Cities Are Where Change Happens

Cities are not constructed just out of brick and mortar. Their foundations are not made just out of concrete and steel. They are also undergirded by ethereal stuff. They are built on hopes and dreams and tenacity. From Lagos, to Bombay, to New York City, people flock to cities in search of opportunity and possibility. They come to cities to create a better future for themselves and their families and in so doing they contribute to the energy, character, and sustainability of the place. In her seminal book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs wrote that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” The true promise of a city, then, can only be realized when it reflects and supports the aspirations of all of its residents. Where this is not the case, the foundation is weakened, the center cannot hold.

Ten years ago, when the levees broke in New Orleans, we watched as the forces of nature and poverty collided to disastrous effect. To be sure, all of the residents of that vibrant city were forever changed by Hurricane Katrina, but the storm and its aftermath also laid bare some uncomfortable truths. It was impossible not to notice the racial and socioeconomic context within which the tragedy played out. Hours upon hours of footage played on loop of people stranded on rooftops and of people who had just lost everything suffering the indignity of being crowded into unsanitary and inhospitable temporary shelters. It was impossible not to notice that most of those people were black and poor. Today, the city has made great strides in terms of rebuilding, but too many people, particularly people of color, remain disconnected from good education, jobs, and housing. —> Read More