Evidence and Ideas for Change A look back: Urban’s collaborations with changemakers in 2018
Sarah Rosen Wartell
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In 2018, the Urban Institute celebrated its 50-year legacy of impact and kicked off Urban Next50, our yearlong effort to identify how Urban can make the greatest difference in its next 50 years. We’re engaging with some of the nation’s most innovative thinkers and doers to better understand the knowledge needed to advance promising solutions to society's greatest challenges. In January, we’ll start to share what we’re learning from the “what it would take” questions that we’re investigating.

But we’re not waiting to launch our Next50 to work with diverse changemakers across the country to help them find and accelerate solutions. In this dispatch looking back on 2018, I want to share just a handful of examples of how we’ve collaborated with local civic leaders, advocates, policymakers, philanthropists, and others.

  • Urban estimated the opioid treatment gap—or how many additional treatment providers are needed to meet rising needs—in every California county. Leaders of 20 counties turned to Urban for help using these data to shape their treatment programs. We have also worked with state legislatures to improve insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment.
  • Urban joined forces with The Kresge Foundation, the Brookings Institution, and Living Cities to launch the Shared Prosperity Partnership, in which national organizations support local leaders seeking to pursue inclusive growth. As part of this work, Urban is helping diverse local leaders in Fresno better align community development, workforce, and economic development systems.
  • In Detroit, Urban helped organize and provide strategic support to the Detroit Neighborhood Housing Compact, a cross-sector group of local leaders working to set shared priorities to strengthen Detroit’s housing market. The group this year established its mission, vision, goals, and a plan to address one of Detroit’s key challenges—ensuring move-in-ready homes are available to homeowners and renters.
  • Tulsa leaders realized they faced some of the worst mental health outcomes anywhere in their region. The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation enlisted Urban to help a cross-sectoral steering committee produce a 10-year plan for advancing mental health and well-being in Tulsa. This evidence-rich report was front-page news in Tulsa, galvanized efforts to achieve ambitious goals, and sparked similar projects in other cities.
  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act quietly included Opportunity Zones, which could prove to be the most sizeable incentive for investment in low-income communities in decades. But local actors were unprepared to steer investments where they could do the greatest good and avoid the risk of bubbles or displacement. To help governors designate the eligible zones, Urban developed a rubric for assessing which eligible census tracts could most benefit. And now we are working in multiple cities, helping officials and mission investors leverage the incentive to its best use for healthy inclusive growth.

Stay tuned for more in 2019. With a new address and state-of-the-art conference facilities, as well as more cutting-edge research technologies and fresh areas of work, we are looking forward to embarking on our next—and even better—chapter!