The SC2 National Resource Network: A Place-Based Federal Delivery System for Strong Cities
Patrick J. Pontius (center), Executive Director for the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2); Kate Dykgraaf (right), Senior Program Manager for the SC2 National Resource Network; and Kate Reynolds (left), Deputy Director for SC2.
With a little less than 8 months remaining in the Obama administration, the 19 federal agencies that make up the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities continue to support the excellent work underway in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative while preparing the program for an effective transition to the next administration. SC2 work in cities throughout the United States will continue through summer 2017 and could persist far longer pending future leadership decisions. We have federal team leads embedded in mayor’s offices in eight cities, and these two-year commitments will wind down starting with St. Louis in June 2016 and concluding with Brownsville in March 2017. Through June 2017, we will continue our direct engagements with almost 50 cities through the SC2 National Resource Network (SC2 NRN). The Urban Institute is also completing an evaluation of our work in these 50 cities. We have heard from countless mayors, congressional representatives, and local stakeholders praising SC2 and asking for more bottom-up, locally driven, coordinated federal partnerships with cities that face many challenges but have strong local leadership and a vision for economic development. The SC2 body of work, which ultimately will include an alumni network of approximately 80 cities, speaks for itself and offers a roadmap for potential future iterations of this unique approach. I would like to acknowledge the tremendous work of SC2 Deputy Director Kate Reynolds and congratulate her on her selection as a Bosch Fellow. Reynolds will take a leave of absence beginning in July, and Kate Dykgraaf , SC2 NRN senior program manager, will assume the role of deputy director. In this article, Dykgraaf will highlight the SC2 NRN work that will continue through 2017.
The SC2 NRN was designed to provide communities facing long-term economic challenges with easily accessible and comprehensive technical assistance that can prepare them for future economic growth, as well as facilitate long-term partnerships with philanthropic organizations, nonprofits, and public- and private-sector entities to help these communities attract economic investment and build capacity. As of June 2016, the SC2 NRN consortium, composed of Enterprise Community Partners, Public Financial Management, HR&A Advisors, the International City County Management Association, and New York University (NYU), has completed on-the-ground engagements in 11 cities, with 13 in process and 15 cities still to come.
To date, highlights of SC2 NRN’s direct work with cities include the following:
Helping the city of Providence, Rhode Island, develop a 10-year financial plan to prevent municipal bankruptcy.
Leveraging school redevelopment for greater community impact through anchor partnerships and developing a framework for the reuse of closed schools in Baltimore, Maryland.
Implementing a collective impact model focused on poverty reduction in Waco, Texas.
Supporting the implementation of the Healthy Campus Initiative in Kansas City, Kansas, by developing a project management structure, a master developer request for proposals, and a fundraising strategy as well as helping hire and train a new project manager.
Providing a free web-based 311 service for busy city staff, offering quick access to research on best practices for key questions and issues facing cities.
In addition to our work with individual cities, SC2 NRN has formally partnered with MassDevelopment on the Massachusetts State Resource Network, a pilot partnership that will provide up to seven cities and at least three of the state’s strategic Transformative Development Initiative Districts facing economic challenges with comprehensive technical assistance designed to increase their economic competitiveness. Up to $1.2 million in federal, state, and local funds will support the Massachusetts State Resource Network — including $375,000 from MassDevelopment — making Massachusetts the first state to provide direct funding for the effort.
SC2 NRN is also committed to organizing local capacity-building efforts to support cities. The Greater New Orleans Talent Partnership grew out of an 18-month effort led by SC2 NRN partner organization Civic Consulting USA to develop a local resource network of professionals from all sectors to work on critical city issues. Participants from 18 private-sector companies as well as Tulane University, Louisiana State University, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation worked to identify key issues related to Internet access, blight, analytics, business and entrepreneur outreach, and emergency management. The initial pilot phase demonstrated the existence of both the demand for skills-based volunteering in departments across the city and keen interest from organizations and their employees to work on projects that have a local impact. Looking forward, the Greater New Orleans Talent Partnership will expand its impact to other parishes in the region, establish a sustainable governance model led by a pro bono council, identify and scope specific projects, and secure funding.
Another key SC2 NRN project is the pilot for the Municipal Health Data for American Cities Initiative. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, SC2 NRN and NYU will develop the first-ever dashboard for essential health data for four U.S. cities: Flint, Michigan; Kansas City; Providence; and Waco. The initiative will frame federal and county data at the municipal level, extract key benchmarks embedded in existing city-level data, and create entirely new indicators through big data and social media activity. City leaders, federal data providers, data experts at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, and other experts in urban health metrics will provide input for the development of these health measures. The cities will also constitute the newly formed National Resource Network Peer Health Group to inform the process and ensure that the metrics selected for inclusion in the dashboard are useful, innovative, and actionable for city leaders.
Although mayors, department heads, and leaders from all sectors agree that engagement with SC2 NRN has improved their cities, the SC2 team is keen to analyze the outcomes from the Urban Institute-led program evaluation that will roll out in spring 2017. Congressional appropriators have shown interest in continuing to fund this type of holistic, catalytic work with economically distressed cities; therefore, understanding what aspects work and what conditions are necessary for success is essential. We invite other researchers to work with our cities and add to the body of knowledge around SC2 and other place-based programs.