Reinvigorating Local Democracy

The City Accelerator is helping cities engage residents for better results.
March 19, 2015 AT 11:00 AM

When it comes to governance that powerfully affects people’s daily lives, cities are often where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Presently, American cities -- the frontlines of our democracy -- are experiencing dramatic shifts in population size, age, and ethnic and income diversity. With this changing reality comes a new set of challenges -- and opportunities -- that require innovative approaches to city government. An important focus on this front will be for cities to evolve their civic engagement practices, creating more inclusive processes that better harness and utilize the knowledge and ingenuity of city residents toward solving today’s complex urban problems.  

Recognizing the opportunities that come with moving away from traditional public engagement practices, more and more local governments are exploring ways to partner more effectively with city residents to identify, understand and solve public problems. Simultaneously, residents are becoming ever more accustomed to influencing the community around them through technology such as social media. This trend is creating new avenues for governments to be more responsive and creative in their engagement practices. 
Enterprising governments, nonprofits and individuals have produced some incredible innovations for better engagement. From residents mapping where they want new public infrastructure (such as new street trees), to the use of temporary installations like Better Blocks to help reconceive what public spaces can be, there are now more ways than ever for residents to connect with government and pursue civic endeavors. 
Through the City Accelerator, the Citi Foundation and Living Cities plan to help local governments in our networks implement these cutting-edge approaches as well as proven ideas. The City Accelerator’s second cohort will help up to five cities develop the systems, skills and knowledge to adopt innovative approaches into their normal course of business. More specifically, we will help them:
  • Design and implement strategies to engage residents from start to finish, in heavy- and light- touch ways, using both cutting-edge and customary tools;
  • Improve upon or rethink existing structures and networks for engagement;
  • Evaluate impact so cities know how well engagement practices are working and whether they are leading to better results;
  • Build the internal systems and processes to ensure engagement can influence government decision-making and operations; and
  • Ensure that engagement efforts work for people of all different walks of life, including rapidly growing immigrant communities.

Introducing our Finalists

We are also pleased to introduce our seven finalists for this cohort.  All of these participants are looking to perfect the art and practice of engaging city residents as partners in the work of local governance and urban transformation.

  • Albuquerque is working to better support entrepreneurship by engaging immigrant entrepreneurs more deeply in policy development;
  • Atlanta seeks to put funding from the region’s top corporations toward community priorities by engaging communities in the work of the public-private Westside Future Fund;
  • Baltimore is looking to reduce street violence by engaging people leaving incarceration, as well as their families, as part of a broader initiative to reduce violent crime;
  • Los Angeles wants to ensure that low-income residents remain in the city and can reap the benefits of jobs and investment coming into the area;
  • Minneapolis is seeking to deepen engagement with underserved communities across the board, and to adopt innovative and systemic engagement strategies toward that end;
  • New Orleans wants to improve the health of communities by engaging people who are currently enrolled in a local healthcare program, but are not using its services; and
  • Seattle is looking to go beyond business as usual in engaging residents in the update of their 20-year comprehensive plan.
Each of these cities is eager to set a new bar for resident engagement. You can see more about their proposed work in brief videos they have prepared for the selection process.
Tell Us – and the Cities – What You Think
We will be announcing the final cohort Cities in May. Between now and Friday, April 3, you can influence our thinking by providing feedback on the cities’ videos. If you like a city’s idea, leave a comment. If you think a city’s proposal can go even further, say so. You can rate videos with one to five stars, like you would on a site like Amazon or Netflix, and leave comments at the bottom of the page. We look forward to reviewing your feedback as we make our final decisions.

Steven Bosacker is the Director of Public Sector Innovation of Living Cities. He most recently served as the city coordinator for the city of Minneapolis where he championed accountability and transparency in services across municipal government. 


Be part of the campaign for civic innovation at the City Accelerator, presented by Citi Foundation.