percent of the recent expansion comes from technology companies, 21 percent are in creative industries like advertising and design, and 16 percent come from green technology and life sciences.

Translating best practices from cities like Boston to other places throughout the country is imperative. The Michigan Municipal League is doing just this by examining the importance of innovation districts as targeted hyper-local placemaking. Looking at districts in Pittsburgh, Boston, Portland, Toronto, and Barcelona they have identified key best practices that successful districts consistently demonstrate.

There must be a catalyst, generally in the form of a mayor or other local champion, like former Mayor Menino in Boston. The inclusion of entrepreneurs as well as strong partnerships with universities and the philanthropic community are paramount. Infrastructure development, public investment, and distinct financing tools, as well as housing options and open space round out the key features that help define innovation district success.

Through incubating ideas, working collaboratively across sectors, and thinking beyond physical boundaries, innovation districts are thriving and creating ongoing opportunities for cities. By no means is it an easy process, but these districts help pave the way for future experimentation in cities across the country by creating the eco-systems that attract talent and help our cities thrive.

Rainwater Headshot
Brooks Rainwater is the Director of City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Getting Data in Gear

This post was written by Stephen Goldsmith and originally appeared on the Data-Smart Cities Solutions website on June 11, 2013. Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is a former mayor of Indianapolis and Deputy Mayor of New York City.

Ask a resident of the city of Boston what they like least about the city, and there’s a decent shot that they’ll mention traffic.

Boston’s notorious congestion stems from a “perfect storm” of several factors: high population density coupled with tightly packed suburbs, few methods of egress from the city proper, a difficult-to-navigate non-grid street layout, and a multitude of one-way and non-perpendicular streets. Taken together, it’s no wonder why Boston consistently clocks in near the top in rankings of worst cities to drive in, and why Bostonians sit in traffic, on average, for 53 hours each year.

The problem is well-known, and solutions are routinely proposed. Most famously, the city dug up a giant swath of downtown real estate in the 1990s—entirely rerouting the city’s chief highway—in an effort to make driving a little more bearable.

More recently, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has been examining the issue through a different lens. His new approach hinges not on any major construction project, but on analyzing and applying public data to boost efficiency in traffic flow and fix physical road problems before they cause crashes or necessitate street closures.

“We don’t do a good job of moving traffic,” Menino said in 2012 in his announcement of several such initiatives. “We’ve got to modernize.”

Backing up that promise, in March of 2013 the city announced a partnership with IBM for a pilot initiative focused on making the city run—and drive—better across the board. The partnership will entail the creation of a central software hub that, using disparate data sets from the city’s major agencies, will help administrators monitor citywide operations, anticipate problems that could disrupt transportation flow, and coordinate deployment of cross-agency resources to help the city function even when its infrastructure is overtaxed by major events like a Red Sox-Yankees home game.

Beyond this program, data is also being used to tackle street repairs, which if left alone can lead to dangerous driving conditions, car accidents, and road closures. The city is currently rolling out tracking tools and an asset management system to help maintain its more than 60,000 street lights—three percent of which are in need of replacement or rewiring at any given time. Additionally, Boston is crowdsourcing massive amounts of information from its citizens through programs like Street Bump, a project of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics that allows drivers to transmit road quality data back to the city; or Citizens Connect, which allows users to share information about accidents, downed signs, and other issues requiring cleanup or repair.

For far more cities than just Boston, street congestion—and the air pollution, noise, and headaches that come with it—is a central concern. Even barring the psychological toll of a taxing commute, the cost of traffic is immense, amounting in the U.S. to roughly $100 billion every year in wasted fuel, excess carbon emissions, and lost productivity.

Luckily, because transportation of people and goods is so fundamental to city life and because the traffic problem is so ubiquitous, many governments are looking for solutions, many of which hinge on how data can drive efficiencies in transportation infrastructure.

While many urban centers are incorporating data into certain aspects of that infrastructure, though, the ultimate goal is one that cities such as Los Angeles and even entire states like New Jersey are pursuing, often working in tandem with companies like Xerox or Inrix.

By combining various sets of public data—mass transit statistics, GPS and mobile information, toll routes, traffic sensors, weather data, and more—into a central hub, these cities will be able to paint constantly evolving pictures of what a region’s transportation landscape looks like at any given time. With this information in tow, administrators will be equipped to create dynamic pricing schedules for toll lanes based on real-time traffic, develop more intelligent stoplights, create apps that automatically guide drivers toward alternate routes when accidents are detected, and much more.

Of course, when it gets really bad out there, those systems might also give you another option as well: When to just take your bike.

State of the Cities 2013: Investing in Education Today for a Better Tomorrow

This is the fourth post in a seven-part series on trends and themes in local leadership.

In his 14th State of the City Address delivered at a local high school on Columbus, Ohio’s south side, Mayor Michael B. Coleman stood before fellow city leaders, school district officials, nonprofit and business leaders and residents, passionately calling for the whole community to unite in the struggle for quality education.  “When our kids graduate from high school, they should be able to do one of four things: get a good job, go to college, join the military or start a business,” said Mayor Coleman.  “Too many of our young people are not prepared to do any of the above.”

In the very school building where the mayor gave his Address, more than a quarter of enrolled students struggle with disabilities, more than 91 percent are economically disadvantaged, and less than 56 percent graduate after four years.  For these youth, and others around the country, tough family situations, neighborhood violence and bullying in the classrooms compound the effects of strained school budgets and inadequate or even failing educational policies and practices.

These challenges not only take on moral implications, insists Mayor Coleman, but also wide-ranging consequences for the growth and competiveness of the city.  In particular, increasing the number of residents that graduate from high school and go on to attain a postsecondary credential – whether it is a bachelor’s degree, associate degree, apprenticeship, or certificate – is critical to the success of any local economy.  By one estimate, more than six in 10 jobs will require at least some postsecondary education by 2018.

“We can find a way for every kid in Columbus,” said the mayor.  “But we must first stack hands and become the best city in the nation for every child to receive a quality education.”

Like Mayor Coleman, mayors around the country are stacking hands with community partners to restructure the education system to meet the demands of the 21st century economy.  Although mayoral influence on education can take many shapes depending on the local context, our analysis of mayors’ State of the City Addresses finds that local leaders are seeking greater coherence in the school system by promoting multi-sector partnerships and leveraging local resources to spur new innovations as a means to increase student achievement.

Building and Sustaining Partnerships

In Columbus, Ohio partnerships have been central to “finding a way for every child.”  The Columbus Education Commission, an ambitious, city-led, cross-sector effort, is working to develop a pathway for change by executing extensive community outreach to identify and outline the key roles for the school district, city government, the private sector and civic leadership, among others.  Formal partnerships or governance structures that incorporate city leadership are essential to developing education systems that truly respond to the entire needs of the community.  They break down silos, spread accountability, and leverage important community assets to work towards common goals.

In Richmond, Va., Mayor Dwight Jones is working cooperatively with the superintendent of Richmond Public Schools to resolve current funding issues and strengthen the future of the community’s children.  In his State of the City Address, Mayor Jones touted the Schools’ Accountability and Efficiency Review Task Force.  This group is made up of individuals with backgrounds in municipal and state finance and is tasked with identifying solutions to an immediate budget shortfall, and assessing long-term opportunities to help Richmond schools begin to establish a strong fiscal foundation for the future.

Numerous partnerships help Salt Lake City, Utah support and strengthen educational opportunities for children and youth.  Mentioned in Mayor Ralph Becker’s Address, the Capital City Education Plan was developed by the city, the Salt Lake City School District and the University of Utah, with input from parents, non-profits and the business community.  The initiative has pioneered a “cultivation model” that centers around supporting the family and engaging students from birth to career in lifelong learning.  “We’ve worked diligently for five years to convene partners and play an integral role to improve educational opportunities and outcomes in Salt Lake City,” said Mayor Becker.

Innovating in Education

As education continues to gain prominence as a key driver of economic growth, municipal leaders have taken on both formal and informal roles to support comprehensive reforms and new innovations.  City leaders are spreading “cradle to career” strategies, more systematically interconnecting workforce development and education, and leveraging local resources to support critical educational functions, among many other efforts.

For example, in Mayor Tom Menino’s State of the City Address, he spoke of education reforms in Boston, Mass. that have led to turnaround schools, in-district charter schools, overhauled teacher evaluations, and new classroom resources.  In addition, as part of Mayor Menino’s comprehensive efforts to improve access to quality education, the city has established universal, voluntary Pre-K operated by Boston Public Schools and a robust system of high-quality, community-based care available for the majority of preschool-aged children.

In Louisville, Ky., Mayor Greg Fischer is building a workforce with the technical skills to thrive in the 21st century by linking education and workforce training.   “We spot training opportunities, and work with our educational partners to capitalize on them,” said Mayor Fischer.   “That’s why we developed computer-coding and sales training programs to quickly respond to market needs in the past six months.”

To the east, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, of Baltimore, Md., worked with the City Council to approve an historic increase in new funding for school renovation – the single largest local source of school renovation funding ever approved in the city’s modern history.  In addition, the Mayor and the City Council have implemented a dedicated local funding stream for continued school renovation.

Acting with Urgency

Evidenced by this year’s State of the City Addresses, it’s clear that cities are not standing on the sideline when it comes to education.  To be attractive to businesses and families alike, city leaders recognize that more residents must obtain the skills required for the best-paying and fastest-growing jobs.  “Great cities are smart, innovative and entrepreneurial,” notes Mayor Ralph Becker.  “It takes brainpower to achieve success as a thriving, livable city.”

The urgency to build and expand this “brainpower” has cultivated new innovations that are already having an impact in communities.  For mayors, the stakes are simply too high not to take on this challenge.  As Mayor Tom Menino put it, “our most important collection of talent lies in our young people.  So our first task is improving public education in our city.”

From Miracle to PACT

Two words notably missing from the Building Peace in Boston mobile workshop of the 2012 NLC Congress of Cities: Miracle, and Ceasefire.

Twenty years ago, Boston and indeed the nation celebrated a community-police collaboration that brought the number of youth homicides to zero for two years running. Some called this the Boston Miracle; some called the supporting strategy CeaseFire. Cities around the country sought to replicate Boston’s approach and results.

Today, on its own initiative and as a participant in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Boston is not resting on its aging laurels. For instance, five city agencies and 13 partner community-based organizations have substantially deepened and broadened their violence reduction efforts via People Advancing Communities Together or PACT, with a relentless focus on the 300 young men who are most likely to cause or suffer from firearm violence. The city Public Health Commission serves as the coordinating hub, bringing its persuasive perspective on violence as a public health issue.

Boston’s PACT is not alone in its violent-cohort approach (see also: Philadelphia), nor in its commitment to a truly comprehensive violence reduction strategy blending prevention, intervention, and enforcement. What stands out is the ongoing reinvention, marked by refreshing and redirecting strategies and msking partnerships more inclusive.
(see also: Philadelphia), nor in its commitment to a truly comprehensive violence reduction strategy blending prevention, intervention, and enforcement. What stands out is the ongoing reinvention, marked by refreshing and redirecting strategies and msking partnerships more inclusive.

Engaging the Public on Sustainability

A comic displayed during an NLC Leadership Training session this afternoon summed up a major challenge to sustainability efforts in cities across the country. The image depicts a packed presentation room with benefits of action on climate change listed on a presentation screen. Among the list where items such as energy independence, green jobs, livable communities, clean water, and healthy children. In the audience there is a question on the floor that reads: “But what if it’s all a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing!

Perception of value and validity of sustainability is a challenge that most cities will face at some point in pursuing efforts to make their communities more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. Way before identifying funding sources and conducting planning charrettes – communities first must come to agreement about what it is that they want to achieve, how they choose to define sustainability for their community, how to prioritize activities and where to get started.

In today’s session, one of the first at NLC’s annual Congress of Cities in Boston, Mass., leaders and sustainability “veterans” lead an insightful and compelling discussion getting into the nuts and bolts of introducing to communities what has traditionally been a ‘sticky’ subject to say the least. Susanne Rasmussen, Director of Environmental and Transportation Planning for the City of Cambridge, Mass. cautioned attendees to be careful about getting tangled in terminology. Don’t assume that the word “sustainability” means the same thing to all people, says Rasmussen. Be deliberate and inclusive when defining your vision.

Jim Hunt, former sustainability director for the City of Boston and Robert Perkowitz, founder and chairman of EcoAmerica, also focused on the importance of language and terminology. Getting out from under the jargon-filled terminology that typically surrounds sustainability – and even being willing to not use the word if it is too confusing or contentious – is one way to start the conversation. A key element to success, they cited, was to actively connect the goals of sustainability to existing community values. Rather than introducing it as a new topic that may appear to dramatically alter what people value and enjoy about their communities, demonstrate how sustainability in fact helps to achieve a communities’ long-term vision. Also, connecting sustainability strategies – such as energy efficiency or alternative transportation – to practical benefits such as economic savings and job creation is helpful to show that these actions, in order to be truly sustainable, must go beyond environmental considerations.

The conversation will continue throughout the week with workshops on sustainability planning, forming partnerships, and measuring impacts. Stay tuned on for more updates live from the Congress of Cities on how cities can build sustainable communities, promote local economies, and strengthen neighborhoods and families. And follow us on twitter (@leagueofcities and @NLCgreencities), #NLCBos for up to the minute updates!

Embracing the Immigrant Engine

The National League of Cities’ Center for Research and Innovation has joined with Next American City to explore how cities are developing innovative models for tackling complex urban issues and strengthening their local economies.  NLC is featuring a series of case studies, and this post highlights the third and final of the series, The Rise of the New Baltimoreans.

Baltimore, along with many other cities across the country, is welcoming immigrants, and their vast economic contributions, with open arms. These local efforts for the most part are flying under the radar and happening in spite of more newsworthy (but perhaps less common) restrictive state and local immigration policies and rancorous national debate.

Economic Impact
When it comes to immigrants and the economy, the numbers speak for themselves.  According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants are responsible for nearly one in three new U.S. businesses and are increasingly likely to start a business, just as the rate of new business generation among native-born Americans is on the decline.

And these are businesses that are job and revenue generators for the economy. Immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to hire employees than are non-immigrant-owned firms and more likely to export their goods and services, finds the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“From local neighborhood shops to America’s largest companies, immigrant business owners contribute more than $775 billion dollars in revenue to our annual Gross Domestic Product and employ one out of every ten American workers at privately-owned companies across the country,” notes Partnership for a New American Economy.

High-skilled immigrants now outnumber low-skilled immigrants, according to the Brookings Institute, and represent a large share of business owners and labor force in sectors that are expected to grow over the next decade, from hospitality to informational technology to health care.

For local communities, policies to attract immigrants can translate to growth and revitalization that is not only inclusive, but creates a sense of place and distinctiveness, brings new wealth and opportunities, and reinvigorates the local talent pool.

Baltimore’s Story
New Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, started her tenure in 2011, and from day one committed to turning the tide on the city’s population loss and declining economic base.  “A shrinking city is a place unable to meet even the most basic needs of its people — basic rights that everyone should expect,” she said in her inaugural address. “A shrinking city simply cannot stand.”

The mayor’s vision of adding 10,000 families over the next 10 years rests in part on attracting immigrants, who will, both with their numbers and high rates of entrepreneurship, strengthen the city’s economy.  Over the past year, the city, along with a host of multisectoral partners, have offered home-buyer programs, language and legal requirements training, grants and other tools to help boost entrepreneurship and small businesses, and police sensitivity training.

And, as the case study details, although there are skeptics, these efforts appear to be making an economic impact:

“You could roll a bowling ball down the sidewalk five years ago,” says Chris Ryer, president of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, which focuses on the Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood. “Now it’s busy.” As the existing population aged out, young families have moved in. “There’s a lot of strollers on the streets,” says Ryer.

“While many of Highlandtown’s new residents are Latino, the freshly vibrant area has attracted immigrant entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. The neighborhood’s 10-block commercial strip, says Ryer, houses not only a Latino-owned photography studio but an Israeli-owned grocery and a Peruvian chicken joint. Ryer cites statistics on how immigrants open small businesses at higher rates than their native-born neighbors. “We’re seeing the fruits of that in Highlandtown,” he says.”

Not Alone
The lasting impact of Rawlings-Blake’s efforts remain to be seen, but Baltimore isn’t the only city investing in immigrant-based policies and programs.

  • Boston:  The mayor established the Office of New Bostonians to reach out to the city’s immigrant population, in part by identifying official and unofficial liaisons to local communities. Another key to the effort is celebrating the contributions to Boston’s status as a world class city made by immigrants.
  • Detroit: City and business leaders created Global Detroit to revitalize the economy of Southeast Michigan. Since 2010 it is has raised more than $4 million of philanthropic investments for targeted initiatives to attract immigrants, foreign trade and investment.
  • Dayton: Welcome Dayton hopes to make that southwest Ohio city of 140,000 more receptive to new arrivals and help them along toward citizenship; among the initiative’s goals is to develop an international marketplace for immigrant entrepreneurs in an underinvested corner of the city that has demonstrated growth from recent immigrants.

As these examples suggest, cities looking to new arrivals to help support economic development also have a responsibility to help fully integrate immigrant residents into the mainstream community.

Learn more about how cities can support immigrant integration.

What’s Next
Although cities are making headway in welcoming immigrants, the need for a partnership among governmental partners is critical. The results of a weak partnership in this arena have been made poignantly clear as of late: immigrant entrepreneurship, particularly in high-skilled fields, has plateaued, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

This is due in no small part to the restrictive nature of national immigration laws that are intended to boost U.S. competiveness. For example, laws that force foreign students educated in the U.S. to return home, instead of encouraging them to use their skills and start businesses here.

Or H-1B visas, those that allow employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations for a temporary period of time.  They help build a high-skilled workforce, particularly in the STEM fields, but are in limited supply and not evenly geographically distributed, and the allocation of visa fees to local workforce grant programs are misaligned.

But NLC’s Leslie Wollack remains hopeful. “After languishing on Capitol Hill for several years, the results of the presidential election and the large turnout of Latino voters have helped renew the push for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Members of Congress and the Administration are voicing optimism that an agreement could be reached as soon as early next year.”

As for their part, cities across the country are embracing the realities and practicalities of immigration as a strong path toward revitalization and growth.

Measure, Monitor, Adjust, Repeat: Cities Effectively Use Performance Measures to Achieve Community Goals

“What is City government doing?

How well are we doing it?

How can we do it better?”

These three questions guide Devin Quirk’s work for the City of Boston.  Devin serves as Citywide Performance Manager and runs the “Boston About Results” (BAR) Program, an online database of performance measures that, over the last six years, has allowed the city to deliver services more efficiently and effectively to Boston residents. With roughly forty-five city departments contributing monthly and over 2,000 performance measures in all, the BAR program provides a central location to report and monitor city agencies’ progress over time.  Additionally, a publicly accessible scorecard provides transparency and accountability, allowing residents to view and track the city’s responsiveness to various community goals.


Although the comprehensiveness of the BAR program is quite impressive, Devin notes that the notion of tracking government performance through indicators is nothing new.  “The truth is, Boston’s been doing it for decades,” he says.

So if tracking performance is old news, why all the recent buzz around it?

The City of Boston, like many other local governments across the United States, recognizes that establishing baselines and tracking results helps to achieve targets quickly and efficiently.  The city’s Environment Department, which oversees many of Mayor Menino’s sustainability initiatives, utilizes the BAR program to not only track their own efforts, but also identify and work with other departments who are either intentionally or peripherally helping to achieve some of the city’s sustainability goals.  For example, as the city aims to reduce its overall carbon footprint, BAR is used to track greenhouse gas emissions for every large city department, breaking down emissions into four major drivers (gasoline, diesel, electricity and natural gas) and identifying areas where improvements can be made.

Similarly, for the last ten years, the City of Minneapolis, Minn. has used twenty- six indicators to track the community’s progress towards creating a more sustainable city.  For Minneapolis, where sustainability is defined by far more than environmental conservation and protection, these indicators cover a wide range of issues, from public health, education, employment and poverty, to air and water quality, transportation, and renewable energy.  The targets for each of the indicators are quite ambitious and require that the city partner with community groups, non-profits, and residents to achieve them.

It’s clear that the recent innovation and creativity in the field of performance measurement comes in the form of interdepartmental coordination, as well as collaboration with those outside of local government.  For example, we see that to achieve sustainability goals, local governments are recognizing their local partners non-profit organizations; faith-based institutions; and universities (to name a few)—and are accordingly measuring and tracking these groups’ efforts as well.  Similarly, while many cities have a standalone sustainability office, some of the most effective initiatives are those that tap into internal operations, connecting work already carried out by various city departments.  For example, Kansas City, Mo., known for its innovative programs and initiatives, created the Green Solutions Steering Committee, a partnership between 10 city departments that informs and guides the creation of the city’s sustainability metrics.  City staff from these departments pilot tested indicators within internal operations first to ensure that the final indicators chosen are those most relevant for city-wide sustainability goals.  Similarly, the City of Pasadena’s Department of Transportation has reframed its indicators to have a multimodal focus as a way to 1) align with city council’s sustainability interests and 2) help residents understand the tradeoffs between investments in various forms of transportation.

So, in many cases, the type of work isn’t new and the idea of measuring isn’t new, but howwe think about all of it sure is. Particularly for cities invested in advancing sustainability– whether it’s the desire to improve the quality of life for all their residents; increase the number of public parks and open spaces; provide more residents with access to transportation; or eliminate racial disparities in unemployment—comprehensive performance measurement necessitates the type of collaboration and communication that is needed within and outside of city government.

In this vein, cities are recognizing that identifying and developing indicators does not mean starting from scratch.  Rather, Boston’s BAR program and others like it are creative in the way that technology is used to measure the cumulative impacts of (seemingly) isolated initiatives; for sustainability, this means that partnership-based performance metrics are reframing the way local governments engage with stakeholders within and outside of city government.

As Devin says, “The ultimate goal of Boston About Results is not to measure performance, it is to find ways to improve the services we are delivering for Boston.”

Register for NLC’s Congress of Cities in Boston (November 28- December 1) to hear directly from Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Pasadena at the “Utilizing Performance Tools to Measure Your Cities’ Sustainability Efforts” workshop.

The workshop will focus on how data can help to forecast needs; the strategies to dynamically manage long-term sustainability goals; and the types of tools that are most effective to measure and track success.

Speakers include:

  • Gayle Prest, Sustainability Director: City of Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Katherine Carttar, Cookingham-Noll Fellow, City Manager’s Office: City of Kansas City, Mo.
  • Mark Yamarone, Transportation Administrator, Department of Transportation: City of Pasadena, Calif.


Also, come early for a special pre-conference training on “Implementing STAR: The Sustainability Framework Built By and For Local Governments” – Thursday November 29th!

Full conference schedule and registration information can be found here.