How Urban Inclusive Innovation can Transform our Cities

In 1790, approximately one out of every twenty Americans lived in cities. By 1960, two-thirds of the US population lived in urban areas. And for the first time in our world's history, more people now live in cities than in rural areas. According to the latest census, over 80 percent of our population has moved to cities.

This has massive implications for society. City infrastructure needs to grow and flex to accommodate this population influx. Transportation, schools, office spaces, food, housing, water, trash, electricity, and the very ways we co-exist and connect as people are being disrupted. And in turn, this has led to some thrilling advancements in urban innovation.

For example, empty lots are being turned into urban farms and access to local produce has been made easier through the proliferation of farm to table restaurants and neighborhood farmers markets. The shared economy is flourishing through enterprises like Uber and Airbnb. Office spaces are being reinvented to build community and create opportunities for collaboration. Greater density is helping environmental sustainability and new types of public schools offer innovative learning environments that blend high-tech and high-touch classrooms.

But this innovation is not benefitting all. Indeed, much of these exciting advances are geared to college-educated millennials and "bohemian-bourgeoisie" flooding into hip new urban neighborhoods. Although this infusion of creative talent and their spending power is good for our urban economies, it also puts significant upward pressure on housing prices and threatens to displace communities that have lived in cities for generations - particularly lower-income communities of color.

The goal of Forward Cities is to highlight both the challenge and opportunity of inclusive innovation. It is clear that the future of our economy and the health of our communities rests on our ability to innovate - and that these innovative solutions must be for (and by) a diverse range of innovators and entrepreneurs. Moreover, if we want to accelerate innovation in our local economies, we need intentional investment focused on developing this next generation of entrepreneurial problem solvers. We also need to connect them with the resources and relationships they need to reach their full potential. This investment requires both private and public engagement - increasing access to capital and clearing the regulatory barriers to innovation.

This intentional effort of engagement and investment is even more important as we seek to foster inclusive entrepreneurship and innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing our cities. As Sheila Herrling from the Case Foundation discusses in her recent interview with Forward Cities, this investment is not only financial capital - but also social and "inspirational" capital. In short, to grow the number of locally owned enterprises led by women and leaders of color we need to connect them to a broad network of people and institutions that can help them get from idea to market to sustainable scale.

In addition to the Case Foundation's philanthropic leadership, we have the Aspen Institute's Center for Urban Innovation. Launched in 2014 under the leadership of Jennifer Bradley (author of Metropolitan Revolution with Bruce Katz), the Center's focus is to "identify, connect, and support urban innovators, with a special emphasis on people who come from or work in underserved neighborhoods... (it) also helps leaders from government, business, and philanthropy better understand the needs of urban innovators so that their powerful ideas can spread rapidly from place to place."

One example of this is the DC Urban Innovation Lab that works with local and diverse urban innovators that are trying to launch and scale high-impact solutions that will benefit the Washington region. The Lab, led by Eric Lavin, connects these innovators with related policy experts within the Aspen Institute, as well as the growing number of people and organizations working to create an urban innovation ecosystem in the DC area - all while lifting up these urban innovators and giving them visibility at venues like Aspen's Idea Festival. This is the type of social and inspirational "capital" that Herrling at the Case Foundation talks about.

Cities are laboratories for innovative ideas that will transform the way we live, learn, work, and connect. But we need to create the infrastructure and channel the investment necessary to insure that these ideas realize their full impact potential. Throughout the four Forward Cities, this important and hard work is already underway. We invite you to join the conversation and share how urban innovation is transforming the city where you live. Please send these stories and ideas to or through twitter @forwardcities.

Christopher Gergen and Denise Byrne are co-founders of Forward Cities