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Next City’s Most Popular Stories of 2023

We’ve collected our top reporting and analysis from this year on the solutions that liberate cities.

Story by Aysha Khan

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Every year, we publish hundreds of stories focused on evidence-based solutions as well as the grassroots activists, the visionary policymakers and the community leaders who are actively reshaping the environments and systems around them. These stories, which embrace the best of solutions journalism and movement journalism, show that “change,” “progress” and “solutions” are not merely buzzwords but a lived reality.

Below, we’ve collected our most popular stories from 2023. Each stands as proof that change isn’t just possible – it’s already happening. For more, check out out annual print magazine, Solutions of the Year, which this year celebrates our 20th anniversary.

An East Boston Tenant Fought Her Eviction For 8 Years. The City Bought Her Building And 35 Others.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the city council is celebrating an ambitious housing acquisition made in late 2022. The city finalized a deal to buy 36 mostly three-story, multi-family buildings in the East Boston neighborhood for $47 million, forming the East Boston Neighborhood Trust to manage the properties with deed restrictions to keep all of the units affordable in perpetuity.

The city says the portfolio will be converted to a Mixed Income Neighborhood Trust, where units will be priced for a range of incomes, made affordable to people making 50% of average median income at the low end and 100% of average median income on the high end. – Roshan Abraham, March 2023

America Has No Transportation Engineers

In a best-case scenario, a civil engineer will only take three transportation classes during their bachelor’s degree. In the worst case, they’ll only take one: Introduction to Highway Engineering. To put this into perspective, the most educated professionals we entrust to design and run our roads and streets have received only half of a minor with a handful of credits on the topic.

Fixing an urban area’s traffic jam while slashing car crash deaths to zero and also improving the financial productivity of a street – but not forgetting to include the new bicycle corridor – is not easy to do. No manual in the world is going to provide copy and paste solution for this.

We need specialized professionals for this, and the education for these people is going to need to be long and extensive process – far too long and extensive to fit inside of a standard four-year civil engineering degree. Transportation engineering needs to be separated from civil engineering and taught as a separate program. – Steffer Berr, January 2023

East Cleveland Residents Are Building A Closed Loop Economy

Meet Wake Robin Fermented Foods, a small company based in the city of East Cleveland, Ohio, focused on local sustainability. About 90% of its vegetables are sourced from farms in Northeast Ohio; all vegetable waste goes to compost; paper, cardboard and metal is reused or recycled; fermented products are packaged in reusable glass jars.

Wake Robin would be impressive if it stood on its own, but it’s part of a larger vision to establish a closed-loop, community-owned supply chain in the three square miles comprising East Cleveland. The organization leading the work is called Loiter. Its goal is to address a crisis across U.S. cities — the devaluation of African American neighborhoods, community assets and gathering places — through hyper-local, community-driven investment into one of Ohio’s poorest cities. – Emily Nonko, August 2023

First New Black Bank In 20 Years Breaks The Mold For Raising Startup Capital

Jordan Miller never thought it was in the cards for him to help start a new bank. Over the course of a 40-year career in banking, he witnessed the number of banks across the country dwindle from more than 14,000 to around 5,000 by the time he retired in 2019.

But after coming out of retirement to co-found the country’s first new Black bank since 2003, the Adelphi Bank co-founder and CEO is really just picking up almost exactly where his predecessors had left off on the near-east side of Columbus, Ohio. — Oscar Perry Abello, February 2023

New York’s Driver-Owned Ride-Hailing App Is Putting Its Foot On The Accelerator.

In 2022, its first full year of operation, The Driver’s Cooperative earned $5.9 million in revenue from 162,294 successful trips — and $5.2 million of that went directly to driver wages. That 2022 revenue is 12 times what the co-op took in for 2021, though it didn’t launch until the end of May 2021. Even with its minimum hourly wage of $30 an hour, the co-op is nearly breaking even, recording a net loss of just $318,000 in 2022.

With the growth it’s already seeing in 2023, The Drivers Cooperative expects to earn its first annual profit — some of which will be distributed back out as dividends to drivers. Currently there are 9,000 drivers who are or will soon be members of the co-op — an estimated 15% percent of the total ride-hailing platform driver workforce in New York City. — Oscar Perry Abello, June 2023

Is Your Bank Safe? Here’s How To Find And Assess Your Bank’s Balance Sheet

If you’ve ever wondered what your bank is invested in, there’s good news: your bank or credit union’s balance sheet is public information, updated quarterly. Those balance sheets can give you broad information on how much in loans, treasury bonds and other bonds, stocks, real estate and other assets are in every bank’s or credit union’s portfolio, including aggregated information on the type of loans currently on a bank’s books. They also show how much of the bank’s deposits are actually covered by federal deposit insurance versus uninsured deposits.

Here’s a step-by-step primer on how to find and download all those balance sheets, some basics about risk levels, and resources to understand more about the risk of some assets versus others. — Oscar Perry Abello, March 2023

HUD Excludes People With Convictions From Public Housing. Local Solutions Can Help.

People with convictions are nearly 10 times more likely to experience homelessness compared to the general public. While federally subsidized housing could provide support to these individuals, the Department of Housing and Urban Development contributes to the problem by permitting each public housing authority (PHA) wide leeway to discriminate against people with convictions.

But some advocates have successfully gotten their local PHAs to change course: A 2016 policy change in New Orleans has been able to open up public housing for people with convictions by providing a clearer rubric for PHAs to use during screenings and appointing a board to review applications. Barring sweeping federal rule changes, this local approach is the only one open to advocates. – Roshan Abraham, April 2023

What Barcelona Can Teach New York City About Truly Affordable Housing

Much like New York, where I live, Barcelona is facing a housing crisis of massive proportions: eviction rates have risen dramatically over the past several years, private speculators have made substantial, harmful investments in the local housing stock, and rental costs have skyrocketed.

But unlike New York, which has primarily used private and public-private sector solutions in an attempt to solve the housing crisis, Barcelona has actually taken substantial steps towards making housing a social good and has actively begun planning against capital. The city’s drastic actions to scale up its public and social housing stock will protect residents from potential gentrification, housing market fluctuations, displacement, and evictions in the future. – Katelin Penner, April 2023

ADUs Can Help Address The Lack Of Housing. But They’re Bad Urban Design.

Cities across the U.S. and Canada have embraced Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), also known as “granny flats,” as a means to quickly address severe housing shortages. Implemented at scale, however, ADUs are a bad urban design solution. They disrupt the neighborhoods they are intended to preserve and can limit, rather than create, social opportunity.

I know because I have lived in one such neighborhood. – Travis Beck, October 2023

Baltimore Buried These Streams. Now An Artist Is Bringing One Back.

Listen carefully near certain storm drains in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood, and you might be able to hear the echo of Sumwalt Run, flowing 30 to 40 feet below. The creek disappeared from Baltimore’s landscape in the early 20th century when the city built a new sewer system.

After two years of intense community engagement, local artist Bruce Willen has launched a new public art installation and walking tour in central Baltimore that visualizes for passersby the lost creek and forgotten history hidden below their feet. “Ghost Rivers” creates an overlay of winding pale blue lines, like a river on a map, which traces Sumwalt Run’s path across 1.5 miles of Remington’s urban streets and sidewalks — and helps illuminate the environmental costs of our inadequate urban infrastructure. – Aysha Khan, October 2023

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Aysha Khan is the managing editor at Next City.

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