Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2): Update From the Executive Director
Mark Linton, Executive Director of White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong CommunitiesThe Obama administration launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative in 2011 to help local communities facing economic distress achieve their goals while also improving the way they implement federal policies and programs. At the heart of SC2 is a unique partnership between mayors and the federal government to foster economic growth in seven chronically distressed cities Chester, Pennsylvania; Detroit, Michigan; Fresno, California; Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio.
Through the SC2 initiative, Community Solutions Teams composed of federal employees work with their local counterparts to break down silos and slash red tape to achieve each city’s economic development and job creation goals. By focusing on each community’s priorities, the SC2 teams have, among other achievements, helped develop studies and planning efforts for downtown revitalization, assisted with transportation planning, contributed national expertise on public health and public safety issues, and resolved regulatory barriers that threatened the availability of federal funds.
Although these teams have been on the ground for only 18 months, they’ve shown remarkable results. Their intensive assistance has helped the pilot cities better leverage federal resources and understand their unique challenges and opportunities. Notable accomplishments of the SC2 initiative include the following:
- In New Orleans, SC2 helped save nearly $20 million by preventing the recapture of housing funds. The city partnered with HUD to reconcile poorly kept records dating back to 1996 and clarify the city’s HOME project spending. The process kept the city in compliance with federal regulations and forestalled the need to repay the funds or forfeit future funding. By addressing these issues, federal and city officials provided a solid foundation for avoiding future challenges to this important funding stream.
- In Detroit, SC2 worked with the city and M-1 Rail investors to advance the construction of a light rail system along the Woodward Corridor. M-1 Rail is a consortium of Detroit-area corporate business ventures, foundations, and public and private institutions that are committing more than $100 million to build and operate a 3.3-mile modern streetcar system on Woodward Avenue, the region’s primary north-south thoroughfare. The U.S. Department of Transportation has also pledged $25 million toward the project’s construction. The light rail line will link downtown Detroit, the region’s largest employment center, with the rapidly developing Midtown and New Center neighborhoods to the north.
- In Memphis, SC2, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provided customized technical assistance to Memphis area health officials. The team created a comprehensive profile of the health status of Memphis residents and a profile of the city’s uninsured. Together, these profiles identify opportunities available through the Affordable Care Act and support the city’s Healthy Shelby program, both of which help improve the health outcomes of Memphis residents.
SC2 teams are helping each of the pilot cities generate creative approaches to achieving their goals, and they are learning lessons and testing new approaches that can be applied nationally.
This is an exciting time for the SC2 initiative. Working with local leadership, President Obama is proposing to align a number of his signature revitalization initiatives from HUD; HHS; and the U.S. Departments of Education, Commerce, Justice, and Agriculture to ensure that federal programs and resources are focused intensely on 20 communities hit hardest by the recession.1 As these “Promise Zones” are designated, SC2 will continue to help local leaders navigate federal programs and use federal resources more effectively. In the near future, we’ll also be releasing our first annual report to the co-chairs of the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities. Stay tuned!