(Photo by Deonna Anderson)

40-ish Milestones for Next City’s 20th Anniversary

We compiled significant moments from the nonprofit media outlet’s first two decades.

Story by Deonna Anderson

Published on

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In 2023, Next City celebrated its 20th anniversary. With a series of webinars and our Solutions of the Year magazine, we’ve highlighted visions of a more equitable future.

But we also wanted to acknowledge the accomplishments of the organization since its founding in 2003. Whether you’ve been with us since the start or are just joining us now, thank you for being part of the Next City community. You’ve helped us get here and we’re grateful!

(This article is a living document and will be updated periodically. Know any Next City milestones that are missing from this list? Let us know: wrapped@nextcity.org.)

The first issue of The Next American City was published in 2003.

The First Launch!! - February 2003 - Next City’s founders Seth Brown, Adam Gordon, and Anika Singh Lemar publish the premiere issue of The Next American City (the publication’s original name). “Through clear, concise and accessible writing, we aim to illuminate how new trends, research and advances in various fields help answer the challenges that metropolitan areas as a whole face,” wrote Gordon, founding editor-in-chief. The first issue debuted during a panel discussion at New York University.

March 9, 2003 - The New York Times published an article about the magazine, which it describes as a “subtle plan to change the world.”

January 2004 - Published Issue Five of The Next American City, which featured the story ‘Building Lives on the Edge of War: Sudanese Refugees in Northern Uganda Struggle in Limbo’ by immigration lawyer Michael Kagan. “There is great optimism that a peace deal in Sudan is close,” he wrote back then. In the years since, there have been more civil wars in the country. One is happening at the end of 2023.

2006 - Next City hired its first full-time staff, including editor Jess McCuan, and opened an office in Philadelphia.

Spring 2007 - Published Issue 14, which featured a story titled ‘The Green Divide’ by artist, scholar and teacher Margot Lystra. “Most economic development and open space planning, including the siting of industrial plants, has historically been led by municipal governments and private interests, with little input from impacted neighborhoods,” she wrote. “As a result, underserved neighborhoods learn the hard way that if they want healthy communities, they must learn to plan for themselves — before someone else does it for them.”

April 2008 - Diana Lind becomes executive director and editor-in-chief of the organization, which became more robust under her leadership. Lind later served as a Next City board member.

October 2008 - Hosted Urbanexus in Los Angeles, which was a “series of conversations covering everything from architecture in the city to the availability of local food in the neighborhood grocery stores.”

2009 - Published Issue 22 of the magazine, which included a cover story that examined how cities were coping with the wars, economy and costly health care of that era. The piece was reported by Ariella Cohen and it featured images by Gus Powell, Carl Wooley and Brian Ulrich.

May 20-21, 2009 - The first Vanguard conference took place in Washington D.C. Since then, Next City has brought together more than 600 Vanguards in cities worldwide, from Sacramento to Newark to New Castle, Australia. Vanguards are changemakers across industries — they’re artists, architects, entrepreneurs, activists, and policymakers. And they’re all committed to making sure cities thrive.

The End of An Era - Summer 2011 - The final print issue of Next American City was published and the organization went digital, with occasional print issues.

Spring 2012 - Next City opened the Storefront for Urban Innovation, which served as the organization’s offices, an exhibition space and a venue for small and medium-sized events. It was located in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia.

April 2012 - Launched Forefront, a weekly series of long-form articles about cities around the world. It was available to subscribers and featured 52 stories in 2013, of which 16 were focused on international topics. Next City doubled its Forefront subscriber base from 1,800 subscribers in 2012 to 3,500 in 2013. Some excerpts from the series can still be found online.

December 2012 - Next American City becomes Next City. “A couple times a month, I receive an invitation to have my organization serve as a media partner for a conference, but when the event has international speakers or an international focus, the mere brand of Next American City seems inappropriate,” Diana Lind, former editor-in-chief, wrote. “At the same time, many of the most exciting developments in urban policy — efforts to increase energy efficiency, government transparency, sustainable transportation or food access— are happening in cities abroad.”

January 2013 - Launched Informal City Dialogues, a year-long project supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by Forum for the Future. It aimed “to foster a conversation about the informal urban realm, and how it can be cultivated and harnessed for the benefit of all,” with a focus on six cities: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila and Nairobi.

February 2013 - In collaboration with the Downtown Denver Partnership, the organization convened political, business, cultural and civic leaders for third annual Rocky Mountain West Urban Leadership Symposium.

November 2013 - Celebrated a decade of Next City! Staff, readers and supporters gathered in New York City to mark the organization’s 10-year anniversary. The event featured first-person storytelling about cities. Attendees heard from Toby Barlow, Majora Carter, Adam Gordon, Dekonti Mends-Cole, Choire Sicha, Sudhir Venkatesh, Darren Walker, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, all inspiring people whose work has contributed to the transformations of urban America.

2014 - Launched the first Equitable Cities Reporting Fellowship with the Surdna Foundation, Next City’s first-ever funder. One of the goals of the fellowship is to level the playing field in journalism and provide a paid opportunity for early-career journalists of color. Since 2014, Next City has hired about 10 reporting fellows through this program, including current staff and contributors Oscar Perry Abello, Roshan Abraham and Deonna Anderson.

April 5-11, 2014 - Next City hosts the World Stage at World Urban Forum 7 in Medellín, Colombia, marking the organization’s first time at the massive gathering that focuses on urbanization.

Next City's debut at the World Urban Forum

Fall 2014 - Next City partnered with WURD and AL DÍA, with the support of the Knight Foundation, on City Sessions, a three-part event series on the ideas, issues and communities that will shape Philadelphia’s future.

May 5-8, 2015 - Vanguards gather in Reno, Nevada. The 60 attendees experienced three days of presentations, workshops and neighborhood tours organized around the theme “Tactical Growth for a Smarter Future.”

June 2015 - Ariella Cohen becomes editor-in-chief. Cohen previously served as Next City’s executive editor.

July 2016 - Hired Oscar Perry Abello as a contributing writer. He later served as head editor for one year then went on to become Next City’s senior economic justice correspondent. In his years since being an equitable cities fellow, Abello has become an expert on all things economics. He’s even writing a book about taking back the banking system.

July 2016 - Next City staff go to Surabaya, Indonesia for PrepCom3, the final formal talks ahead of the October summit mentioned below. Diplomats met to discuss the New Urban Agenda, the United Nations’ urbanization strategy.

October 2016 - Next City, with the support of the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, and in partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, hosted international delegates and civil society at the World Stage, as part of Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador.

December 2016 - Philly in Flux was a “public exploration of Philadelphia’s changing communities designed to encourage dialogue between neighborhood residents, community leaders and public officials through a mix of data-informed, solutions-oriented narrative journalism, research and live discussion.” This kick-off event included a keynote address and panel discussion focused on how Philadelphians can come together to design civic infrastructure to meet the needs of a changing city.

May 18, 2017 - During this iteration of Philly in Flux, speakers discussed new data and reporting from Next City and Reinvestment Fund about the past, present and future of “middle” neighborhoods like the 19150 section of East Mount Airy. Philly’s Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker, then Ninth District City Councilwoman, was a speaker during this event.

2017 - Hosted the first international Vanguards in Montréal, Canada (May 31- June 3) and Newcastle, Australia (November 6-10).

January 2018 - Launched The Bottom Line. Originally supported by Citi Community Development, the vertical examines scalable solutions for problems related to affordability, inclusive economic growth and access to capital.

February 7-18, 2018 - Next City hosted its World Stage during the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur. The platform brought together “elected and appointed leaders, civic and business leaders, and researchers and other experts… to identify the challenges of urbanization around the world and propose solutions that can inspire change.”

August 2018 - Lucas Grindley becomes Next City’s executive director. Prior to taking on this role, he served as president of Pride Media, and editor-in-chief at The Advocate magazine.

December 2018 - Celebrated Next City’s 15th Anniversary and launched our first print magazine since 2012, a special report titled “15 Solutions for Cities.” This was the start of our annual Solutions of the Year Magazine.

June 26-29, 2019 - In Next City’s first-ever regional Vanguard conference, rising urban leaders gathered in Newark to tackle challenges related to the New York Metropolitan Area.

September 30-October 3, 2019 - Next City celebrates the 10-year anniversary of its experiential urban leadership gathering. Later in the year, more citybuilders convened for Vanguard Sacramento.

2020 - Next City shows its resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff — none of which were layed off — went virtual. And readers shows up to meet us in that moment. Our virtual events explored how cities were addressing homelessness and keeping parks clean — during the pandemic — and other topics such as using data to address food access and combatting inequality through economic justice initiatives.

September 14-17, 2021 - Vanguard resumes in Greensboro, North Carolina after a pandemic paused in 2020. Attendees participated in tours and conversation organized around the theme “Toward an Equitable Future for All.”

November 2021 - Launched the Next City podcast. With episodes spanning the gamut of solutions necessary to make cities more equitable for all people, the podcast has been downloaded more than 75,000 times. Hosted by Executive Director Lucas Grindley, the show is available on Apple, Spotify, Goodpods and other podcast streaming platforms.

October 24-27, 2022 - With support of a Mellon Foundation grant, Next City hosted its 14th Vanguard in El Paso, the second-largest majority-Latino city in the United States and the largest U.S. city along the Mexican border. Some of the convening’s events too place across the border in Juárez.

November 2022 - Hired Christian Betancourt as our Equitable Cities Reporting Fellow for Borderland Narratives in partnership with El Paso Matters, marking our first time assigning a reporter to spend the year following our Vanguard conference to follow up on solutions emerging in the city.

December 2022 - Relaunched the Institutional Membership Program, which provides organizations and their staff with access to our webinars, ebooks, job board and more. Inquire about the program here.

January 2023 - Hired Deonna Anderson, Next City’s first Black editorial director. “Joining Next City feels like a return home, as it was one of the first newsrooms where I reported as a professional journalist,” she noted after accepting the role. “Since that time, it’s become more and more clear to me that journalists have the power to shift narratives in a way that has equity for all people in mind.”

Illustration by Eleanor Barba

September 2023 - Urban changemakers gathered in Richmond, Virginia for Vanguard. With support from the Mellon Foundation, the Weissberg Foundation, and Liberation Ventures, this convening was organized around diving into different approaches of using truth and reconciliation as a means to achieve reparations.

November 2023 - Celebrated 20 years of Next City with a series of webinars — which covered the reparations movement, the future of community development, and more — and our Solutions of the Year magazine,

We look forward to telling even more important stories about solutions that are leading to more liberated cities in the next 20 years and beyond!

Next City editors and staff contributed to this story.

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Deonna Anderson is Next City's editorial director. An award-winning journalist, she has served as a senior editor at GreenBiz and worked with YES! Magazine, KLCC (an NPR affiliate station in Eugene, Oregon), The Lily, Atmos and other media outlets. Anderson is an alumna of the University of California, Davis and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. She lives in the Bay Area. She was also Next City's 2017-2018 Equitable Cities Reporting Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @iamDEONNA.

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