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The Future of U.S. Cities

How Cities are Innovating with Intention to Achieve Impact

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U.S. cities find themselves at a unique inflection point in history

The challenges facing cities are more complex than ever. But real momentum for change is building in, and spreading across, U.S. cities. Across the country, city-problem solvers are innovating with intention to tackle problems and create more legitimate, equitable and agile cities for residents.

The Centre for Public Impact, in partnership with The Center for Urban Innovation at The Aspen Institute and the Boston Consulting Group, has created a handbook to tell the stories of city problem solvers all over America, surface the emerging practices from cities, and extract lessons from conversations with those within cities leading the charge.

Download the handbook

Download the Future of Cities Handbook

This handbook is for anyone within a city who seeks to innovate with intention to improve outcomes for all residents in their city.

Download the handbook

The key is asking the questions that are most important to residents and, together, innovating to solve those questions.

Jessica Kahlenberg, Innovation Strategy Advisor, Chelsea, MA

Innovation should be about how you make sure new programs or process improvements improve the lives of residents who need it most.

Justin Entzminger, Director of Innovate Memphis

You need to make sure you’re not just driving technology to problems that don't exist. We need to make sure we are tackling the most important problems that residents have.

Mark de La Vergne, Chief of Mobility for the city of Detroit

We have to think about equity in everything. As we create opportunities, with innovation we must make sure they benefit all residents.

Thea Montanez, Chief of Staff for Hartford City, CT

We spoke to over 45 city problem solvers from all over the U.S.

Our conversations illuminated how cities are using innovation and technology to drive impact against the most pressing challenges to achieve better outcomes for residents.

Hear from Melissa Bridges, Performace and Innovation Coordinator, Little Rock, AR, on how cities have the power to drive change for residents.

We heard that to achieve long-term impact, a city’s approach to innovation must be anchored in:


the broad reservoir of support that allows governments to deliver positive outcomes for all

icon: stick figures talking


creating the conditions that facilitate equal access to new innovation and technology so that all residents can share in the benefits


the ability to respond quickly to change in order to meet residents’ expectations and capitalize on new opportunities as circumstances shift on the ground

But how are cities doing this?

Three general practices emerged from our conversations with city problem solvers. Cities that are driving impact with innovation Align innovation efforts, Empower all actors in the ecosystem to be able to innovate, and Grow an innovation culture city-wide.

1. Align

Align innovation efforts both within city government and across sectors through bold, mission-driven strategies that target the most important problems for residents.

Case study

San José created a first of its kind, $24 million Digital Inclusion Fund (DIF). Financed by access fees paid by telecommunication companies, the DIF will support programs to expand broadband access and increase digital literacy in the community. San José’s ambitious goal is to bring broadband connectivity and digital skills to 50,000 households over the course of the next decade - and this initiative explicitly earmarks funding to achieve this goal.

Learn more about the digital inclusion fund

Hear from Danielle Dumerer, Chief Information Officer, Chicago, IL, on why it's important to target the issues that are most important to residents.

We have already done all the easy things. How do we mobilize everyone around tackling the hard things? That’s the key to driving change

Noah Siegel Interim Deputy Director of Transportation, Portland

2. Empower

Empower the entire city ecosystem to tackle public sector problems by including city practitioners, businesses and residents as innovation partners.

Case study

Kansas City, MO ran a 12-week Innovation Partnership Program (IPP) to create a 'Living Lab' - giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop, test and demonstrate innovative solutions using city data and infrastructure. The program benefits both the city and the entrepreneurs: the city has the opportunity to test new technology at no cost, and entrepreneurs can develop a valuable use case for their products and services. To date, the city has adopted over half of the solutions it has tested.

Learn More

Hear from Sly Majid, Chief Services Officer, Austin, Tx, on why enabling residents specifically to be co-drivers of innovation is important

Innovation cannot stand alone, or exist in silos. If it does, it makes innovation one person’s job and not an organizational mandate.

 Brenna Berman Executive Director at UI Labs and former CIO of Chicago

3. Grow

Grow an innovative culture that encourages continuous experimentation, defines performance metrics that reflect residents’ experiences, and designs innovation pathways to achieve impact at scale.

Case study

In 2018, Tulsa, OK launched the CitiVoice Index, a partnership with Gallup that aims to transform its typical approach to measuring impact. It marks a shift from gathering city-centric data on customers’ satisfaction with city services to resident-centric data on the extent to which residents are (or are not) thriving. Nearly 4,500 residents responded to the survey on questions ranging from access to basic needs and services to the strength of civic support in their neighborhood. To define how to measure ‘thriving’, the city formed a working group consisting largely of community leaders outside of city hall. The index has already provided tangible benefits to the city, informing policy developments, city programs, and their broader approach to partnering with local organizations.

Learn more

It is foolish to think that doing the status quo both protects you from risk, as well as produces any new results. We have to experiment to achieve breakthrough innovation to really affect residents’ lives for the better.

Grace Simrall Chief of Civic Innovation & Technology, Louisville, KY

Hear from Grace Simrall, Chief Of Civic Innovation and Technology, Louisville, Ky, on why enabling residents specifically to be co-drivers of innovation is important

We call this innovating with intention.

We believe local government can be the vanguard in creating cities that are more equitable, livable, and resilient. Cities need to align, empower and grow innovation, in a way that is legitimate, equitable and agile, if they are to realize their potential and achieve real impact with innovation.

Download the handbook

Cities have the ability to shape their own destiny

Jennifer Sanders Dallas Innovation Alliance

This is only the beginning

This handbook is authored by the Centre for Public Impact, in partnership with the Aspen Institute and the Boston Consulting Group.

We have also written up our interviews with some of the city problem-solvers we spoke to, as well as written case studies to highlight how cities around the United States are using innovation to drive change.

We want to hear from you

We intend to continue these conversations through convenings, follow-up research, and direct support to help cities translate the ideas raised here into action. We want to build networks and collaborate with anyone who feels passionately about the potential of cities. So we invite you to join our discussion online, to tell us what you agree with, what you disagree with, and what else we should consider.

Get in touch

Join the conversation

Have a public impact story to share? Get in touch to let us know. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.