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Neighborhood Investments & The Common Good

A recent series of reports on a three-year initiative in five U.S. cities reveals the benefits of revitalizing and connecting parks, libraries, community centers and other public assets.

Formally launched in 2016 by four national foundations—The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation—"Reimagining the Civic Commons" is investing $40 million from national and local sources in Akron, Ohio, Chicago, Detroit and Memphis, alongside a pilot in Philadelphia to demonstrate how investments in public spaces can reverse trends of economic and social fragmentation.

In 2017, Reimagining the Civic Commons measured a variety of data points related to civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, value creation and environmental sustainability to establish baseline metrics for the four cities' projects. The new reports represent the first set of interim data from the cities, looking at change in some metrics from the 2017 baseline work. This data-driven approach offers a new method for determining the multifaceted value of reinvesting in civic assets and provides evidence of the societal benefits of strategic public space investments.

"Great public spaces connect people to places and to each other, helping to build the kind of informed and engaged communities that are vital to a healthy democracy," said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. "To achieve this, it's critical that we collect data on what public spaces can actually do."

While the reports are interim and do not include updated data across all metrics, a few key data points stand out:

  • In Detroit, public perception of the civic commons sites and the surrounding neighborhood increased 28 percentage points, and interest in homes in and near where Detroit's civic commons project is located increased, with internet home search activity up 48 percent in the project's zip code.
  • In Memphis, the average number of hourly visitors to the recently transformed Mississippi River Park has nearly doubled since the project's 2016 launch, and there was a 30 percentage point increase in the proportion of visitors who say they feel safe in the neighborhood surrounding the civic commons projects at night.
  • In Akron, a sizeable majority of visitors to the city's three connected civic commons sites believe that nearby neighborhoods have a bright future, with 82 percent of downtown respondents, 87 percent of Park East respondents and 94 percent of Summit Lake respondents believing that surrounding areas will improve some or a lot over the next few years.

"The holy grail for funders has been to understand the impact of our investments, and these metrics get us much closer," said Carol Coletta, senior fellow with The Kresge Foundation on loan to the Memphis River Parks Partnership as president and CEO. "It helps us to know how to invest, and it helps public space managers to know how to design, program and manage. It's an exciting advancement in making great places."

Reimagining the Civic Commons is making it possible for civic asset managers and community leaders to implement this measurement system on their own by providing free, downloadable tools like observation maps and intercept surveys. These tools measure the impact of investments in public space with core metrics like frequency of visits, acts of stewardship or advocacy, trust in others, perception of surrounding neighborhoods, and the income, racial and ethnic diversity of visitors. Also available is a toolkit called Value Creation in the Commons, which provides a variety of options for capturing the increased value created through investments in civic assets and putting those to the use of nearby residents.

To download the city reports or for more information about how to use data to demonstrate the value of investments in public places, visit http://civiccommons.us/2019/04/interim-metrics-reports/



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