The community development function of the Boston Fed is to promote economic growth in New England's low-income communities, which is linked to the Federal Reserve System's overarching goal of achieving maximum employment. For the period of 2008-11, the Boston Fed actively pursued this goal through active engagement with leaders and policy issues in the postindustrial city of Springfield, MA. Working in that high-need, high-opportunity city led us to wonder: is resurgence possible after years of population and economic decline like that experienced by Springfield, and if so, what does it take?
Boston Fed researchers answered that question by examining a set of 25 cities that shared this experience nationwide, and found that among the ten cities that came back, the critical factor was not a city's industry mix, demographic composition, or geographic position. Instead, resurgence resulted from the ability of leaders in those cities to collaborate across sectors around a long-term vision for their success.
This revelation spurred another question: if a strong civic infrastructure—that is, the network of cross-sector leaders and institutions—is necessary for economic growth, is there something the Boson Fed can do to help cities strengthen it in a way that extends growth to residents struggling most?
Our pursuit of the answer to that question introduced us to Living Cities, now a key partner in the Working Cities Challenge. The Challenge is an adaptation of their Integration Initiative for the context of smaller cities; it was designed in partnership with the Boston Fed's own network of cross-sector collaborators, which takes the form of a Steering Committee comprised of leaders from the public, private, and philanthropic sectors who continually inform our approach with their knowledge of these cities and the field.
The resulting Challenge takes the shape of a competition whereby an independent jury of experts evaluates teams' applications against criteria that reflect the core elements of the Working Cities Challenge: leading collaboratively across sectors, engaging community members, using evidence to track progress toward a shared goal, and working to improve the lives of low-income residents by changing systems.
The role of the Boston Fed
The Boston Fed's role in the competition includes designing and implementing the model in partnership with our Steering Committee, providing one-on-one coaching to winning teams, and helping teams build capacity by linking them to experts, best practices, and opportunities for peer networking through a Learning Community designed to be responsive to teams' interests and needs.