An ever-evolving organization
Over our history, we have remained committed to improving the lives of people in U.S. cities.
In 2007, we pivoted from our original focus on neighborhood-level transformation to address the many, interrelated systems—education, transit access, workforce development and more—that impact peoples’ economic well-being, and since then have evolved to our current commitment of closing racial income and wealth gaps in U.S. cities.
This timeline is a brief overview of our racial equity journey.
The Evolution of Living Cities: Expanding the Work of CDCs
The National Community Development Initiative (NCDI) was founded in 1991, with an initial focus on providing capital to and building the capacity of local community development corporations (CDCs). As financial institutions were subject to the Community Reinvestment Act, banks joined the NCDI effort to expand the work of CDCs. At this time, our efforts were race-neutral, and the implications of generations of racist housing policies and practices were largely not discussed. The seeds of a more race-centered approach, however, would soon be planted.
NCDI Invests $250 million into Neighborhoods in Two Dozen Cities
A small number of early participants – the Lilly Endowment and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – exited the partnership in the first two three-year funding rounds, but several others joined, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Bankers Trust Co. (later Deutsche Bank), NationsBank (later Bank of America), and Chase Manhattan Bank (later JP Morgan Chase).
Living Cities Is Birthed
Living Cities, in its current form, was birthed out of NCDI to continue providing capital to and building the capacity of CDCs and to better support the growing needs of the collective.
LC Supports Gulf Coast Rebuild After Katrina
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, members passed millions of dollars through Living Cities to the Gulf Coast, an area previously absent of philanthropic funds.
Shift Focus to Neighborhoods and System Transformation
In 2007, we made an extraordinary pivot, shifting from a core focus on community development to a multidisciplinary focus on both neighborhood and system transformation. This pivot was designed to leverage the full capacity of our remarkable collaborative. Also in 2007, Ben Hecht came on board as CEO and President to lead the organization toward a more cross-sector, systems-based approach.
Launch the Project on Municipal Innovation
We launched a number of new initiatives focused on supporting cross-sector leaders in places to move beyond delivering programs, toward accelerating the spread and adoption of solutions that could bring about lasting change that benefited low-income people.
Establish the Integration Initiative
Living Cities officially established The Integration Initiative (TII), a cross-sector, multi-city initiative "to transform the lives of low-income people and the communities in which they live.” The project was directly based on more than a decade of lessons learned about how change happens in U.S. cities.
Freddie Gray's Death Sparks Change
At a May Board meeting, Living Cities Board members took time to discuss how we as a collaborative should respond to Freddie Gray's death and the pattern of police brutality. The Board recommended establishing a task force to determine how we might collectively respond, an action that would not have been possible without Living Cities staff encouragement and the racial equity competencies we were building.
The Race in U.S. Cities Task Force Launches
The Race in U.S. Cities (RUSC) Task Force launched to design an initiative to address structural racial inequities that takes advantage of the Living Cities collaborative's unique assets. In confronting the shocking and sobering headlines about Freddie Gray and others, we couldn't avoid, however, reckoning with the history of America—from genocide and slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration—and with the role that institutions like ours have played in creating and perpetuating inequity.
Launch the Blended Catalyst Fund
The Board charged itself with defining a new way of working together for Living Cities' 2016-2019 funding round, with the goal of much greater impact. This compact was a real way of testing how to put race in the center of our work going forward.
Launch the Racial Equity Here Initiative
At the May 2016 Board meeting, we launched the Racial Equity Here (REH) initiative, designed by the RUSC Task Force and the result of the New Member Compact commitment. Through REH, five cities began work with the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE) to apply a racial equity lens to local government policy and operations.
The Resources & Results Team Is Created
We reorganized the way we work internally to increase collaboration across bodies of work, more equitably distribute authority, and better leverage and support staff competencies. The Resources & Results team was created to share power and decision-making authority amongst a diverse, nine-person leadership group.
LC Commits to Anti-Racist Work
Living Cities began to define shared leadership on the Resources & Results Committee, as a way to manage ourselves differently with a racial equity and inclusion lens. This management change was a milestone in our becoming an anti-racist organization and part of holding ourselves accountable to our racial equity goals—internally.
Reform in Response to a Racial Equity Audit
Living Cities made internal reforms in response to a racial equity audit. These comprised Undoing Racism training for all staff, racial equity competency building in recruiting and onboarding, and a racial equity and inclusion staff survey to better understand competencies, comfort levels and skills.
Colleagues Operationalizing Racial Equity is Launched
The Colleagues Operationalizing Racial Equity (CORE) team launched to dedicate staff to operationalizing racial equity in our work. Resources & Results drafted a racial equity vision and values statement, which was approved by the Executive Committee.
A More Defined Impact Strategy for the Blended Catalyst Fund
Living Cities announced a more defined impact strategy for the Blended Catalyst Fund: to use the fund to make investments that close racial wealth and income gaps. This change in vision and approach was the direct result of internal racial equity and inclusion competency building.
Partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity
Through partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a project of Race Forward and the Center for Social Inclusion, and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, Living Cities provided technical support and coaching to five cities as they normalized conversations about race, operationalized new behaviors and policies, and organized to achieve racial equity.
Secure Three More Years of Work
At our May 2019 Board meeting, members adopted a portfolio for the next three years of work, one that focused resources on root causes, established the forthcoming Closing the Gaps Network, and used capital in innovative ways to close racial income and wealth gaps.
Our Interactive Timeline
In this interactive piece, we wanted to reckon with the landmark political and cultural history that pushed both Living Cities as an organization—and as a philanthropic collective—forward.
The timeline first reflects back on these stories, and then forward into the next several decades, to imagine an anti-racist America where people are economically secure, building wealth, and living abundant, dignified and connected lives.
By looking back at Living Cities' history, maybe we can see where we as a collective, and as individuals, got it wrong. Maybe we can see how to correct these mistakes, center race in everything we do, and collectively envision a bright, just future.