Four cities learn how to create inclusive communities

08/17/2017 04:07 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2017

How can cities build inclusive, innovative local economies? That’s the question Forward Cities is answering through a multi-city learning collaborative comprised of Durham, Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans.

Supported by the Case Foundation and Kresge Foundation, Forward Cities has partnered with ScaleUp Partners in visiting each metro region to meet with local community, business and government leaders and discover first-hand what’s working as well as the challenges faced by these pioneers. Although many of these efforts are nascent, they represent a growing base of committed collaborators determined to forge new paths toward equitable access to economic opportunity.

Governing magazine today published an insightful commentary about the efforts ongoing in each of these Forward Cities metros.

Durham, NC is in the spotlight. In wake of the unfolding tragedy sparked by clashes between groups attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA last weekend extraordinary stories of positive social and economic impact are occurring in the Bull City. For example, the story in national media today is about the response by protesters who took down a century old confederate statue in the middle of town. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, local leaders in Durham are working across fault lines of race and politics to focus on ways to stem the tide of gentrification in the community of Northeast Central Durham. Similar efforts are occurring in cities across America. "Beneath the turmoil of contentious politics and finger-pointing, people are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work to start developing inclusive ecosystems at the local level," says Christopher Gergen, co-founder of Forward Cities and Durham resident. "They cross racial, ethnic, political and socioeconomic divides. They all want the same thing, what's best for their communities to improve quality of life for all."

Forward Cities is capturing this ongoing effort and producing case studies along with a policy toolkit that cities across its learning collaborative can use to better assess their local conditions and create a strategic approach to developing an inclusive economy that fits their distinct assets, demographics and local environment.

Joining Forward Cities as a strategic advisor is Johnathan Holifield, co-founder of ScaleUp Partners, a national consultancy specializing in economic inclusion and competitiveness strategies. Holifield is a former NFL player, attorney, civil rights advocate and author of “The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness.”

“Too often local economic-development strategies have failed to connect to communities of color,” Holifield says. "In the past, our nation could get away with growing the economy and competing with the world while one hand was tied behind our back; in other words, without top contributions from all Americans. In today's knowledge-based, tech-driven global innovation economy, we need all hands on deck to sustain our global competitiveness."

Forward Cities is set to release “The Promise of Durham,” which tells the story of efforts ongoing by local individuals, organizations and institutions, including Durham’s Office of Economic Development, to build an inclusive innovation ecosystem that they hope will result in equal access to economic equity, shared prosperity and improved quality of life for all residents. Durham’s success in developing an inclusive economic environment could be a pilot demonstration that cities across the country can emulate.

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