Atlantic Cities

An Effort to Gather the Best New Urban Policy Innovations in One Place

The report "Innovation and the City" [PDF] is an important addition to our knowledge of urban policy innovation. It summarizes the results of a six-month research effort by policy researchers at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service and the New York-based Center for an Urban Future. The research team interviewed over 200 experts (including our own Emily Badger) and surveyed more than 120 policy innovations. (I should disclose here that I am Global Research Professor for the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies).

These responses were vetted by a team of 40 business, policy, philanthropic and non-profit experts and ultimately pared down to 15 policy innovations. Their aim was to identify "rigorous policy experiments" and innovations that are "novel, proven and scalable." While the effort is oriented to New York City, the policy innovations identified provide broad lessons for cities across America and the world.

As Neil Kleiman, director of the NYU Wagner Innovation labs and one of the lead authors of the report, put it to me in an email:

We sought out the very best urban reform ideas around the world and what's truly fascinating is that none of them fit into neat categories of housing or education—they are all a mash-ups. The policies pair immigrant assistance with economic development or senior services with zoning and housing policy. What's plain to see is that innovation must happen across silos, it cannot be confined to traditional policy areas or approaches.

The 15 highlighted policy innovations include:

  • 311 systems like in Boston and Chicago, which provide real-time updates on the status of requests.
  • San Francisco's universal college savings plan for all kindergarten students, its Zero Waste initiative, and tax free commuter benefits program.
  • Chicago's seed fund for public agency innovation and its strategy of organizing private sector fiscal experts to generate mass budget savings.
  • Denver's Peak Academy which sends public sector staff to "innovation school."
  • London's Spacehive crowdsourcing initiative to fund community projects.
  • Philadelphia Digital Badging initiatives that enables students to gain credit for skills developed outside of school.
  • Affordable age in-place housing programs in  Seattle, Vancouver and Santa Cruz.
  • Michigan's Prize-Linked Savings program that creates cash incentives for underbanked individuals to save more.

As Kleiman puts it: "With fewer resources and more pressure to produce, cities are generating incredible innovations in every corner of the country. These ideas are concrete, have gone to scale and have begun to show real results."

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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