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Watch: 4 Cities Talk About How They Innovated to Improve Equity

As participants in the City Accelerator initiative, these four cities have created smart, successful programs to better serve their residents.

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Anjali Chainani, the director of Philadelphia's GovLabPHL
The City Accelerator initiative is a collaboration between Governing, the Citi Foundation and Living Cities that aims to speed the adoption of innovative local government projects within and across cities that will have a significant impact on the lives of their residents, especially those with low incomes.

The City Accelerator is about speed. But it's not about speeding up city processes or growth. Instead, it's an initiative designed to hasten the rate at which cities across the country can learn about breakthroughs achieved by other cities tackling similar challenges to best serve residents with low incomes. 

Over the past four years, the City Accelerator has worked with 17 cities, each completing an 18-month journey of discovery and research, implementing pilot programs, sometimes failing and course-correcting, and always looking to scale solutions for citywide impact. 

These 17 city projects have included more than 70 local officials—everyone from front-line staff to fire chiefs, policymakers, treasurers and finance professionals. They’ve partnered with universities, local philanthropic foundations, art colleges, social workers and residents themselves. Together, they have identified innovative ways to improve city services, practices and policies, and they've discovered different and better ways to utilize human and financial resources. The strategies, tools, resources and tips these cities have developed can help other municipalities learn how to quickly adopt approaches that help make local government more effective, efficient and equitable.

Earlier this year, as part of Governing's annual Summit on Government Performance and Innovation, representatives from four of these cities presented "pitches" about the work they'd done as part of the City Accelerator.

For more on these four cities' innovations—and to steal their ideas for your own municipality—watch the videos below.


Louisville Expands What It Means to be a Compassionate City

Louisville, Ky., is using its Civic Innovation Fund to bring a racial-equity lens to its ongoing commitment to being a compassionate city. It is made possible through a fiscal sponsorship agreement with a local philanthropy, the Community Foundation of Louisville. The agreement allows the foundation’s investment to have impact at scale while focusing on where the city believes it is needed most, including the redress of racial inequality. Grace Simrall, the city's Chief of Civic Innovation and Tech, talks about this innovative partnership.

More: Tips for Building a Civic Innovation Fund, compiled by the City Accelerator Louisville team 


Philadelphia Goes Retro to Break Through the Communication Clutter

Philadelphia wanted to increase the number of elderly residents who were actually using the subsidies they were eligible for. The city had sent letters before with little effect, so they changed things up. The innovation office, now called GovLabPHL, tried using hand-written addresses on big envelopes to make mailings stand out from the crowd. And it worked. What began as a pilot in the Department of Revenue has grown into a city-wide practice of using behavioral science in designing and delivering programs in the city. GovLabPHL Director Anjali Chainani shows how.

More: Tips for Building a Behavioral Science Initiative in City Government, compiled by the City Accelerator Philadelphia team 



Seattle Helps Neighborhoods Feel Seen, Heard and Remembered

In an effort to expand the diversity of voices in the policy-making process, Seattle made a break from past processes. In 2015, the city severed official ties with 13 district councils of neighborhood-group volunteers and with their umbrella organization, the City Neighborhood Council. In its place, the city’s Department of Neighborhoods created a new Community Involvement Commission to advise city hall on priorities, policies and how to distribute grants for neighborhood projects. Kathy Nyland, the former Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, talks about how the experiment helped the city better understand the needs of its neighborhoods.

More: Systemwide Resident Engagement—A Process Guide, compiled by the City Accelerator Seattle team 


Washington, D.C., Uses P3s to Modernize Infrastructure

Like many other cities across the country, the District of Columbia faces a backlog of aging infrastructure. To deal with a looming crisis in infrastructure modernization, the city embraced public-private partnerships—with conditions. As a matter of good practice, it enforces performance-based contracts to make sure taxpayers get what they pay for. And as a matter of social equity, the city has included safeguards to help protect the interests of the District’s low-income and minority residents, who have often been disadvantaged when projects go wrong. Seth Miller Gabriel, director of the District’s Office of Public-Private Partnerships, shows how these P3s are helping the city meet its infrastructure needs.

More: How to Build a Public-Private Partnerships Office—A Process Guide, compiled by the City Accelerator Washington, D.C., team 

Additional resources from the City Accelerator:

Zach Patton -- Executive Editor. Zach joined GOVERNING as a staff writer in 2004. He received the 2011 Jesse H. Neal Award for Outstanding Journalism
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