A great city’s value proposition is not confined to luring business. It offers opportunities to all residents, seeks to reduce inequalities, and protect the vulnerable. According to the mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, “My job is to make sure that everybody has an opportunity in Boston. More than 50 percent of our population is made up of different minorities. We have to look out for everyone. This includes good education, good schools, and good services.” There are myriad ways to promote opportunity and quality of life for all. Our research points to three of the most important actions:
Connect the city outskirts
Those living on city peripheries can feel excluded and find it hard to take up available jobs unless there is transportation linking them to the center. This was the case in Boston, where the train line running between the central business district and the southern outskirts of the city had only three stops, leaving some of the most densely populated and poorest city regions three miles (4.8 kilometers) from the nearest station on the line. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority therefore committed $37.2 million to upgrade the line in 2002, adding four new stations. Communities along the route have since been revitalized: community development corporations have bought and rebuilt 1,500 housing units, developed 780,000 square feet (roughly 72,000 square meters) of commercial space, and created some 1,300 jobs.
Promote social integration
Progressive city governments run schemes to integrate the most vulnerable members of society. For example, Chengdu’s Migrant Management Office, which is a division of city government, historically focused on controlling migrant populations. Today it has an explicit mandate to help migrants access the city’s educational, health, and community resources. Los Angeles and Amsterdam run schemes to reduce youth criminality and participation in gangs. And Berlin runs an initiative to improve education, employment, and social and ethnic integration in struggling neighborhoods. Thirty-four districts are under the scheme’s management, and many have been transformed to the extent that they are no longer regarded as deprived.
Build affordable housing
Globally, one billion people—32 percent of the urban population—live in slums. Education and job creation are the primary means of helping these populations move into the formal urban structure. But as living standards rise, access to affordable inner-city housing is critical— not only to meet the housing needs of those looking to move into the city, but also to ensure that lower-income residents are not forced out of the city by housing costs as the city grows in prosperity. Great cities are diverse communities. Recognizing this, the Hong Kong government is proposing requiring developers to provide affordable public housing as a condition of being allowed to build commercial properties. In Singapore, over 80 percent of the population lives in government subsidized housing designed to ensure access to affordable housing for all income levels. And in San Francisco, Hope SF, a partnership between the city and private developers, is transforming 2,500 distressed public housing units on five sites into thriving, mixed-income communities with more than 50,000 housing units. The scheme also involves investment in surrounding neighborhoods.