Helping America’s Metropolitan Regions Build Prosperity, Expand Opportunity.

May 18th, 2010 | Add a Comment

The Ford Foundation today announced a five-year, $200 million effort to help transform the way that cities, suburbs and surrounding communities grow and plan for the future, promoting a new metropolitan approach that interweaves housing, transportation and land-use policy to foster greater economic growth.

The new funds will allow Ford to develop and significantly expand successful collaborations and policy innovations that it has supported in communities throughout the country, providing models that can be adopted and adapted in other metropolitan regions.

The initiative was announced by Ford Foundation President Luis A. Ubinas to some 300 local, state, and federal leaders gathered to discuss the revitalization of American communities that once relied almost solely on the auto industry for jobs and growth.

The goal is to expand opportunity among all people in any given metro region—from many different communities and income levels—by ensuring that metropolitan communities plan together and collaborate on such common challenges as affordable housing, infrastructure investments, education and job creation.

“Economic growth requires that cities and suburbs work together,” Ubinas said. “The notion that suburbs can thrive while city centers atrophy has proved damaging to our nation. We now know that metropolitan areas share a common economic destiny. Metropolitan areas that manage to interweave urban and suburban development, everything from transportation to arts and culture, attract more people, and more investment.”

The foundation said all the urban revitalization work it funds will reflect this metropolitan approach. It seeks to help communities move away from competing for public and private funding toward collaborating on regional initiatives, making limited resources go further.

“We want to break down the walls that separate leaders who should be working together,” said George McCarthy, director of Metropolitan Opportunity at Ford. “We aim to unite policymakers and innovators from across the fields of transportation, housing, and land use. When investments in these major systems are planned with an understanding of how they intersect and impact the lives of all people in a region, the result can be transformative.”

Ford will make strategic investments in key metropolitan areas to expand the most promising initiatives and develop models for other regions throughout the nation. Examples of such early investments include support for:

  • Transformative public transportation projects that connect residents to jobs and other opportunities, including the M1 rail in Detroit, the redevelopment of the Claiborne corridor in New Orleans, and the construction of 25 transit villages along BART in San Francisco’s Bay Area.
  • Innovative initiatives to create a stock of permanently affordable housing—in communities including New Orleans and the Bay Area. Through such market-based approaches as “shared equity” homeownership, families receiving a public subsidy to buy a home agree to share the equity they earn with government, which then makes those funds available to another family. These projects are targeted to neighborhoods that are rich with economic opportunity, ensuring that residents will have access to, for example, regional employment centers, quality schools and effective public transportation.
  • Programs in metropolitan Detroit, Flint, Mich., New Orleans and other areas to create regional land bank authorities, which enable communities to revitalize blighted areas and increase quality housing opportunities. This includes funding for the Center for Community Progress, a new national resource center for communities that provides training and technical assistance for any metropolitan region that wants to develop its own land bank authority.

The foundation will serve as a national convener and advocate for innovation—bringing people together from across the country to share ideas and inform the national policy dialogue by demonstrating what is working on the ground. It will also work to bring more partners and funding to these longstanding metropolitan issues, including not just philanthropic dollars but government and private sector funds, as well. Ford is supporting the Living Cities collaborative of financial and philanthropic institutions to lead a broad national effort to advance innovation, build systemic capacity in cities, and get new players and resources to the table.

“Our goal is to bring the best pragmatic ideas from all sectors to this effort to promote an integrated agenda that strengthens the regional public and private systems that generate opportunity,” Ubinas said.

This new work builds on five decades of Ford Foundation experience in community development and draws on lessons learned from that work. Ford has historically supported neighborhood-by-neighborhood development efforts that helped to build quality communities by coordinating the flow of public and private capital through its pioneering support of Community Development Corporations. Today, the foundation is advancing this work by working to link neighborhoods and their residents to broader city and metropolitan prosperity.

“When we look at metro regions and see pockets of serious unemployment but also pockets of employment opportunity, and disjointed transit systems that fail to connect people to the services they need and the jobs they seek, it’s clear that a different approach is needed,” said Pablo J. Farias, vice president of Ford’s Economic Opportunity and Assets program. “We can reduce poverty and unemployment and raise the quality of life for city and suburb dwellers alike while making cities more competitive and sustainable. To achieve this, we need metropolitan regions to embrace a shared economic destiny. That’s what this initiative is all about.”

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than half a century it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

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