IDEAS: In the book, you and your coauthor propose a $4 billion national challenge, sort of like Race to the Top, in which states compete for funding, to start regional, collaborative projects that start tying all these different resources and places together.
KNEEBONE: An investment like this can make people think differently about these things as they’re competing for these funds. You want to help support them do these innovative things. Collaborating is hard. Integrating is hard. Finding the right model is hard. Especially thinking about fragmented suburbs, where election cycles mean that there can be a lot of turnover, these relationships are always a bit in flux.
That’s why it’s important to have these structures and incentives in place. The old mayor might have understood why it was important to do this work, but the new mayor might be getting up to speed or have other priorities. The incentives bring him to the table.
IDEAS: So the goal is for it to shift thinking over the long term?
KNEEBONE: Right now, resources are limited and being cut back in ways that aren’t intentional. We have to be smart about adapting to this new geography. It should feel urgent. Concentrated poverty has started growing in suburbs, too. And we know all of the challenges that evolve when that kind of concentrated poverty develops. If in the 1970s they had known what was going to happen—if they had anticipated the disinvestment in distressed areas, let’s hope they would have done things differently.
Number of poor living in the suburbs
Increase in suburban poor, 2000-2011
Number of poor living in cities
Increase in urban poor, 2000-2011
SOURCE: Brookings Institution, figures are for 2011
Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian’s SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.