Finding, Measuring, and Addressing Urban Equity
How urban innovators and social entrepreneurs define and measure progress has profound implications for how those committed to improving their communities – businesses, governments, nonprofits, and residents – allocate resources. Urban innovators and social entrepreneurs are the changemakers of tomorrow – they hold the key to how cities will overcome the most pressing social and economic challenges we face today.
As one of the largest social enterprises in the nation, Enterprise Community Partners is working to advance an opportunity framework – including the introduction of a new platform for identifying and addressing community strengths and challenges, Opportunity360. Advancing this framework is intended to strengthen the “ground game” of the growing field of social innovators and entrepreneurs interested in cross-sector collaboration as they work to advance better outcomes for people.
What is Opportunity?
Opportunity is the set of circumstances and neighborhood characteristics – what Enterprise calls pathways – that make it possible for people to achieve their goals, no matter their starting point. Any serious attempt to define, measure, and expand opportunity must include both the outcomes people achieve, such as their educational attainment, health, and income, and the pathways that affect the attainment of those outcomes, like quality schools, convenient transit, and access to healthy foods.
A robust and growing body of research tells us that the availability of these opportunity pathways is as crucial to an individual’s success as motivation and work ethic. In other words, where you live affects the life you have. Stanford researcher Raj Chetty and his colleagues have shown clearly that simply moving to better neighborhoods leads to substantial “increases in children’s earnings as adults, increases in college attendance and reductions in out-of-wedlock births.”
Interconnected Challenges Require Interconnected Solutions
Cities in the U.S. and around the world committed to improving opportunity face a variety of interconnected challenges. A person with poor access to transit often also finds it hard to reach areas with good jobs; someone with a poorly maintained home is more likely to suffer from health issues like asthma, made worse from triggers like mold and pests.
Making progress on interconnected challenges requires interconnected solutions, which in turn requires multisector collaboration. For example, organizations providing affordable housing can locate homes in areas that offer quality education, can work with before- and after-school programs to provide lower-income students with the enrichment and support they often need, partner with health systems to help provide access to quality healthcare, and design resident services to provide job training. However, effective collaboration requires a shared understanding of the problems and the assets in each community.
Harnessing Technology to Enhance Multisector Collaboration
In the U.S., the data revolution has made possible a variety of tools designed to measure opportunity measurement tools using a myriad of indicators. Each tool has its own evaluation lens, points of emphasis, and methodology – all intended to contribute to better informed policies and programs.
Yet each has limitations that have prevented any one tool from establishing itself as a shared reference point for urban innovators and social entrepreneurs – be they investors, philanthropists, planners, researchers, developers, advocates, activists or, most importantly, residents. While they all come with different skills and goals for their work, they all need a tool that enables them to:
- Use a framework that integrates a people, places, and systems perspectives to encourage a multisector, collaborative approach to identifying solutions;
- Differentiate opportunity pathways, like school quality and transit options, from opportunity outcomes,like educational success and income;
- Engage residents and other stakeholders as co-creators in community development plans so that policies and projects aid those who need it most and do not lead to further challenges;
- Provide data at the neighborhood level, because opportunity can shift block to block;
- Offer data that covers a greater depth and breadth of indicators and displays them an easy-to-use form; and
- Enable them to see impact and change over time to understand how investments are affecting outcomes.
A New Way for Urban Innovators to Understand and Address Community Challenges
Opportunity360 is a new platform that responds to those needs. It is a free, fulsome approach to analyzing and addressing community challenges using cross-sector data, sophisticated measurement tools, and creative community engagement techniques.
Drawing on more than 200 indicators, Opportunity360 helps provide answers to key questions facing those committed to improving communities and does so at the census tract level. To what extent do people in a given place have access to the resources, institutions, and services that create opportunity? How do residents fare in five categories fundamental to well-being: housing stability, education, economic security, health and well-being, and mobility?
The suite of tools and resources in the platform provides a comprehensive view into a neighborhood, enabling partners in urban development to work from common knowledge. With this insight, they will be better positioned to transform cities by creating collaborative solutions, by making smart investments, and by facilitating a strategic, asset-building approach to community development. The ability of Opportunity360 to collect and compare data over time can help us better understand how our systems and policies affect the outcomes of low-income people.
As investors, philanthropists, planners, researchers, developers, and advocates, we must do more to create collaborative, cross-sector solutions that incorporate people, places and systems. By informing our work with multisector data and the knowledge of peers in other fields, Opportunity360 can help urban innovators offer more thoughtful solutions to our shared challenges and build stronger, more resilient communities.
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Cities can and should inform their community members living in Opportunity Zones about what Opportunity Zones are, and how they work to protect them from speculation and displacement. Cities should also create zoning overlays to ensure projects proposed in Opportunity Zones actually provide community benefit. Cities can even create impact investing prospectuses marketing their Opportunity Zones to ethical investors. And, finally, cities should be ambitious, and create their own Opportunity Funds to include investment experts, policy experts, and members of the community to fund equitable, sustainable projects that actually benefit communities.