Reimagining the Civic Commons

Who We Are

Reimagining the Civic Commons is a national initiative that seeks to counter economic and social fragmentation in our cities by revitalizing and connecting public spaces such as parks, plazas, trails and libraries to bring together people from different backgrounds.

Through projects in five U.S. cities, Reimagining the Civic Commons intends to be the first comprehensive demonstration of how a connected set of civic assets – a civic commons – can connect people of all backgrounds and yield increased and more equitably shared prosperity for cities and neighborhoods.

It seeks to foster community, social mobility and economic opportunity by creating experiences and spaces where people of all backgrounds can exchange ideas and address common problems while making cities more environmentally sustainable in the process.

Alongside the demonstration cities, a national Civic Commons Learning Network will coordinate a learning agenda, impact assessment and storytelling across the sites. It will host cross-city learning opportunities and generate a series of toolkits to act as how-to resources for civic asset and city leaders in demonstration cities and beyond.

The five demonstration cities, paired with the Civic Commons Learning Network, represent an opportunity to build a new field of practice to reimagine small civic anchors to yield increased and more widely shared prosperity for cities and neighborhoods.

Reimagining the Civic Commons is supported by The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and local funders.

Evidence

Abandonment of the places once widely shared has contributed to widening social, economic and political divisions. A recent report from City Observatory shows that Americans are spending less time together in social settings, trusting each other less and interacting less regularly with people whose experiences are different from their own.

Economic segregation, where residents live in either primarily low-income neighborhoods or primarily high-income neighborhoods, is on the rise. In fact, the number of high poverty neighborhoods in the core of metropolitan areas has tripled and their population has doubled between 1970 and 2010. Studies from economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren found evidence that economic segregation produces toxic effects for families and children and reduces intergenerational economic mobility, while economically integrated places are correlated with economic mobility and improved life outcomes for poor residents.

Furthermore there is evidence that perceptions of neighborhoods have lasting effects on those places. For instance, Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson found that a neighborhood’s reputation was a stronger predictor of that neighborhood’s future poverty level than almost any other variable, including the neighborhood’s current poverty level. In essence,reputations are sticky and neighborhood stigmatization becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As communities have fragmented and technology has advanced, public use of civic assets has declined. This fragmentation eroded broad-based support for these assets. Due to decay, inattention and disinvestment, civic assets no longer provide the much-needed connective tissue that binds people together and anchors neighborhoods. And nowhere is that decay, inattention and disinvestment more evident than in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.

New Knowledge for American Cities

A national learning network under the leadership of U3 Advisors will focus on activating innovation in the civic commons in demonstration cities and beyond, understanding the impact of the civic commons and the innovation and collaboration required to achieve that impact, and increasing broad-based support for the civic commons in cities across the country. To do this work, it will collaborate with partners to provide research and impact assessment, storytelling and cross-city learning opportunities.

The five demonstration cities, paired with the Civic Commons Learning Network, represent an opportunity to build a new field of practice to reimagine small civic anchors to yield increased and more widely shared prosperity for cities and neighborhoods.

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