The Department of Housing and Urban Development has unveiled an unprecedented new network aimed at helping cities.
The Strong Cities, Strong Communities National Resource Network — or SC2 Network, for short — will provide communities with targeted technical assistance to help support locally identified priorities for economic growth and job creation. On Thursday, HUD announced that a number of big-name institutions, including New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, will lead it.
The SC2 Network isn’t the first Obama administration attempt at a creating a broad entity focused on cities. But instead of concentrating the power in a department like the Office of Urban Affairs — or even an inter-agency effort like the Partnership for Sustainable Communities — the network comprise entities coming from various sectors and bringing different areas of expertise to the table. The approach reflects the Obama administration’s drive to break down silos in government while engaging partners in the private sector.
This consortium includes the affordable housing non-profit Enterprise Community Partners, the financial advisory firms Public Financial Management and HR&A Advisors, as well as the International City/County Management Association and NYU’s Wagner. (Full disclosure: Neil Kleiman, special advisor to the dean of NYU Wagner, is a Next City board member.)
The point, said Mark Linton, executive director of the SC2 program, is to strengthen the way the federal government partners with different communities to improve their economic situations.
Calling it a “true peer-to-peer” network, Linton described the network as providing a single portal through which interested communities can not only access information, tools and technical assistance, but also connect with other cities and learn about best practices for dealing with various problems.
For example, a city trying to create jobs might want a better handle on its fiscal situation. The SC2 Network might step in and do an assessment of the city’s budget to determine what’s possible under its current finances. Once the city knows where it stands, it can go about learning of successful jobs programs in other cities and try to replicate or improve upon them.
“We don’t just want to go in and provide a kind of siloed assistance,” Linton said, stressing the importance of stressing the distinct needs of communities and then connecting them with resources (and with one another) accordingly.
So which cities will the SC2 Network target first?
“We are still in the phase of figuring out the exact number of engagements over time,” said Linton, adding, “over next three years, we are hoping to have more intensive and more moderate engagements to reach at least 80-100 communities around country.”
Launched in July 2011, the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program addresses a range of issues facing cities around the country by embedding teams of specialists in local city halls. On Monday, the Obama administration came out with a report finding that the program has enjoyed modest successes in places like Memphis, New Orleans and Fresno, Calif.
The news comes at a good time for NYU — the school recently launched a new research and academic institute dedicated to cities and urban issues, the Marron Institute on Cities and the Urban Environment. Being part of such a high-profile urban affairs program will only help to solidify the school’s standing in the field.