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    An Advisor

    Urban draws on research evidence to advise governments, nonprofits, foundations, and practitioners on strategies for widening opportunity, advancing racial equity, and using resources effectively to best serve people and communities in need.


    Setting Children Up for a Financially Stable Adulthood 

    In February, Urban experts testified before the District of Columbia Council’s Committee on Business and Economic Development on the proposed rules of DC’s Child Trust Fund—a baby bonds program established in 2021. Researchers offered evidence-based suggestions to help ensure the program would reduce racial wealth inequities in the city.

    Adoring parents with their baby in a shopping mall

    Baby bonds are universal, publicly funded child trust accounts. When recipients reach adulthood, they can use the funds for wealth-building activities such as purchasing a home, investing in education, or starting a business. So far, DC and Connecticut have baby bonds programs, and California has a pilot program. Bills have been proposed in Congress as well as in eight additional states, including Massachusetts.

    In DC, our experts advised officials that a provision in the Child Trust Fund that would have allowed enrollees only one year to request their distribution was incongruent with evidence-based best practices. Our experts also cautioned that it would limit the bill’s potential to increase equity and advance upward mobility.

    Urban’s body of research on the design and benefits of baby bonds shows that giving enrollees more time to spend their trust fund on allowable activities is essential to curbing racial inequities.

    Ultimately, DC adopted Urban’s recommendation. That means that as of 2023, the estimated 4,150 DC children eligible for the program will have until the age of 30, not 19, to request their disbursements.

    With 12 years to determine whether they want to use their Child Trust Fund dollars to buy a home, launch a business, or go to college or vocational school, young adults in DC will now have more agency and choice in determining how they’d like to build wealth in adulthood, setting them on a pathway to thrive.

    DC’s Child Trust Fund program will overwhelmingly benefit Indigenous and Black DC residents: Black households make up over 50 percent of households with earnings below $60,000 per year and 75 percent of households making less than $10,000 per year, and Indigenous DC residents have the lowest median income of any race or ethnicity group.


    Keeping Rural Communities Safe from Train Derailments

    When in February a Norfolk Southern train derailed, exploded, and spilled toxic chemicals into the nearly 5,000-resident town of East Palestine, Ohio, one of Urban’s experts mobilized to offer recommendations on rail safety based on their independent research and that of others.

    A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern train

    Ultimately, key provisions of the Railway Safety Act of 2023 were informed by that evidence-rich guidance. Here’s how:

    • The researcher’s evidence-based suggestions for reducing the incidence and effect of catastrophic derailments were published and shared on social media. They caught the eye of media across the country. Legislators noticed, too.
    • That, in turn, prompted invitations to meet with and educate the staff of Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and JD Vance (R-Ohio), who went on to introduce a bipartisan bill to tackle railway safety.
    • The legislation passed out of committee and now moves to the Senate.

    The Railway Safety Act reflects many recommendations from Urban’s expert, including requiring that railroads fund training for emergency responders in rural communities and that rail carriers notify each state in advance if they’re carrying hazardous materials.


    Engaging People in Their Communities to Boost Their Internet Access 

    When the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City sought to understand why some neighborhoods have low broadband subscription rates, it turned to Urban. The bank’s community development department—which focuses in part on advancing digital equity—wanted to tap Urban’s participatory research expertise, a rigorous approach that centers community members’ voices and experiences to identify solutions to local problems.

    Over one year, experts with Urban’s Community Engagement Resource Center—a leader in participatory research methods—advised the Kansas City Fed on how to collaborate with communities to analyze data and draw conclusions and recommendations. This included holding a data walk, a method that brings data to life for residents, helping inform policies and programs that affect their every day. Kansas City’s data walk [PDF] focused on discussing broadband access data with residents, who analyzed the information, suggested next steps, and offered solutions

    It was clear from the beginning that Urban’s experience with community research would help the Federal Reserve move toward our goal of elevating community expertise in Fed research and engagement. We can affirm that the depth of your input, both practical and philosophical, has made an impact. Most importantly, you helped foster a collaborative environment that encouraged a generative exchange of ideas.
    Julie Siwicki, Community and Economic Development Adviser, Federal Reserve Bank


    From that process informed by Urban’s guidance, the Fed learned the following:

    • Internet was routinely offered at or up to 200 Mbps in majority-white neighborhoods for the same price consumers in historically redlined neighborhoods were charged for 25 Mbps.
    • Few residents trusted internet service providers to serve their best interests.
    • Residents wanted to better understand how to use technology for their own education and job skills development.

    The insights were timely: Over the next several years, states will receive an influx of funding to expand internet access and ensure that it’s affordable and that people have the skills to use it.

    By involving residents in designing solutions based on their experiences and recommendations, Missouri will more likely reach its digital equity goals. It’s more likely, too, that at least 100,000 households in the state currently without internet access will be able to—and want to—subscribe to a service that can open a world of opportunity.


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    An Innovator