Inclusivity Helps Destinations Prosper

A recent report by the Urban Institute identifies U.S. cities whose economic growth corresponded with the inclusion of low-income residents and communities of color.

Research supports that organizations that embrace diversity perform better financially. But can the same be said about cities? According to the findings of a new, in-depth study of the 274 largest U.S. cities by the Urban Institute (UI), the answer appears to be yes — mostly.

Urban Institute

As summarized in a CityLab article, the report shows how economic shifts in these cities between 1980 and 2013 have corresponded with inclusion, which is defined as the ability of low-income residents and people of color to both benefit from and contribute to the city’s economic gains.

UI researchers looked at factors such as as income segregation, housing affordability, educational attainment, and job quality, “that give a sense of the well-being of low-income residents,” according to the article. They also analyzed the disparities between white residents and communities of color in terms of those indicators. The researchers then created separate rankings of the economic and racial inclusion of each city as well as a combined snapshot of both.

It turns out that the top 10 cities that measured highest on the inclusion metrics in 2013 were also thriving economically. “There is a strong relationship between the economic health of a city and a city’s ability to support inclusion for its residents,” the report’s authors write. Unfortunately, more than half of the cities were far apart on the two scales of racial inclusion and economic inclusion.

The report also outlines what four cities that improved their racial and economic inclusion during their economic recovery — Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Lowell, Massachusetts; and Midland, Texas — share in common. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t luck. These cities seemed to emphasize racial and ethnic inclusion in their plans for economic development. “Initiatives included bring immigrant groups to the table,” according to CityLab, “empowering local community organizations, and crafting education policies catering specifically to students of color. This approach appeared to promote a better economic future not just for the groups that had been historically disadvantaged, but for everyone in the city.”

As the report concluded, based on its research, “not all cities have made intentional progress, and for some cities, economic conditions changed and prosperity was more widely shared.” Sustaining this progress requires “intentional effort, transparency, and policies.” —  much like what it takes for organizations striving for greater diversity and inclusivity among their ranks.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.