Innovation and the City: 40 of the Best Urban Policy Innovations

August 5, 2013

By Adam Forman

With Congress trapped in budget battles and partisan gridlock, cities have emerged as the best source of government innovation. Two new reports by the Center for an Urban Future and NYU Wagner Innovation Labs demonstrate the growing vitality, experimentation, and creativity of cities in the U.S. and around the world. Together, these two Innovation and the City reports—which were funded by Citi Community Development—provide 40 tested and scalable reforms that can improve, and possibly transform, American cities.

Drawing upon hundreds of interviews with mayors, agency chiefs, policy institutes, corporations, labor unions and philanthropic foundations, the reports identify some of the boldest and most inventive urban policy reforms of the last decade.

The first report, “Innovation and the City”, features 15 policies tailored specifically (though not exclusively) to New York City’s needs—produced with the goal of providing New York’s next mayor with ideas that have worked in other cities and which can be replicated in the Big Apple. Our follow-up report, “Innovation and the City, Part Two,” highlights an additional 25 policies that, while not necessarily appropriate for New York, are important enough to merit replication in other cities.

The innovative policies featured include Denver’s Peak Academy, an innovation training program for line-level agency staff; a program in Camden, NJ that cuts down on expensive emergency room visits by hot-spotting so-called “super-utilizers” of medical care; the Chicago Loan Fund, which supports extended agency collaboration to stimulate efficiency and cost-savings; traffic congestion and parking reforms in San Francisco; Harrisburg, PA’s attempt to use the tax code to incentivize development and discourage land speculation; and London’s Community Infrastructure Levy, a new tool for financing transit upgrades and other infrastructure investments.

As cities continue to generate new solutions to a wide variety of vexing problems, sharing information about what works and what doesn’t has become more important than ever. Our Innovation and the City reports attempt to do just that.

“Urbanization, digitization and globalization are shaping the way we create, participate in, and deliver public services,” Bob Annibale, Global Director of Citi Community Development and Microfinance. “[This report] highlights how cities will continue to be the wellsprings of our best ideas.”

"With fewer resources and more pressure to produce, cities are generating incredible innovations across the country,” says Neil Kleiman, director of the Wagner Innovation Labs at New York University. “This project provides a snapshot of what we can learn.”

About the Center for an Urban Future and the Wagner Innovation Labs

The Center for an Urban Future is a NYC-based policy institute dedicated to highlighting the critical opportunities and challenges facing New York and other cities, and providing fresh ideas and workable solutions to policymakers. The Center’s primary focus is on growing and diversifying the local economy, expanding economic opportunity and targeting problems facing low income and working-class neighborhoods. For more information, visit www.nycfuture.org.

The Wagner Innovation Labs are a part of the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. They are a new series of experiments that marry theory and practice to promote informed, evidence-based policy-making in a complex world. Each Lab has its own focus and approach, and operates independently, but all reflect NYU Wagner’s broad commitment to bringing scholars, thinkers and practitioners together to enrich the policy-making process. For more information, visit www.wagner.nyu.edu/labs.

Adam Forman is a Research Associate at the Center for an Urban Future.