From Ideas to Action: Cities as Drivers of Economic Opportunity

This blog is co-authored by Ben Hecht and Brandee McHale, Chief Operating Officer at the Citi Foundation.


U.S. cities produce 85 percent of the nation's GDP, are home to more than 50 percent of the population, and spend billions of dollars annually to educate, house and protect their citizens. That's why cities simply must play an outsized role in our economic recovery and in driving economic opportunities and progress for all. This reality, acknowledged by political and non-profit leaders alike, has led to a growing focus on experimentation in municipal innovation.

Across the country, cities are creating innovation offices, applying in large numbers for innovation prizes and making municipal data available in ways that allow city residents to participate more creatively and actively in solving problems on issues like crime and education. In large part, municipal innovation is driven by the idea that better run cities will not only be more effective in tackling poverty, inequality, the education gap and job creation, but also have more money to do so.

Despite all the focus on municipal innovation, broad adoption of promising practices is too slow -- and the impact of pilot projects is too small. For six years, 35 of the largest and most enterprising city halls across the country have worked together to harness the energy around municipal innovation. The Project on Municipal Innovation (PMI) has enabled municipal leaders to learn about and act on transformative policy ideas through online policy forums and biannual in-person meetings.

While the participating cities are all unique, they face common challenges. Over the years, this network has addressed issues as diverse as pension reform, public private partnerships and technology-led civic engagements. What the network lacked, however, is the capacity to help cities collectively move from dialogue to action.

The new City Accelerator, with funding and technical support from the Citi Foundation, will do just that. The City Accelerator will give nine cities the opportunity to work in three-city cohorts to focus on areas where there is a clear model of innovation ready for implementation.

Launching this summer, participating cities will tackle issues ranging from strengthening budgeting and management systems, reallocating resources to improve outcomes -- especially for low-income people -- and applying innovations in civic data and technology to advance high-profile issues. Participating cities will also benefit from ongoing interaction with leading practitioners from around the country and will share lessons with each other to accelerate progress.

At the heart of the City Accelerator is an attempt to standardize emerging state-of-the art practices growing out of the municipal innovation field. By creating the tools and structure for cities to work together to turn these practices into reality, we expect to help move innovative ideas from the periphery to the mainstream. By accelerating the ability of cities to adapt and grow, we will accelerate our nation's economic growth and competitiveness. We look forward to sharing what we learn.