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New report from the Urban Institute measures inclusion in U.S. cities

American Cities

To better understand what makes places inclusive, the Urban Institute conducted the first-of-its kind empirical analysis on the relationship among economic, racial, and overall inclusion in 274 of the largest U.S. cities, new research supported by Kresge’s American Cities Practice. Through extensive data analysis and discussions with local leaders, Urban Institute scholars identify trends across cities, key lessons for how economic turnarounds can support inclusion and common building blocks of inclusive growth across different geographic contexts.


In addition to a report, this research effort also includes an interactive data tool so local leaders and urban policy practitioners can better understand how well their cities performs in expanding inclusive growth. This tool also lets one explore national trends, learn lessons from case-study cities and dig deeper into how specific American cities performance across the various indicators.

To lay a foundation for this research, the Urban Institute created a definition for inclusive recovery: An inclusive recovery occurs when a place overcomes economic distress in a way that provides the opportunity for all residents—especially historically excluded populations—to benefit from and contribute to economic prosperity.

To arrive at these rankings, scholars measured dynamic trends in a city’s economic health over several decades to determine if and when a place has overcome economic distress. Next, the Urban Institute measured economic inclusion broadly by combining indicators that capture income segregation and housing affordability—or a resident’s ability to benefit from economic growth—with indicators that capture a resident’s ability to contribute to economic growth, such as educational attainment and job quality. Finally, they assessed the inclusion of historically excluded populations by measuring disparities between white residents and people of color on indicators similar to those used to measure economic inclusion. These various indicators allowed greater understanding of how race and ethnicity affect a resident’s ability to benefit from and contribute to economic growth.

To further unpack how a city can recover inclusively, four case studies focus on Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Lowell, Massachusetts; and Midland, Texas, all of which offer useful playbooks.

Furthermore, this research surfaced building blocks to promote inclusive economic growth at the municipal level:

  1. Adopt a shared vision early on and get buy-in from local stakeholders.
  2. Inspire and sustain bold leadership from committed public officials or other dedicated stakeholders.
  3. Recruit partners from across sectors, including resident groups, the media, and business leaders. Diverse partners can create buy-in, generate and elevate insights, and support solutions.
  4. Build voice and power within traditionally underrepresented or disenfranchised communities. Ensure diverse representation in planning and political processes.
  5. Leverage assets and intrinsic advantages, such as a city’s physical spaces and the potential of its residents.
  6. Think and act regionally. Job and housing markets cross jurisdictional lines and residents often live, work, and use services outside their city. Regional partnerships can help secure broadly shared prosperity.
  7. Reframe inclusion as integral to growth to encourage progress in both areas. A growing body of evidence suggests that diversity and inclusion is a catalyst for economic development.
  8. Adopt policies and programs to support inclusion. Policies and programs that promote inclusion in education, housing, economic development, and fiscal policy can lead to long-term success.

This work is already garnering attention with media coverage in Reuters, NextCity, CityLab, Curbed and Politico.

For the American Cities Practice promoting understanding, research and lessons around inclusive recovery is one of the Practice’s most important missions. This research – one of the most expansive academic efforts yet – advances essential lessons for cities looking to grow for the benefit of everyone.