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Ten Creative Ideas for Energizing Our Streets

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We all know that walking has many advantages over driving—it costs less, it burns more calories, and we get to see the world in a way that is much less rushed, properly taking in our surroundings. Those surroundings, however, could in many places need a bit of a makeover. Retail establishments put a lot of thought and money into making their space a desirable place to visit. Our research has found that reducing vehicle travel by just one mile per day, per person in the 50 largest metros in the U.S. could lead to over $31 billion in generated savings—so why wouldn’t our communities work to make our streets a more desirable place to walk? Here are ten creative placemaking ideas to inspire our streets. We encourage you to share any more you’ve seen around the web!

1. Make it interactive.

STREETPONG from HAWK Hildesheim on Vimeo.

There are many different ways to inject a bit of fun into our streets. What if you could pick up a game of ping-pong or chess on your way home from work? Or a life-sized game of chess

2. Rethink Bus Stops

   

Images via toxel.com

Just think of how much more pleasant riding the bus would be if you could wait in a strawberry or have a leisurely swing?

3. Embrace Graffiti

Image via GOOD

Tagging can be a costly and headache-inducing problem for city leaders, but by encouraging controlled, colorful graffiti art you can turn a negative into positive artistic expression in communities that could use a pop of color.

4. Add Color to your Crosswalks

   

Images via cruz-diez.com and Curbly

Speaking of color… our crosswalks don’t always have to be the standard black and white stripe. All throughout the world we can find examples of creative crosswalk markings and interesting pavers. Other infrastructure in the city can be re-energized with nothing short of a bit of paint.

5. Inspire through Public Parks

    

Images via wallacegardens.tumblr.com

Public parks (when well designed) don’t have to be rolling green hills and a forest. Even a very small space can be made over into a small haven using the simplest of materials.

6. Don't forget the buses

   

Images via PopupCity and The Dirt

Though we certainly wouldn’t encourage a rainforest in every bus, this installation shows that getting a little creative with this public infrastructure could inspire some not so common users.

7. Make the Ugly Pretty

   

Images via Street Art Utopia - Leaning Tower of Pisa, Lego Corner

Things inevitably fall apart, as a fact of life. While many communities struggle financially to replace these items, there are people who make it a point to beautify them, if only temporarily.

8. Make Gardens where they are generally not

   

Images via Street Art Utopia and The Pothole Gardener

It’s amazing how little it takes to create a “garden.” From these hanging teapots to the simplest of seed bombing, a few flowers can go a long way in brightening up your walk to the post office. 

9. Think outside the bench

   

Images via Web Urbanist

The great William Whyte discussed the importance of having an abundance and variety of seating in public spaces—and definitely thought beyond the bench. I doubt he ever thought about Stair Squares.

10. Invoke your inner child

 

Image via PopupCity

Use the playground to inspire street and public space planning. You're never too old for play!

 

Which are your favorites? 

 

How Colleges are Reviving Downtown

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Photo by Nicholas I. Emenhiser

Downtown college campuses are a popular trend to follow for talent retention and galvanizing downtown activity. As this trend grows and becomes more successful across the nation, more research into particulars may be necessary to understand their effect on urban revitalization. It is clear, however, that downtown college campuses are yielding interesting benefits for cities such as Chicago, Richmond, Omaha, Cleveland, and Tacoma.

Many states have lost graduates, urban hubs such as New York, Chicago and Boston claiming those who have fled to pursue creative fields. This “brain drain” phenomenon has been a high-profile topic, as our most mobile sector of the economy has shown a marked preference in where they live, work, and play. In the past, the “brain drain” was seen solely as a function of job opportunities existing elsewhere. However, this phenomenon has recently been linked to the urban lifestyle and quality of life available in those places. If your community is losing young, educated individuals because another city offers better lifestyle amenities, why not develop those amenities in your own city?

The best approach is prevention rather than reaction—it is much harder to regain college degrees once a community has lost them. Though students seek metropolitan experiences like a performing arts scene, reliable public transit, and vibrant street life and culture, developing these elements benefits all city residents just as much as students and young professionals.

In The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida talks about how jobs are following young, educated individuals comprising the “creative class,” as opposed to the other way around. Destinations that grow their “creative class” tend to be the cities that are producing job opportunities for young professionals. While this trend calls into question whether talent retention and job growth is best done by focusing on economic development or quality of life, the most successful cities right now are merging the two goals by taking a holistic approach that engages quality of life improvements from an economic development perspective.

The downtown college campus plays an essential role in linking town and gown. Having a downtown college campus that plugs students into the city’s beating heart can alleviate strained relations due to the often-transient nature of students. For example, students at college campuses in Manhattan will be likelier to stay put because they’re plugged-in to internship and professional development opportunities in New York City. Economic reasons aside, they probably won’t leave for somewhere more recreationally desirable. While NYC often gets held up as the quintessential urban mecca, the downtown college campus is not just a Manhattan phenomenon. Constellation cities such as Louisville or Boise, however, need to examine and improve their own assets to recreate their own distinctive urban experiences to ensure competitiveness.

Many urban universities named for large cities exist on the edge of the city or even in a suburb (i.e., UT-Dallas located in Richardson, TX, or the University of Dallas, in Irving). By not being downtown, they’re missing out on many urban benefits and amenities, including arts institutions and walkability. Instead of pumping funding into campuses on the outer edge, cities could allocate their resources to downtown campuses, creating a win-win situation for the college and the community. Perhaps the future of this trend rests with cities that do not yet have a local university and still have the opportunity to look for new locations.

In the case of the University of Washington’s new downtown campus in Tacoma, civic leaders wanted to revitalize a lagging area that served as a gateway to downtown by building a college campus that stradles “the Link,” a 1.6 mile light rail streetcar. In 2005, the Sierra Club named that campus America’s Best Development. While UW-Tacoma’s new campus is an example where the city in particular benefited, the ideal relationship between downtown and a campus has many shared benefits:

  • Students get plugged into the downtown job market
  • Internship opportunities are often located downtown
  • Access to the city’s recreational amenities (often with discount programs)
  • Increased attendance at downtown’s athletic, arts, and cultural events
  • Cultivating a talent pool that is uniquely geared toward and desired by downtown employers
  • Increased vibrancy on the street and a boost in urban development

Downtowns have historically been the central gathering point. Too many cities have strayed away from leveraging their downtowns for this purpose. Connecting higher education to downtown reaffirms the city’s role as a central marketplace for ideas, talent, entrepreneurial activity, and everything else that we find makes cities successful in this era. Though much focus has been put on eds and meds, many will argue that suburban campuses have equal weight in driving economic growth—but in driving in talent, the preferences of the creative and innovative could (and we believe do) serve as a great advantage for urban universities.

While it’s easy for us to see the positive benefit of the downtown campus as we walk its streets and experience a vibrant nightlife, benchmarking its benefits will allow us to see the true economic value of focusing efforts on improving these assets. CEOs for Cities in conjunction with the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) published a study on leveraging colleges and universities for urban economic revitalization in the early 2000s (it looks ancient if you look at the PDF). While the report conveys some meaningful insights into the urban university playing a broad set of roles—such as employer, developer, and incubator—it would be great to find an updated look at the tangible benefits of investment in urban colleges and universities, and how these have possibly increased with the shift in lifestyle preference over the course of the last decade.

References:
Sierra Club Names UW Tacoma Campus Among America's Best Development Projects
CEOs for Cities Talent Dividend
Leveraging Colleges and Universities for Urban Economic Revitalization: An Action Agenda

About the Author: Nicholas I. Emenhiser is an intern at CEOs for Cities and a student at Cleveland State University. He considered his own experiences and observations in this downtown campus as a supplement to this piece. You can often catch Nick commuting to work or class via the Rapid—Cleveland’s light rail train, with a coffee in tow, enjoying the amazing art institutions around him as he makes his way to the heart of downtown. He says his experience here in the city, while short, inspires him to potentially stay upon graduation, demonstrating the power of its distinctive urban environment.

On Giving Thanks: Discussing Our Relationship with Cities

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Photo via Dinner Series

We are all thankful for many different reasons. This time of year we see an onslaught of status updates and tweets about why our friends, relatives, and peers are thankful: for having a job, for their families and friends, or for simply being alive. Because I am a lover of the Rust Belt, and the nerdy planner in me tends to take over in reflective situations; I’ll express what I am thankful for: My City.

I’m thankful that my trash gets picked up every week and clean water comes out of my faucet. I’m thankful for the train that carries me into work every morning. That if I dial 911, there will be a response. Many of us take these things for granted, forgetting the incredible expense and feats of human ingenuity that drove the improvements in quality of life all throughout this great nation. Now, this post is not an exercise in guilt—as there is an important reciprocity that is often lost when we consider thanks, or more importantly, love.

My list of thanks addresses the infrastructural functions of a city entity—the council, utilities bureau, or portfolio of services offered in our communities. In this sense, we could understand it as a network of decision-makers, whether public or private entities. But a city is far more than that. A city is a living, breathing, complex web of decisions and intentions. A city is its people. Decision-makers work daily to improve conditions in the city, prescribing, providing, and practicing in the name of the people. We want our cities to be lovable, for people to appreciate place—but too often we don’t understand living in a place in terms of a relationship.

Peter Kageyama points out in his book, For the Love of Cities, that we understand our cities in terms of consumption—“Consumption of culture, of resources, of infrastructure, of services. The better/easier/cheaper those consumables, the happier we are and the better we like our places.” He sees this as a fallacy, that it is in our human nature to produce, create, and contribute to our place. Our leaders and so-called creatives are the ones that are pushed to make the changes necessary to facilitate this as we have lost emotional connectivity with place—which is unsustainable at best. He calls on us citizens to understand that we have a relationship, that we should be emotionally engaged with our cities. This is what will make them thrive (because “when we are loved, we thrive”).

I draw on yet another inspirational writer who discusses love in great detail—bell hooks. She puts eloquently in her book, All About Love: New Visions: “Imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” She explains that this definition assumes accountability and responsibility, rather than thinking about it as a feeling that we have no control over—she comes to define love as openly and honestly expressing care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment, and trust.

When we combine the thoughts of these two people together, we can understand our relationship with our place as one where we express our affection, care and respect for our city. We do this by not throwing trash in its streets, by taking responsibility and paying our taxes, by trusting in those prescriptions and practices put out by the city’s leadership. A relationship, however, only works if this love is given in return—so what, then, does this functional relationship look like? And how can we facilitate it?

I urge you to find reasons to be thankful for your place, perhaps for the parks where your children play or the many books available to you at the library. At the same time, however, I urge the City—the decision-makers and citizens alike—to be thankful for every amazing person that lives within your community—for opening a new business and creating jobs, for putting up holiday lights (albeit far too early), for supporting a school levy or donating canned goods at their place of worship. Thank people for making your community a better place, no matter how big or small that effort may be. We thrive when we feel loved, and we feel loved when we are appreciated.

Thank you for reading this piece, for caring about the future of our cities, and for all of the hard work you will put forth to make sure that future is brighter than it is today.

Have a wonderful holiday!

I'm Thankful for my City-- and those of you that make it a better place.

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Wrestling With the Restless

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Photo via Bob Vonderau

Though the Brookings Institution recently published numbers revealing that Millenials are becoming even more mobile, the focus of planners and city officials has fallen on this generation for quite some time now. CEOs for Cities published its report, Young and the Restless in a Knowledge Economy, just last year— echoing many of the points that we see regularly discussed influential thought leaders such as Richard Florida and Ed Glaeser. It is well known that our young, talented generation is on the move, and to be successful we must capture and captivate them so they can infuse our cities with the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that drives economic growth.

From the point at which we started understanding the link between creativity and growth, the focus of cities all throughout the US shifted to attracting that talent and keeping hold of their own college graduates and creative types. We've seen countless articles and books published on the subject. The top ten lists have been plastered all through the digital sphere, and arguments have waged on about the relative importance of place making vs. creating jobs in securing the younger generation.

All that being said, the high mobility of this group has presented itself as both a challenge and an opportunity for communities, depending on whether a city is already positioned as a magnet for these creative types, or losing their own young professionals to those urban-meccas with the right cocktail of amenities. Millions of dollars have been infused into economic development budgets, attempting to sift through the preferences of these young professionals and create the entertainment districts, walkable neighborhoods, and urban comforts that are said to be in hot demand. Branding initiatives have been employed to draw their ideas and breathe life into struggling cities, live-work spaces built. Coffee shops have found their way to so many city streets.

The idea of approaching management of a city like a startup is an intriguing one—because we understand quite well the concept of competitiveness. But often I feel that we miss the mark for understanding the true opportunity in the pressure to compete for these young and restless professionals: we’re at a pivotal point of transition, and we can use this to work at creating meaningful places.

When we look at the brands often cited for being successful—like Apple and Google—we see that they make their mark not by focusing the bulk of their energy on the bullet-pointed list of features, but on building a culture—both internally and for their customers. Creative people don’t just want the bars and restaurants. They want authentic communities that are exciting and engaging. This can’t be articulated in a pamphlet, and it can’t happen if all we ask ourselves is, “What can we build to make the creatives come?” We should be asking, “What can we do to build a community where people thrive?”

At the end of the day, what us Millennials need to thrive is pretty much the same as anyone else—jobs, grocery stores, a way to get to work. All of those “extras”—the walkable streets, collaborative design, mixed-use development—allow everyone to think more creatively, live a bit more safely, and make the community a better place to be. The world is changing, rapidly. If we want our cities to be diverse, dynamic places where people thrive, we need to change the paradigm, not just the consumer group we’re focusing on. Our young are restless, and that creates anxiety and challenge, but a wise professor once told me to never waste a good crisis. This is a great opportunity.

We need to embrace the potential for change, the opportunity inherent in mobility and choice. 

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Getting into the Numbers: Empowering the City with Data

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Photo via François Rejeté

Like a machine, our cities are made up of a variety of moving parts—needing maintenance and upkeep to run properly. Our cars have convenient dashboards that alert us when the oil is running low or our engines are malfunctioning. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a method or technology that allow cities to monitor where problems are occurring? Better yet, a handbook that tell us what exactly we should be doing proactively to prevent any future issues?

Having benchmarks for action allows us to understand where improvements can be made and forces us to face accountability head-on.  More and more organizations and startups are trying to find ways to leverage the incredible amount of data we have at our disposal in this technological era.

Choosing the right metrics is what will make a set of benchmarks meaningful and useful, and will of course change with a given audience or focus. Defining a concept like misery or livability, too, can lead to challenges, as well as arguments concerning methodology and relevance. Just because a concept is impossible to capture entirely doesn’t mean that it isn’t a worthwhile endeavor. The truth of the matter is, though, that numbers don’t always tell the whole story—but they can play a very important role in the ability to change it.

Most important to understanding the power of benchmarks, however, is focusing on how and to whom they are useful. Merely ranking cities against one another isn’t necessarily meaningful. Being dubbed the most miserable city in America certainly doesn’t provoke any inspiring thought or action. When cities are given a set of benchmarks paired with the potential for change, however, our decisions become even more powerful.

For example, a new startup has developed analytics dashboard that tracks how well cities are performing in terms of services like fixing potholes and picking up trash. The City Vitals research that CEOs for Cities has conducted looks at a broad range of metrics in the 51 largest metro regions of the United States to equip them with the means to become more competitive and vibrant—using measurements from the solid, such as college attainment, to the less easily defined weirdness index or internet search variety.

Linking these resources to the decision-makers in the community will be the successful element to this equation, and with increasing cuts in the budgets of cities and municipalities, having ready access to useful data will be incredibly valuable. As these entities face decreasing resources to conduct this research in house, it will become even more important to increase the efficiency and properly align the focus of our agencies and offices.

Using data to organize goals and action, too, is essential. Tracking and benchmarking gives us a good understanding of what goals are attainable—and what influence action can have. Any researcher who has conducted an economic impact study understands that action has a certain “butterfly effect” or multiplier. Our City Dividends demonstrate that tipping the needle on a particular metric can have a serious economic impact. Recognizing where returns on our city investments lie can lead to a greater likelihood of actually making a difference.

What are some other ways benchmarking has helped you or your organization in achieving or framing its goals?

 

Numbers don't always tell the whole story, but play an important role in the ability to change it. 

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Lee Fisher on the City 2.0: TEDxDePaulU

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Our President and CEO, Lee Fisher recently held a talk at TEDxDePaulU-- with a focus on the City 2.0. He explains why cities are the primary drivers of growth, and how change rests at the intersection of great people and great ideas. Click here or on the image above to watch the video, and let us know if you'd like to see Lee speak at your next event!

Modeling the City Incubator

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Photo via Dennis Yang

There have been a number of publications detailing the concept of the city as a startup. This is a useful framework for managing cities more efficiently and creatively. As we look at the private market, though, we find that only a small fraction of startup companies will ever come to be successful and sustainable. Merely approaching running cities like a startup, then, is certainly not enough.

Incubators are an invaluable asset to the startup community—but what would a city incubator look like? What would it do? We will look at a few roles that business incubators take on, and try to understand how the same model can be applied to supporting cities.

Covering the Basics

Business incubators realize that while someone may have a great idea, not every passionate entrepreneur necessarily has the means to pull it off—or may not know how to make it sustainable in the long run. The very first question any advisor or mentor would ask after hearing your pitch is: how does it generate revenue? While a city financing structure is clearly unique, it is important to understand that maximizing return on investment is critical. In many cases, the role of the incubator is to ask the difficult questions. Who is your target audience? What is your value proposition? How are you differentiating yourself from your competition? The city—whether the actor working to improve it is a governmental agency, nonprofit, or other organization—must be able to admit when it doesn’t have a good answer. Many entrepreneurs fall in love with their products and ideas, making them blind to the reality that the numbers just don’t work out. An incubator would help the startup city recognize this, but also help them to understand what changes could be made to make the idea viable. In turn, the city learns to be flexible. 

Providing Resources

Incubators provide startups with the physical infrastructure needed to test-run and evolve their business and strengthen legitimacy. They also provide marketing resources. Cities already have space, but they exist as the culmination of a variety of different decisions, spatially scattered and independent of one-another—despite the fact that these individual decisions could intertwine quite closely when it comes to impact. A city incubator could provide space for different actors within a community to come together in driving growth. The importance of carrying a strong brand is just as important for cities as it is for startups. Having a clear community identity will strengthen vision, and the commitment to that vision. At the same time, marketing is only as good as the product one sells. Ensuring your city has value to the customer is just as important (if not more so) than communicating that value to current and potential residents. 

Creating Connections

Networking is a vital component to any incubator, as building connections leads to the intersection of ideas and resources—leading to a much greater likelihood of success. A city incubator could draw on this idea to create linkages between different actors within the city. It could create linkages with experts who have found success in their own ventures, so that the startup can draw on that experience. It could, then, connect cities with new ideas to springboard their own growth—understanding, though, that replication does nothing for the market. You have to either take an existing idea and implement it far better, or find a way to differentiate it or innovatively apply it for a different use to ensure demand.

There are many more functions and services that incubators provide to startup companies. What others do you think can be applied to helping cities grow?

 

Growth requires asking necessary questions and the ability to admit you don't have a good answer. 

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Great Ideas from Around the World: And a Giveaway!

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There are so many great initiatives, projects, and approaches to be found in cities all throughout our planet. We found a few to share with you, and would love for you to share some with us as well! We also know that everyone loves a giveaway, so we've decided to incorporate sharing these ideas with the chance to win a free printed copy of our City Vitals 2.0 Report:

There are two ways you can enter into the contest: 

  1. Follow our Twitter page and tweet us your favorite example with the hashtag #CityIdeas or 
  2. Like us and share your idea on our Facebook Page

Entries must be in by Sunday, January 13 at 5:00pm-- and we'll pick one entry at random to win the free report. We'll also publish everyone's ideas (credited to the contributor) on our blog after the contest closes so everyone has access to these wonderful ideas! 

Here are some examples to get you inspired: 

Have fun! We're looking forward to seeing what amazing ideas you all find!

Transit-Oriented Development in Cleveland’s Urban Core

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Photo via Institute for the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)

As Cleveland’s inner city population has yet to stabilize, despite a massive influx of young professionals, the city has turned to transit as a promising fix for the city’s problems. Transit-oriented development (TOD) is one of many ways cities are remaining competitive with outer suburbs for the almighty real estate dollar, and Cleveland has established itself as a regional leader worth keeping an eye on.

According to Maribeth Feke, Director of Planning at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority—the city’s transformative Healthline bus rapid transit (BRT) line is responsible for $4.3 billion in TOD. Feke said that TOD was calculated based on a half-mile radius. Despite the apparent success since its opening in late 2008, the $168 million project has its skeptics, though those critics are primarily working toward the same goal of revitalizing the city through transit.

Ken Prendergast, Executive Director at All Aboard Ohio, believes the GCRTA should utilize rail and BRT more extensively in a few targeted corridors. “BRT lite is really just an effort to try and get some federally-funded streetscapes,” he noted. According to Feke, Cleveland’s BRT-planning incorporates amenities such as pedestrian islands and streetscaping in order to boost TOD. “Very, very rail-like,” Feke added.

While conceding that the GCRTA has very difficult public constraints, All Aboard Ohio also espouses better stewardship of Cleveland’s already-impressive rail-based transit system. One such example is the heavy-rail Red Line which lies mostly in an industrial swath of the city. “It is hard to get new communities on board with these bad land-use models around existing stations,” he said. Prendergast suggests that nearby negative examples of land use, including the Red Line’s industrial surroundings, are more influential than further-away positive examples, whether they be Portland, Seattle, or even Cincinnati’s promising new streetcar system. 

For Feke, there lies the rub—as it is politically difficult to coordinate land use around transit lines that transcend multiple municipal borders. “What we’re seeing today is that transportation corridors are regionally based, so we really do have to analyze existing land use and development patterns in those corridors, not to sprawl more.” Feke predicates her argument on Northeast Ohio’s inability to pay for further growing its infrastructure footprint while the regional population is stagnant and the central city is still loosing population.

Regional planning, perhaps through a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) similar to Portland or Minneapolis-St. Paul, will be the key to coordinating land use according to Feke. Prendergast also championed regional planning, and went further suggesting a city-wide TOD community development corporation (CDC) could be an intermediary solution for coordinating between GCRTA and municipalities. Most CDCs focus on target neighborhoods, while some have more thematic missions, like affordable housing.

While Prendergast also concedes rail is difficult to finance because of how Northeast Ohio’s low growth translates into poor FTA scores (compared to competing projects in high-growth areas like Denver that usually win funding), there are a few very simple fixes. These include embracing single-track operation on the outer ends of newly extended rail lines that would reduce rail construction costs, switching rolling stock on the light-rail transit (LRT) lines to bring down those expansion costs. Another is utilizing existing railroad corridors to provide commuter service beyond the existing rapid transit service that terminates in East Cleveland. Suburban Lake County (home to growing communities such as Mentor and Willoughby), he said, would score higher because rail realizes greater transportation efficiencies over farther distances. Job access, he argued, already exists along the railroad. Much of his vision is based on a 2011 Center for Neighborhood Technology study called Broadening Urban Investment to Leverage Transit (BUILT) in Cleveland.

The easiest of all fixes All Aboard Ohio suggests is transit overlay zoning, which right now, only exists along the city’s BRT route. The transit overlay zoning was instrumental in streamlining Euclid Avenue’s revitalization, which has included over 4,000 housing units according to the GCRTA website. Many local planners deduce that the outdated housing stock may be the primary reason for Cleveland’s declining inner city population, pointing to 98% occupancy of downtown housing.

GCRTA primarily sticks to BRT for its vision of how Cleveland could become a national transit leader, with several new BRT systems currently in the works, including a Clifton Boulevard/Shoreway line linking downtown and the extremely dense inner suburb of Lakewood, a HealthLine extension through the northeast inner suburb of Euclid, as well as preliminary planning of a Lorain Avenue BRT that could revitalize the west side of Cleveland. GCRTA’s new transit lines are largely based on a study that identified ten “transit propensity corridors” that will be studied as focus areas.

Feke also offered hope for a W. 25th Streetcar linking Ohio City and Old Brooklyn, as well as projects that build off of the existing rail-based network, like the Blue Line extension in Shaker Heights. She called it “a way to strengthen what we already have and reinforce transit connections and better service.” Exciting rail extensions being considered include looping the LRT Waterfront Line around downtown’s east side, through Cleveland State University, and hooking back up with the existing rail network around Cuyahoga Community College, southeast of downtown. Another possibility is a western Red Line extension to better facilitate business connections around the airport. While Prendergast was skeptical of the airport extension’s cost feasibility, he praised the ideas of a W. 25th streetcar and Waterfront Line LRT extension.

While All Aboard Ohio and GCRTA can be presented with competing visions, that may not necessarily be the case. Cleveland is lucky to have knowledgeable rail advocates who provide an infusion of ideas for transit planning, while the Regional Transit Authority must operate within the political reality of today. This could have been a much longer article, going into more detail on GCRTA’s plans to put Cleveland on the cutting-edge of TOD, including an ambitious program to build new or retrofitted rapid stations in conjunction with University Circle Inc.’s “Missing Links” program, or Shaker Heights’ massive “Van Aken District” Blue Line TOD plan. Likewise, it could have gone into more length on some of Cleveland’s problems, like an $8 billion hole in the local economy going toward transportation needs (cited in the CNT study) which the Brookings Institute concludes far outpaces the national average. $8 billion can support an incredible amount of retail or new housing, and fix many serious problems.

The point, however, is that the regional transit authority and Cleveland’s rail advocates can foster a healthy debate while providing competing visions. More cities need a transit discussion like what is brewing in Cleveland. Here at CEOs for Cities we may be biased due to our Cleveland ties, but 10-20 years from now Cleveland’s rapid transit system will turn some heads while possibly serving as a TOD beacon that helps stabilize the inner city population, as Feke and Prendergast both hope. That can probably happen whether the priority remains building on existing rail infrastructure or trail blazing new long-distance rail service, as long as the city remains bullish on new fixed-route transit corridors.

By Nick 

Technology in (and out of) the Classroom

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Photo via SJU Undergraduate Admissions

The apple, long a ubiquitous symbol of education, may take on a new role as technology challenges and reinvents the physical classroom… unless of course you are more of a Windows guy. Numerous innovations are appearing in our classrooms—smart chalkboards, remote controls, and online discussion boards—and some teachers are even using strange (yet entertaining) memes to motivate and teach their students.

Technology has allowed us to break free from the “traditional” classroom. The value of alternative education has been debated by leaders throughout education—discussing both the incredible potential for increasing access to higher education as well as the benefits of learning in a physical classroom.  With the rising price tag of a traditional college degree, monetary, cultural or value-driven barriers can dilute access to higher education.

Recently, Colorado State University became the first university in the United States to accept transfer credit for a course offered by Udacity, a free online education platform founded by Google vice president and part-time Stanford computer science professor, Sebastian Thrun. Colorado State is specifically offering credit for its Global Campus, an online university geared toward an audience of working adults. The University of Washington in Seattle has also announced its intention to offer credit for courses from a similar platform called Coursera, although UW students will likely have to pay a fee and work with a UW instructor.

Both Coursera and Udacity are MOOCs, or massive open online courses.  Thrun pioneered this course format with the intention of democratizing education through flexible intensive courses offered at a low cost to students (whereas the cost of a four-year degree is nearing $250,000). The Gates Foundation has recently announced a project to test the potential of MOOCs in revolutionizing how remedial education is offered. Other potential target audiences for MOOCs are the employed workforce, curious and motivated individuals, and lower-income people priced out of traditional academia.

A specific stipulation of the Gates Foundation grants will be partnering with an already established MOOC platform, including not only online universities like Udacity and Coursera, but also technology platforms already well-established in the institutional setting—such as Blackboard or Desire2Learn. This stipulation aims to ensure the new courses get adequate exposure and connect to students where they are already heading for these services.

A recent study on educational attainment underscores the vital importance of higher education reaching out to underserved demographics.  This Harvard-based Pathways to Prosperity Project concluded that education is increasingly separating lower-income jobs from more fulfilling work. Additional studies have concluded that alternative education can be successful in bridging the gap.

One of CEOs for Cities’ primary missions is to espouse the talent dividend, which concludes that a 1% increase in the population that holds a college degree in the top 51 U.S. metros would lead to a dividend of $124 billion— manifested in household income growth. That growth, which is already occurring in some metros, is one of the biggest factors separating lagging cities from those with economic development success.

What innovations in technology do you believe will help drive educational attainment rates?

Digitizing the Public Sphere

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Photo via Arian Zwegers

Thousands of years ago, the public square was created as the original marketplace; with the influx of people, goods and ideas, it evolved to be a bustling center of human interaction. Public squares still exist today, of course, and the public realm reaches far beyond the stark geographic boundaries of the square, piazza, or plaza. Our streets, parks, museums, and town halls are places where we can bump into an old friend, solicit important information, and exercise our right to free speech. Some say that the energetic power of interaction has been lost in these places over the last few decades, while others argue that our voices and interactions have found their place in another public realm: the internet.

The New Social

Though some of live interactions and experiences are being replaced by online marketplaces, digital newspapers, televised concerts, and the like, our sense of place in a particular city depends on the city’s physical spaces. We now have the ability to interact with these places digitally. We have Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and the ability to shoot a quick message out to the online world that something right-here-and-right-now is great, or perhaps not so great. We can easily snap a quick photo of an energetic event. If a customer service rep gives us the run-around, we can warn our fellow citizens or “followers.” Businesses have been leveraging the potential of this feedback since these platforms came about, and cities are starting to get on board as well. Potholes, road construction, trash services, the water coming out of our faucets… they all have the potential to be in the social media conversation, and despite (or maybe because of) the informality, officials are listening.

A recent article published by The Atlantic Cities covered how the Internet is becoming the new town hall.  The article introduces a concept pioneered by IBM through their Smarter Cities Program that compiles real-time thoughts for city leaders interested in tackling the issues important to the public. It goes by the name of Social Sentiment Analysis, and aims to listen to people where they are already talking. The best part? It allows them to actually engage.

The Potential of Engagement vs. Information

Engagement seems to be quite the buzzword, but has even more significance when we consider the way communication has flowed in the past. Public meetings are largely presentations, with minimal time allocated to public opinion. Pamphlets and mediocre websites have plagued our public entities—our questions hampered by inconvenience or a lack of understanding of how to contact the right people. Engagement requires two-way communication and is vastly strengthened by fresh internet and social media platforms. When city council posts an announcement on Facebook, any citizen can comment or ask questions directly on that post. When you or your neighbor tweet about the quality of a particular road, that complaint can be accessed and responded to, though it is up to these public entities to listen and respond. The potential for meaningful and timely engagement, however, is a great asset to planners, elected officials, and agency workers in terms of communicating, soliciting opinions, and educating their residents and stakeholders.

Tools for Planning and Civic Engagement

Another recent article published on Planetizen.com discusses some of the ways that apps are changing the world of planning. The authors highlight the great potential for collecting feedback, but also discuss a myriad of tools that are being used by planners to increase the efficiency of their practice and the potential for interacting with the public. We wont include every tool from their list, but will highlight the ones we found to be great for engaging the digital public sphere—as well as some others we’ve found around the web. 

  • Accela Mobile 311: This iPhone app “enables residents, visitors, and other members of the public to take an active role in their community by requesting services from or reporting incidents to their local agency. The app ties directly into an agency's Accela Automation system to ensure that incoming information will be tracked and assigned to the appropriate departments, so that the item will be addressed in the most efficient and effective manner.”
  • Change by US: This initiative is a collaborative effort involving the work of CEOs for Cities, and asks citizens to voice ideas on how to make their community a better place. The website also gives residents a place to organize projects, find volunteers, and celebrate what makes their cities great.
  • MindMixer: A platform that aims to bring together and engage the members of a community, Mindmixer has a variety of different tools and ways of customizing its site to various cities in a way that is fun and interactive. It is being adopted by cities all over the U.S., and is just one of many similar platforms that are making civic engagement fun and entertaining.
  • iPavement: A bit different than previous tools mentioned, iPavement bridges the physical and digital to interact with people not only when they are surfing the web, but also where they are standing (quite literally). Pavement stones installed into sidewalks have wifi and Bluetooth connections that alert anyone with a smartphone to provide passing residents and visitors with information to make assets more accessible—such as maps, public transport maps, or discounts at nearby restaurants. This is also a great tool for planners who want to collect data concerning pedestrian traffic.
  • GOOD Maker: This website is another action-inspiring tool, which uses an online platform to interact with residents. Citizens submit their ideas on how to creatively move their community forward, and have the chance to win a $2,500 grant to make that vision a reality.

No doubt, hundreds of new apps, sites, and tools will be developed in the coming years to increase public engagement and leverage our already existing information exchange—and there are many not discussed here.

What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of a highly digitized public sphere? What tools have you found to be most intriguing and effective?

Lee Fisher and Joe Cortright Discuss Urban Reading on the Huffington Post

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Photo via Horia Varlan

Last week on the Huffington Post, CEOs for Cities’ Lee Fisher and Joe Cortright reviewed three books for those of us who love cities.

The first book, The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti, an economist at Berkeley, strongly validates CEOs for Cities’ Talent Dividend. Using statistics, Moretti makes a case for why educational attainment is extremely valuable to the community. Lee and Joe then shift their focus to Alan Ehrenhalt's new book titled The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City, which details a trend where the wealthy are moving into urban cores, rather than out of them as they did earlier in the century.  Finally, Lee and Joe share their thoughts on Richard Florida’s update of his highly influential (and similarly controversial) book: The Rise of the Creative Class - Revisited.  In his book, he reasserts "cities need a people climate as much, if not more, than a business climate."

Lee and Joe include a little bonus at the end of the article—but we wont give everything away. Read on to find out what it is!

Skills Development in Post-Recession Years

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Photo by Jorge Lascar

While closing the gap is important for getting more citizens across America employed, is it a worthwhile investment when our economy has been hit hard and jobs more scarce? It turns out that economic strains are making the need for skilled workers even greater. Jamie Merisotis is president of the Lumina Foundation, and will be speaking at our National Meeting in Boston next month. An article he published last month on The Hill demonstrates the importance of educating low-skilled citizens as we ride the tail of the Great Recession. 

According to this article, those with just a high school degree lost 230,000 jobs while those with college degrees gained 187,000 jobs during the slow recovery between January 2010 and February 2012, [2]. The stats are even more telling for recent graduates. While unemployment rates for new four-year college graduates reached a high at 11.1% in July 2011, they have dropped to 6.8% as of May 2012. For those entering the job market right after high school, their unemployment rate peaked at 30% and was still at 24% in May, by comparison. The difference is even more drastic when manifested in underemployment statistics. While only one in seven recent college grads are underemployed, nearly half of all recent high school graduates are mired in underemployment as they seek out solid footing.

This recent Lumina Foundation study, along with a wide scope of literature on the importance of education in workforce development, are in line with and support the concept behind CEOs for Cities’ Talent Dividend. The next step is understanding how we can best leverage education to cater to the needs of employers across the country—and how we can increase the accessibility of this education (but we’ll be covering this topic tomorrow!).

Take a look at the infographic Can a Degree Get You Through the Recession for a visual look at some of the numbers found in a report done by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

Finding Fearless: the Search for America’s Most Fearless Changemakers Begins!

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In order to find solutions to the chronic and complex social challenges we face as a society, we must Be Fearless. And we have a hunch that there are thousands of concerned citizens who have let go of old and unsuccessful approaches and instead are taking risks, being bold, and making failure matter — embracing a fearless approach towards social change.

The Case Foundation is launching a new campaign — Finding Fearless — to identify the undiscovered social innovators who are dreaming big and taking risks to change their communities and the world. More than $650,000 in grants, software and technology prizes, and outdoor adventures are at stake in this search for America’s Most Fearless Changemakers.

So, are you a fearless changemaker?

We’re excited to help support the Case Foundation’s effort to uncover the stories of the undiscovered individuals in communities across the country that have a successful track record of tackling social challenges because their approach is bold, uncommon, experimental, unconventional, and fearless.

It doesn’t matter if they are 18 or 80; or if their work is done in a big city or one-stoplight town. It doesn’t matter if they have ten diplomas or no diplomas. It doesn’t matter if they get their work done through nonprofits, small business, state or local government, or their living room or garage. What matters is discovering the untold stories and tapping the unknown heroes who are bucking trends, disregarding the status quo, and making change happen with a fearless approach and attitude.

Does this sound like you or someone you know? If so, drop everything you’re doing and apply yourself, or nominate someone you know, today for a chance to get a piece of $650,000 in grants and prizes to take these fearless projects to the next level. Finding Fearless begins with YOU. Help us find America’s Most Fearless Changemakers!

Here’s how Finding Fearless works:

  • You Nominate: Tell us about your fearless project or one that inspires you. Up to 1,000 nominations will be eligible for grants and prizes so be sure to enter today!
  • We Narrow the Field: The Fearless Academy—a team of 50 judges representing the Case Foundation and our partners—will review and assess nominations.
  • The top 10 fearless projects will each receive a $10,000 grant to take their work to the next level!
  • The next 10 projects will each receive a $1,000 grant to support their fearless initiatives
  • You Vote: In the spirit of citizen-centered approach to philanthropy, we want you to decide which project receives a bonus $10,000 grant and other prizes to help our fearless changemakers!
  • We Announce the Winners: We reveal which projects receive grants and prizes worth $650,000!

Apply yourself or nominate someone who is fearless today! Finding Fearless starts with YOU!

Bridging the Gap

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Photo by John Picken

While unemployment rates are at about 8.1%, we are finding that the problem is not always that the jobs aren’t there—it’s that our workforce doesn’t have the skills needed to fill available positions. This has caused much public discussion, but the problem persists. Some initiatives, however, are tackling this issue in an effective and meaningful way. It seems that the windy city is at the forefront of this effort, serving as a model for how to approach closing the gap through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) initiatives in higher education.

CEOs for Cities spoke with the key players behind two very important programs: the College to Careers (C2C) program spearheaded by Chicago City Colleges, and the more recent Minority Male STEM initiative, a partnership between Chicago City Colleges and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Mapping an Viable Strategy

College to Careers aims to provide students with real-world experiences that can serve as the basis for future job opportunity. Chancellor Cheryl Hyman of City Colleges explained to us that the program works to recognize growing industries—both regionally and globally—to understand where future needs will be. Using that information, City Colleges works with a large spread of industry partners to understand how curricula can be shaped to provide relevant skills to tomorrow’s workforce. An important element of the program is what Hyman refers to as “stackable credentials,” a concept based on the fact that not every student is beginning their education right out of high school. In fact, 32% of City Colleges’ student body is made up of adults who have been out of school for several years, increasing the importance of addressing students at all points in their careers.

“There are various exit and entry points in which students can come in and get trained,” Hyman explains. “Many of our students come to us needing to work right away. We want to provide that opportunity where it exists, but we also want to encourage them to keep learning and to come back to build on that career. We make sure no credential within our program portfolio is a dead end.” This is not just a benefit for students, either. The fact is, employers don’t need a skilled workforce four years from now, they need one yesterday. A structure that encouraged continued learning is beneficial to students, employees and employers alike.

Addressing the current and future realities of our economic situation is important for those wanting to move into the workforce, as well as the developing needs of employers. The collaborative Minority Men STEM Initiative highlights the growing need for skills rooted in mathematics and the sciences. The initiative gives 20-25 African-American, Latino, or Southeast Asian students the opportunity to receive academic support, paid research experience, and access to a learning environment or “culture of science” that will pave the way for academic success, future job opportunities, and (hopefully) a path to graduate school. The participants in the program would complete an associate’s degree at City Colleges, then move on to UIC to finish a Bachelor’s degree in the same field. The program encompasses a myriad of different services, but Hyman emphasizes that research shows students having already completed and associate’s program have a higher probability of success in earning a four-year degree. 

Providing Practicality

Cecil Curtwright, who worked with Dr. William Walden to develop the Minority STEM program, emphasizes the vast amount of funding available to students who pursue science at the graduate and undergraduate level. “There are grants [and] fellowships available for continuing the pursuit of science.” Helping students understand how they can get the most out of their education at the least expense is critical. In order to create a qualified workforce, we must prioritize affordable training and education.  Chancellor Hyman also mentions the financial advantage of completing the first two years of college at City Colleges, where the cost of education is significantly lower.

Beyond the financial practicality, the Minority STEM initiative is cutting-edge in that it provides students with valuable (paid!) research experience. Curtwright explains that students will have the opportunity to be a part of a 10-week summer research program following their last semester at City Colleges, as well as the summer between their junior and senior years. This hands-on experience enriches academic programs and connects students with potential employers. 

Recognizing the developing needs of the consumer market is also extremely important. Chancellor Paula Allen-Meres of UIC highlights not only the growing importance of STEM, but also the increasing importance of diversity in one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy: “I’m a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and as we look at workforce needs going forward, we know that the healthcare arena is going to need an abundance of ethnic and minority racial providers to meet the changing demographics of our country. So this initiative, in my way of thinking, has this wonderful ripple effect across the STEM disciplines, as well as the healthcare disciplines needed for the future.”

Ensuring a Holistic Approach

For any program to be truly successful, it is critical that all stakeholders are committed to its vision. The partnership between the City Colleges and UIC shows how the roots of collaboration can sprout big ideas—but they didn’t do it all on their own. Anthony Monroe, the president of Malcom X College (representing the health sciences in City Colleges’ network), explained the importance of industry partners in the Colleges to Careers program in providing insight into the skills students should have coming out of the program: “We know that in the Chicagoland area, at least 15,000 nursing jobs are projected to become available over the next 10 years. So we’re busy in terms of preparing our students for that, in fact…we totally revamped the first year nursing curriculum… focusing on what’s needed for the nurse of tomorrow.”

Including governmental bodies and residents on board is just as important as academia and industry. Chancellor Hyman addresses this by explaining that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched the College to Careers program last December, and continues to lend his support for the program and its efforts to close the gap.

“When we go down and look at our local, state, federal governments, they are hugely concerned with the skills gap,” says Chancellor Hyman.  She highlights that the 9% of the Chicago workforce that is currently unemployed could be filing the 100,000 open jobs.  Therefore, officials are , “extremely supportive, and very excited about the fact that we are going to have a real focus on ensuring that when their constituencies leave our institutions, they can hit the ground running day one, whether that’s going right into a career or whether that’s transferring on to a four-year institution.” She also mentions that the taxpayers of Chicago are equally supportive: “Now that they see that we have a real strategy, aimed at seeing that our students succeed, they can feel very comfortable about getting a good return on their investment.”

Both the Colleges to Careers program and the Minority Male STEM Initiative stand as examples of the capacity that can be generated through collaborative efforts and a pragmatic look at the inadequate labor force of today. Sitting idly certainly wont cure the very real, very fundamental problems of our economy. So until we start laying bricks, we’ll never build the bridge—and it’s a long jump.

Startup Competition Fosters Culture of Innovation in Cleveland and Beyond

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Photo via Flickr User DeclanTM

Innovation in so many ways is seen as the key to driving economic growth in America’s cities. In fact, us here at CEOs for Cities truly believe that it is one of the four key elements that make up city success. As we all know, however, it doesn’t just happen on its own.

One relatively recent phenomenon that we have witnessed in today’s world is the use of competitions as a format for generating energy and getting incredible results over a short period of time. Startup competitions are one such way that cities all over the country have attempted to generate an entrepreneurial culture and connect innovative, creative minds.

Ryan Marimon and Brian Adams (no, not that Brian Adams) are two software developers that are leading the charge in bringing this institution into the city of Cleveland, organizing the first Startup Weekend the city has seen in three years—which is taking place this weekend (March 8-10). They recognize the potential power of this competition to jump-start entrepreneurial energy within the city, even within a short time-frame.

Participants signed up for the event give pitches to an audience, which then votes on the ideas they deem best. Teams are formed around these ideas and then have the rest of the weekend to create a startup business and finally present to a panel of judges. The winning team wins a prize (not yet announced)—but Marimon and Adams both agree that while winning the prize and creating a startup are great assets to participation, the real value is found in building relationships with other innovative, like-minded individuals.

As participants in other startup competitions, they see the kind of people these events attract—noting that they are just the kind of risk-takers that drive action in places like Silicon Valley: “The people that take part in things like this are eager, energized, and creative. They see the big picture and are looking for a way to be a part of it. They don't mind trying things and don't mind failure.”

Marimon understands the link between the competition and the future success of the city, explaining: “Cleveland is in need of fresh life-blood.  It has been struggling to pick itself up after the collapse of the steel industry.  We suffer from "brain drain" because young and talented individuals believe that they need to leave and head elsewhere to do big things.  By fostering entrepreneurship and innovation we will create jobs and opportunities  right here in Cleveland and make it a place that people want to be.” They are working to make the connection even stronger by ensuring that everything from tee shirt printing to refreshments are locally sourced. The event itself is taking place in the 5th Street Arcade, a historic institution located on the central thoroughfare in downtown Cleveland.

While they find it important, however, this kind of grassroots organization is certainly no simple task. Building a wide net of players in the event is a sizable task for just two individuals. When asked why they were willing to put in the time and effort, Marimon’s answer reflected the entrepreneurial spirit the event itself attempts to inspire: “In this town things don't just happen, while in areas like Silicon Valley or Austin, TX there is so much momentum for things like this. It takes people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get the fly-wheel moving again. We are doing this because events like this are taking place all over the world, and there is no reason that it shouldn't happening here as well. When we can feel that we've taken a step towards engaging and connecting the next generation of entrepreneurs in Cleveland, it will all be worth it.”

Building this culture of innovation certainly happens from the ground-up. It is the work of leaders, however, to support this work and be a part of a collaborative solution for city revitalization.

Performance-Based Funding of Higher Education

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The Center for American Progress just released a report titled, “Performance-Based Funding of Higher Education,” which investigates the “best practices” in six different states’ performance-based funding action plans.

While most states use enrollment-based schemes to distribute funding to higher education institutions, CAP claims that allocating funds solely on the basis of enrollment “is a poor predictor of overall institutional performance”. The report states that, “Ongoing budget cuts, combined with stagnating graduation rates and a rising national demand for highly educated workers, make it increasingly important for states to invest in completion too.” Thus the report motivates states to dole out funding based on both enrollment and performance to incentivize state prioritization of college access and college completion.

The report recognizes that early performance-based funding models were “plagued by a number of fatal design flaws”. Learning from the mistakes of previously unsuccessful models, the report discussed “performance-based funding 2.0”- an approach to performance-based funding which focuses on rewarding progress over completion, acknowledges the unique needs of different higher education institutions, and works to partition off larger percentages of base funding to actualize change.

Looking to six states who currently utilize some form of a performance-based funding action plan, the report shares stories of successful approaches to “performance-based funding 2.0”. For example, “Ohio’s funding formulas reward the achievements of 'at-risk' students” to encourage rather than penalize schools for enrolling theses students who “often face greater barriers to completion”. Meanwhile, readers learn that since 2000, when a performance-based approach was implemented, Pennsylvania public colleges have witnessed a “10% increase in overall graduation rates and a 15% increase in retention rates for Hispanic students”. Indiana tallies enrollment levels at the end of the semester to emphasize course completion, and Tennessee has gone as far as allocating 80% of state higher education funding on the basis of performance. Accounts from Washington and Louisiana are also documented in the report.

Through their extensive research on past and existing performance-based funding schemes, PAC reported the following “best practices”:

  • Actively involve key stakeholders in the model’s design
  • Ensure enough money is apportioned for performance to create strong incentives
  • Recognize institutional differences with separate funding formulas
  • Integrate all metrics and provisions into the state formula
  • Use indicators that emphasize progress
  • Incorporate stop-loss provisions that prevent institutions from losing more than a certain level of funding each year
  • Gradually phase in new measures
  • Subject the system to frequent evaluation

Recommendations from the report included: suggesting that the U.S. Department of Education conduct a more exhaustive study of the costs and benefits of “performance-based funding 2.0”, developing pilot projects in states without performance-based funding measures, and helping policy-makers move forward to establish a federal role in creating higher education funding schemes.

The report concluded with this compelling statement:

                   “As the national conversation on higher education shifts toward completion,                                          it must be accompanied by equally significant changes in institutional behavior.”

 

 

Green Innovations in Boston

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Our 2012 National meeting is coming up next month, and we wanted to showcase the city where it will be hosted! Here are some of the great things we've uncovered about green initiatives in Boston.

According to CEOs for Cities’ City Vitals 2.0 research, Boston, MA ranks as #4 among the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the US in the percentage of the population over 25-years with a four-year college degree.  That high ranking may be due to the large number of higher-education institutions in and around the city, but perhaps it is due to the influence of being in an innovation-rich city.  Whatever it is, Boston boasts both a high number of educated and innovative residents.

From solar panel sales training to responsible waste management companies, Boston is home to many innovators committed to making their city and the planet a better place. Some notable projects and programs in Boston include:

  • Hubway – a bike sharing network that allows members to bike one direction without having to worry about where they leave their bike
  • Life Totes – a “green” service for moving homes or businesses, because why waste cardboard boxes when you could rent reusable plastic ones? 
  • Save That Stuff – a waste management company that helps organizations most efficiently and responsibly dispose of their unwanted items

Boston’s Mayor, Thomas Menino, has supported Boston’s trend towards innovation through the creation of the Innovation District in January 2010.  While there are no set boundaries, the South Boston Waterfront is filling up with creative thinkers and doers.  Part of this is due to the work of MassChallenge, a startup accelerator that offers a prize competition to aspiring startups.  The 2012 finalists can be seen here.  Some notably “green” startups include:

  • E-POL, which is working to turn glycerin, the waste product of biodiesel production, into useful products 
  • Bootstrap Compost, a food scrap pickup service 
  • GreenCampusPoints, a coupon-based program that incentivizes consumers to purchase sustainably

What green initiatives do you see popping up in your own community? Which of these do you see as being helpful or viable in your city? 

How Cities are Leveraging Sustainable Innovations

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Photo via dailymail.co.uk

While yesterday’s blog post focused on innovative environmental designs generated in Boston, today's highlights many other cities throughout the nation and across the globe developing revolutionary ideas concerning how cities can decrease their negative impact on the environment.

In 2008, Rotterdam, Netherlands caught the public eye when they opened Watt, the first-ever sustainable night club. The night club’s sustainability comes from its distinct dance floor, which harvests the energy generated by patrons’ movement and transforms that energy into electricity. Today, companies continue to work to generate energy in environmentally friendly ways. Developers in Reedsport, Oregon established the first U.S. wave farm, which uses “wave power” as a source of clean energy production. Meanwhile, in cities throughout France, a company named Eole Water has created a way to use wind turbines to condense water in the air and transform it into drinkable water.

There have also been creative designs targeted to make transportation in cities better for the environment. London, which CEOs for Cities has already noted as hosting the “greenest Olympics ever," is discussing plans to build elevated bike highways to encourage citizens to bike more. Working to make biking a group activity, an innovative health care company in Louisville, KY worked to promote biking through its endorsement of pedal buses. Featured at this year’s Democratic and Republican Conventions with the slogan “petal power to the people," Humana Inc. provided free pedal buses for convention-goers. But as some cities work to encourage citizens to bike more and drive less, other cities are working to make motor transportation less detrimental to the environment. For example, New York City has introduced zero-emission electric trucks into the Bronx, while a Palestinian inventor in Gaza built the city’s first-ever electric car.

What creative ideas do you have to make cities more environmentally friendly?

 

 

Why Cities Should Plan for a Healthier Environment

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Photo by Jimmy Benson

We have all heard it before: Live Green.  We are urged to recycle, to turn the lights out when we’re not in a room, and to drink from a reusable water bottle. These are all great ways to lessen the impact each individual makes on the environment, but there are larger-scale measures that cities can take to create a healthier environment and to improve the quality of life.

The former mayor of Indianapolis and current Harvard professor Steve Goldsmith will be speaking at the CEOs for Cities Fall National Meeting on October 15-17. Until then, we can find his valuable insight on innovative ideas in public sector innovation on a blog he pioneers through Governing magazine—aptly titled Better, Faster, Cheaper. He writes extensively on making government more efficient, but has also covered other topics such as the bottom-line benefits of greening a city.

Goldsmith discussed a Philadelphia initiative by the name of “Green City, Clean Waters,” which was aimed at addressing the challenges imposed by having a combined sewer overflow. The contamination problems caused by this system are both damaging to the environment and costly in cleanup and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violation fees. The system proposed by “Green City, Clean Waters” focuses on stormwater reduction and management infrastructure rather than replacement of the old pipes, leveraging new technology to cut costs and reduce potential contaminants.

Green infrastructure can be manifested in a variety of different ways. Using renewable energy for our public facilities can pay back the cost of construction and support operations. Our transportation systems, too, have an incredible impact on the environment and economic growth. The Green Dividend of CEOs for Cities shows that if we reduce the number of miles driven by the average American by one mile per day (about 4 percent), 156 million Americans would collectively drive 156 million fewer miles per day, or about 57 billion fewer miles per year. At $3.50 per gallon for gasoline, the nation would save $10 billion per year on fuel. Add the expense of purchasing and maintaining vehicles, and the total savings would be $28.6 billion per year!

An invesment in public transportation, as well as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, improves the experience of using alternative transport.  Breaking free of our dependency on cars cuts down on vehicle emissions which allows for the proliferation of green space, thus reducing stormwater runoff by acting as a natural filter for contaminants. In addition to the $10 billion per year we would save as a nation based on decreased gas use, we would save on pollution remediation actions.

The important takeaway is that it’s not just important to encourage a cleaner, greener, environmentally healthier city—it makes economic sense.

Feel free to share with us some other ways we can see economic gains by greening our cities!