Category Archives: Cities

First Chapter: National Urban Policy in the Age of Obama by Hilary Silver

urban policyBelow is an excerpt from a new edited volume Urban Policy in the Time of Obama. With President Obama’s term coming to an end Friday, we take a look back at the legacy he will leave behind. Hilary Silver, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Ash Center and Professor Emerita of Sociology and Urban Studies at Brown University, shares her chapter “National Urban Policy in the Age of Obama.”

Many supporters expressed disappointment that the first African-American community organizer to be elected US President did not do more to help cities. Although Barack Obama began to embrace the subject of race relations late in his second term, his urban policy seemed to disappear as his Administration endured. Signature initiatives like Choice Neighborhoods and Promise Zones were anemic in comparison to his predecessors’ programs, adding to the impression that the days of national urban policy were over. Yet, this chapter argues, President Obama did have an effective urban policy that worked by stealth, one embedded in the Recovery Act, foreclosure policies, and other stimulus programs. He also made headway against homelessness. Obama’s urban policy was pursued through new forms of governance as well, promoting interagency cooperation and leveraging resources. Thus, his legacy is not as modest as some have suggested.

This post is part of an occasional series highlighting chapters of recent books by those affiliated with the Ash Center. “National Urban Policy in the Age of Obama” by Hilary Silver appears here by permission of the University of Minnesota Press from Urban Policy in the Time of Obama edited by James DeFilippis, copyright 2016 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. Readers can purchase the book here.

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PBNYC: The Challenges and Opportunities of Scale

ribbleLong hours, careful relationship-building, and hands-on community outreach have made New York City’s Participatory Budgeting process a successful experiment in civic engagement. In this post, Betsy Ribble (MPP ’17) explores what it will take to scale PBNYC without losing the qualities that made it work so well.

Read more posts on participatory budgeting here.

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First Chapter: Democracy Reinvented by Hollie Russon Gilman

Gilman book coverBelow is an excerpt from Hollie Russon Gilman’s 2016 book, Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America. A postdoctoral scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Russon Gilman has long been affiliated with the Ash Center, most recently as senior adviser to our Technology and Democracy Fellowship program.

Democracy Reinvented assesses the opportunities and obstacles of participatory budgeting (PB) and civic engagement using hundreds of interviews, survey research, process tracing, and field observations. Based on Russon Gliman’s PhD dissertation, the book is one of the first academic works to extensively analyze participatory budgeting in the United States and its efforts to mend our democratic state. Continue reading

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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Cities, First Chapter, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Youth

Can Transparency Solve America’s Eating Problem? A Fresh Look at Menu Labeling

ruiThis post is from HKS student Rui Zhang, who is working as a research assistant for the Ash Center’s Transparency Policy Project. At a time when “families are regularly eating out more,” Zhang notes, “even trained dietitians underestimate the calorie and fat content of restaurant meals.” But is it safe to assume that more information is better in the search for answers to diet-related health problems? Learn more about transparency policy and information disclosure at transparencypolicy.net and @SunshinePolicy.
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Every Voice Matters: A Guiding Principle for One Municipal Department’s Innovation and Research Unit

D.LevineIn this post, Dr. Darren Levine, Manager of the Innovation and Research Unit within the Office of the Commissioner of Social Services for the Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, shares his unit’s initiative to foster an office climate of staff-driven innovation. This three-pronged approach to unlock staff creativity and to encourage innovation in all areas of the workplace makes use of innovation labs, an annual innovation and research forum, and Agora Town Hall, a platform developed by Harvard Kennedy School alumna Elsa Sze, winner of the Ash Center’s recent #Tech4Democracy Showcase and Challenge.

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Leveraging Technology to Improve Participation: Textizen and Oregon’s Kitchen Table

chanteToday’s post from Chante Lantos-Swett is the first in an occasional series that explores the top 25 ideas from the last round of the Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government. Now in its second year, this special Innovations Award is designed specifically to recognize government-led innovations that demonstrate enhanced public engagement and participation in the governance of towns, cities, states, and the nation. The deadline to submit an application for this year’s award is April 15, 2016.

In this post, Chante Lantos-Swett, MPP’17 candidate, examines two cutting edge technologies striving to bring policy discussions into the public space. Textizen and Oregon’s Kitchen Table are two new initiatives that engage communities in innovative ways through text messaging and online crowdfunding. Lantos-Swett explores the potential of online tools to increase civic participation across a more diverse population and at a sustainable cost.

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Slow Democracy Builds a Better Park

Archon Fung. Photo: Martha StewartThis post was originally published by Harvard Kennedy School. Katie Gibson profiles the work of Archon Fung, Linda Bilmes, Hollie Russon Gilman, and other Harvard Kennedy School faculty, fellows, students, and alumni who are involved in studying, teaching, and practicing participatory budgeting. You can read more of the Challenges to Democracy blog’s coverage of participatory budgeting in Boston, Cambridge, and beyond here. Continue reading

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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Cambridge Participatory Budgeting, Cities, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Students

Is The President’s Call For More Public Participation Within Reach?

Larry SchoolerIn this post, Larry Schooler of the City of Austin, Texas comments on President Obama’s recent call for greater public participation in his final State of the Union address. “We should strive to ensure, after all, that those affected by a public policy decision can affect that decision,” Schooler writes. “That’s not the case now in much of our country.” Yet Schooler, an experienced practitioner who directs community engagement, public participation, and conflict resolution projects for the City of Austin, is optimistic about the prospects for greater participation. He highlights a number of tools, tactics, and alternatives to traditional public hearings being used effectively in cities around the country, ranging from neutral moderators and discussion guidelines to deploying citizen hosts who engage neighbors in constructive dialogue in their homes, cafes, or places of worship.
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Ash Center’s 10th Anniversary Series Provides Direction for the Next Ten Years

200x200logoFBshareIn May, the Ash Center concluded its Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series with presentations by the 2015 Innovations in American Government Award finalists. Local government officials, students, and scholars gathered with the Innovation Award finalists for a nuts and bolts conversation on fostering innovation in government. This model of conversation—one that brings together people and ideas unlikely to otherwise connect, in an environment that encourages candid conversation on important yet difficult issues, with an emphasis on finding a way forward—was a true reflection of the Challenges to Democracy series. This post explores some of the series’ highlights and how it will carry forth in the Ash Center’s upcoming work. Read more about all events in the series including associated multimedia such as podcasts, media coverage, photos, and video recordings.
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Filed under #Hack4Congress, All Checks, No Balance, All the King's Men, All The Way, Cities, Dollarocracy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Future of Social Movements, Heart of Robin Hood, Immigration & Citizenship, Inequality vs Democracy, Innovation, Launch Event with On Point, Lawrence, Massachusetts, Nation of Devils, Participation, Technology, Voting Rights

Youth Violence Prevention and Technology in Philadelphia

courtneydsharpeIn this post, Harvard Graduate School of Design student Courtney D. Sharpe continues her coverage of efforts by My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia to engage youth in violence prevention and juvenile justice reform. Sharpe is a recent Ash Center Summer Fellow working with My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia to help design a comprehensive public database to promote City of Philadelphia opportunities open to youth. Here, Sharpe brings attention to the collaborative nature and emphasis on leveraging data of Philadelphia’s efforts to pursue timely interventions toward reducing the justice system-involvement of young people of color. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Policing, Students, Technology, Youth

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: Preserving the Affordable Housing Stock in New York City

Edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, this is the third of three interviews extending a previous eight-part series focused on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of democracy in cities and major urban areas.

logo 2For these new posts, we asked Harvard Graduate School of Design doctoral candidate Adam Tanaka to explore the ways in which housing shortages in the expensive global cities of London, Paris, and New York are leading to a redefinition of affordability, both for low- and middle-income residents. All three cities are experiencing population and productivity growth, coupled with increasing income inequality, contributing to a pressure-cooker housing market in which supply is falling far short of demand. As a result, public authorities are finding new ways to partner with private developers to try and meet demand for below-market housing. To learn more about the political and policy implications of these new partnerships, Tanaka sat down with three private developers, each of which is playing an important and telling role in the delivery and management of affordable housing in London, Paris, and New York.

For his third interview, Tanaka traveled to New York City to interview Rick Gropper of L+M Development Partners, a private affordable housing development company with thirty years of experience in New York. Their conversation reveals some of the political challenges still facing developers operating in this field, as well as new opportunities for innovation across the public-private divide. Continue reading

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Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: Bridging the Public and Private Sectors in Paris

Edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, this is the second of three interviews extending a previous eight-part series focused on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of democracy in cities and major urban areas.

logo 2For these new posts, we asked Harvard Graduate School of Design doctoral candidate Adam Tanaka to explore the ways in which housing shortages in the expensive global cities of London, Paris, and New York are leading to a redefinition of affordability, both for low- and middle-income residents. All three cities are experiencing population and productivity growth, coupled with increasing income inequality, contributing to a pressure-cooker housing market in which supply is falling far short of demand. As a result, public authorities are finding new ways to partner with private developers to try and meet demand for below-market housing. To learn more about the political and policy implications of these new partnerships, Tanaka sat down with three private developers, each of which is playing an important and telling role in the delivery and management of affordable housing in London, Paris, and New York.

For his second interview, Tanaka travelled to Paris to interview Julien Schmid of Habitat Social, a subsidiary of one of the largest construction companies in France. Their discussion addressed the politics of affordable housing production in Paris and the surrounding metropolitan region, the Ile-de-France. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Housing

Participatory Budgeting in New York City Named Winner of the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award

IAG_BFCThis post was originally published on the Government Innovators Network Blog. The Government Innovators Network is a marketplace of ideas and examples of government innovation for policymakers, policy advisors, practitioners, and researchers. The blog highlights successful innovations, features lessons learned from prominent academics, innovators and innovation experts, and public policy students from across the globe, and translates current research on innovation in the public sector and the future of innovation. Read more here.

The Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award in Public Engagement in Government was a key component of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. PBNYC was selected from among 100 submissions from government-led innovations that demonstrate enhanced public engagement and participation in the governance of towns, cities, states, and the nation.
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Filed under Cities, In the News, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: London’s ‘Squeezed Middle’

Edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, this is the first of three interviews extending a previous eight-part series focused on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of democracy in cities and major urban areas.

logo 2For these new posts, we asked Harvard Graduate School of Design doctoral candidate Adam Tanaka to explore the ways in which housing shortages in the expensive global cities of London, Paris, and New York are leading to a redefinition of affordability, both for low- and middle-income residents. All three cities are experiencing population and productivity growth, coupled with increasing income inequality, contributing to a pressure-cooker housing market in which supply is falling far short of demand. As a result, public authorities are finding new ways to partner with private developers to try and meet demand for below-market housing. To learn more about the political and policy implications of these new partnerships, Tanaka sat down with three private developers, each of which is playing an important and telling role in the delivery and management of affordable housing in London, Paris, and New York.

For his first interview, Tanaka travelled to London to learn more about the politics of delivering affordable housing. He met with Russ Edwards of Pocket, a development firm that is pioneering a new model of micro-unit, moderate-income housing. Their discussion ranged from the new architectural and financial approaches needed to drive innovation in affordable housing, to the complicated politics of who benefits—and who loses—from affordable housing policies.

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Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: Transatlantic Trends in Housing

logo 2This post kicks off a second round of blog postings that explore affordable housing as a challenge to the health of democracy in cities and major urban areas. These new posts—three interviews exploring the political trajectories of affordable housing in London, Paris, and New York—are edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor of Public Policy Quinton Mayne, who also writes the introductory post below.
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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Frontiers of Research, Housing, Immigration & Citizenship, Innovation

HUBweek Event Shows Greater Boston is Ripe with Civic Tech

guests 2The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is a leading research center at the Harvard Kennedy School focused on the intersection of government and technology. We are helping HKS students—our future public leaders—to learn crucial technology skills that they will take with them into their careers. The Center is also studying unanswered questions about the potential and the pitfalls of technology’s role in making government more modern, effective, and efficient as well as more responsive, transparent, and participatory. Continue reading

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Filed under All Checks, No Balance, Cities, Frontiers of Research, Future of Social Movements, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Political Polarization, Representation, Students, Technology

Philadelphia Engages Young People in Dialogue on Community-Police Relations

courtneydsharpeIn this post, originally published by MBK Philly, Harvard Graduate School of Design student Courtney D. Sharpe recaps the latest in a series of efforts by My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia and city agencies to engage youth in a dialogue on community-police relations. The one-day summit, attended by over 200 young people, and subsequent roundtable in City Hall were intended as platforms for youth, especially youth of color, to be able to share their stories and offer suggestions for ways that police and the community can adapt behaviors or policies to work better together. Sharpe is working with My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia this summer as an Ash Center Summer Fellow. Read more about My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia, the local affiliate of a national effort launched by President Obama to tackle the opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Immigration & Citizenship, Participation, Policing, Youth