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Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research

Message from the Assistant Secretary

I’m pleased to present the fourth issue of Evidence Matters, which addresses one of the most critical questions our economy faces at the beginning of the 21st century: the strength and resilience of America’s urban places.

We live in an increasingly urban age. More people worldwide live in urban places today than at any other time in human existence, and the United States is no different. Our metropolitan regions are where 85 percent of jobs are located and more than 8 in 10 residents live. These regions produce more than 80 percent of the nation’s patents and exports and generate 90 cents out of every dollar America produces. Strong regions are the core of a dynamic, vibrant American economy — and the building blocks of strong regions are strong cities.

Today, urban resilience is on the minds of many in the wake of the Great Recession, as the economy recovers. Las Vegas, Atlanta, and other cities have been hit hard by the economic crisis, and their near- and perhaps long-term prospects will depend on their resilience in the face of these serious challenges.

But the resilience of our urban places has shaped the nature of American economic success for decades. As our economy has evolved, these places have had to evolve with it. Many have succeeded, often driven by local leaders who, with creative thinking and new partners, have adapted quickly to challenges. In Charlotte, North Carolina, regional leaders worked across sectors to transform a city battered by a declining textile industry into a hub of banking and finance. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, strategic alliances between civic and nonprofit groups helped that city withstand the decline of the steel industry. In both cases, highlighted in this issue of Evidence Matters, communities showed not only the ability to recognize the challenges they faced but also the capacity to respond and lay the foundation for long-term success.

Others have found success and resilience harder to achieve. Some places, such as Detroit, have struggled for years, enduring severe population loss, long-term economic decline, and other challenges. For many of these chronically distressed regions, one key barrier to resilience has been public institutions that have proven unable to leverage existing critical, unique assets — from talented political leadership to anchor institutions such as universities, hospitals, and foundations — to design and implement a response to overcome or reverse these trends. With better use of available resources, resilience becomes more achievable.

That’s why earlier this year, the Obama administration announced the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) pilot initiative in seven distressed cities — Detroit, New Orleans, Memphis, Fresno, Chester (Pennsylvania), and the northeast Ohio cities of Cleveland and Youngstown. Bringing together 14 federal agencies as well as philanthropic and private-sector partners, SC2 will help these communities strengthen the capacity of their local institutions and use existing resources to drive regional economic growth.

The initiative accomplishes these goals in three ways. First, federal agencies such as HUD will help city governments build capacity directly, lending experienced staff to work with city leaders as well as “deepen the bench” of local governments through a fellowship placement program. Second, we are assisting communities that are not pilot cities but share many of their challenges by creating a new National Resource Network, which can help localities with basic operational issues such as deficits and poor bond ratings. Third, SC2 includes an “X-prize”-style competition — the Economic Planning Challenge — that will award funding to six cities and regions so they can hold competitions that challenge multidisciplinary teams of experts to develop and implement a comprehensive economic strategy for their region.

SC2 represents one pillar of the Obama administration’s urban economic policy. That policy also includes investing in innovation and in people’s skills through the Recovery Act as well as stabilizing and reinvigorating neighborhoods through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the interagency Choice Neighborhoods initiative. It includes aligning the federal approach with local rules of the road through our Partnership for Sustainable Communities, so our regions’ housing and transportation investments are responsive to the needs of their local communities and broader economies.

Central to the success of all this work is our ability to support local leadership and institutions. Building a better understanding for cities across the country of what works, what doesn’t, and what an effective 21st century federal partner looks like is what the SC2 pilot is all about. The stakes are high for our communities, our cities, our regions, and our economy. The lessons drawn from the SC2 experience will be invaluable for long-term success. This initiative is yet another instance where we will find that evidence matters.

— Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research


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