In April, the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities released the first annual report on the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (SC2). The report includes an overview of the program, accomplishments in the seven SC2 pilot cities, lessons learned, and next steps for the future expansion of the program. The SC2 pilot was launched to help eliminate barriers and reduce red tape in the use of diverse federal funds in seven communities hit hard by the Great Recession. The initiative placed federal education, justice, housing, transportation, and other experts directly in target communities to help navigate program planning, implementation, funding, and evaluation. SC2 initiatives in each city were place-based and individualized to best-serve a particular community.
Examples of SC2 projects include reducing red tape to access homebuyer assistance in New Orleans, demolition of an abandoned, blighted public housing development in Detroit, riverfront revitalization and economic development in Memphis, and many more. SC2 placed federal policy experts, staff, and fellows directly in the city halls of pilot communities to help them navigate the often-confusing federal funding and reporting requirements, to braid together multiple funding sources, and to craft relevant, neighborhood-specific projects to fit unique community needs. Successful projects have taken root in all pilot communities and, tellingly, all staff involved report a high level of satisfaction with the program.
The SC2 first annual report also identifies opportunities for further development. These lessons and opportunities include the need to retrain disconnected workers, creating time and space for comprehensive economic planning, investing in transit solutions, leveraging Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), deepening partnerships with philanthropy, and more.
These lessons can be explored in the near future as SC2 is set to grow in a number of ways. Later in 2013, SC2 will be inviting additional economically distressed communities to apply for another pilot round. In addition to another round of pilot communities, President Obama has also proposed the creation of 20 “Promise Zones” to be determined through a competitive application process. An SC2 National Resource Network is also slated for the coming year. The SC2 Network will serve as a single portal for training and technical assistance for economically distressed communities.
The first annual SC2 report suggests a bright future for the initiative. Communities and staff report strong satisfaction with this program that cuts red tape, streamlines processes, and allows for the flexibility to create place-based projects tailored to the needs of individual communities.