Ford Foundation Invests in Metropolitan Areas

The New York Times
writes that the Ford Foundation will spend $200 million over five years on programs aimed at connecting cities and suburbs, with the end-goal of creating “cohesive metropolitan areas.” Investments will generate metropolitan plans that cut-across cities and suburbs, and also expand access to public transportation systems, affordable housing, and “regional land banks,” which can help redevelop urban brownfields. Current Ford Foundation grants focused on urban revitalization efforts alone will now also be directed towards building more integrated urban-surburban areas.

The foundation will encourage planning and collaboration across city, local, and county districts. This new metropolitan approach means blurring the lines between urban and suburban. George McCarthy, director of Metropolitan Opportunity at the Ford Foundation said: “We want to break down the walls that separate leaders who should be working together. We aim to unite policymakers and innovators from across the fields of transportation, housing and land use. When investments in these major systems are planned with an understanding of how they intersect and impact the lives of all people in a region, the result can be transformative.”

The foundation says the new funds will be catalytic. “The new funds will allow Ford to develop and significantly expand successful collaborations and policy innovations that it has supported in communities throughout the country, providing models that can be adopted and adapted in other metropolitan regions.”

The Ford Foundation will strategically target their investments in a few key metropolitan areas that can serve as broader models. Some example investments include:

  • “Transformative public transportation projects that connect residents to jobs and other opportunities, including the M1 rail in Detroit, the redevelopment of the Claiborne corridor in New Orleans, and the construction of 25 transit villages along BART in San Francisco’s Bay Area.
  • Innovative initiatives to create a stock of permanently affordable housing—in communities including New Orleans and the Bay Area. Through such market-based approaches as “shared equity” homeownership, families receiving a public subsidy to buy a home agree to share the equity they earn with government, which then makes those funds available to another family.
  • Programs in metropolitan Detroit; Flint, Michigan; and New Orleans; and other areas to create regional land bank authorities, which enable communities to revitalize blighted areas and increase quality housing opportunities. This includes funding for the Center for Community Progress, a new national resource center for communities that provides training and technical assistance for any metropolitan region that wants to develop its own land bank authority.”

Recently, the Ford Foundation also announced a $100 million commitment to create art spaces across the country, arguing that the arts can also be used to spur community and economic development, particularly in metropolitan areas. One group, the Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects, has already received a grant, and will create mixed-use developments offering low-cost housing for artists. The New York Times said this is the largest amount the foundation will have spent on the development and maintenance of arts facilities. Rocco Landesman, new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has also been selling design as an engine of economic growth in communities, using the slogan, “Art Works.”

Learn more about the Ford Foundation’s program.

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