Mayors Challenge Finalist: Durham (Video, Vote)

Idea Summary: Three Proof of Concept Community Labs will transform vacant, blighted properties into the stages where resident stories meet relevance-based governance and global-reaching solutions. Click here to vote for this idea.

Durham's history is known for its innovation in science, medicine, research, and creative small businesses. Like most cities, however, Durham has its fair share of blighted neighborhoods, poverty, illiteracy, and years of disinvestment in the surrounding inner city areas. But Durham ought to be as well-known for neighborhood-level innovation as it is for its high-tech research and startups. We seek not to mandate one innovation, but to create a process and places for new ideas to emerge that have the greatest social impact and return on investment.

Cities, the engines of creativity and the drivers of diversity, are our places of culture, commerce, and innovation. They are where creative partnerships flourish and new strategies reflect community needs for the greatest social impact. In Durham, we are transforming three vacant, blighted properties into Proof of Concept Community Labs where residents in economically-distressed neighborhoods, university students, and entrepreneurs collaborate to creatively solve challenges and prototype new products, programs, and policies. We want to meet residents where they are and leverage the hidden creative potential of our inner city neighborhoods.

Our Proof of Concept Community Labs seek to reverse the core problem that neighborhoods around the globe are relentlessly challenged by: decades of both perceived and real barriers to access created by bureaucracy, cultural differences, and entrenched notions of what government is and can't be, on one side - and what citizens are and can't be, on the other. Our beliefs of success are grounded in a deeper understanding of the community, placemaking, and a higher quality of life for residents in Durham and around the globe. A critical component of our program is to not only change the way our city does business but to replicate our model in other cities as an inventive approach to community-based and resident-led innovation.

The City of Durham seeks support for private dollars and partnerships to work on behalf of low-income residents, and establish a 'creative collective' that transmits shared-knowledge, increases self-sufficiency and resiliency, supports inclusivity, flexibility, and is proactive. The Labs are 'portable' nationally and balance relevance-based governance with global-reaching solutions. They will seek to connect economically-distressed neighborhoods with programs, policies, and partners necessary to support place-based approaches to short-term outcomes and long-term impact.

Within the next 3-5 years, the labs will help the City create new dynamic collaborative partnerships, create access to quality services and neighborhood amenities, create equitable redevelopment strategies, sustain government engagement and accountability, and match residents' needs with smart legislative policies. Join us, the City of Durham, as we set a new higher standard in neighborhood-based innovation, development, and revitalization.


This post is an entry in the Mayors Challenge Fan Favorite Selection, a partnership between The Huffington Post and Bloomberg Philanthropies that allows readers to vote on their favorite idea among the 20 Mayors Challenge finalists. The Mayors Challenge is a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. To view the ideas from the 20 finalists, click the grid below -- and then vote for your favorite here! And follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #MayorsChallenge.

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