For urban leaders there’s nothing more disheartening than a big city that’s bleeding talent. At the annual meeting of CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit focused on urban leadership and development, held yesterday in San Diego, the focus on retaining a young and creative workforce topped the agendas of over 100 attendees. Four innovative groups have already succeeded in bringing new talent to local companies, and they’ve managed to launch massive social initiatives within their cities as well. These organizations are creating opportunities for citizen engagement that make their cities more attractive while cultivating new leadership for the future.
Montreal & Toronto: In Canada, branding strategist Eli Singer is banking on social networks to connect the extremely tech-savvy residents (he says 70% of Toronto’s population is on Facebook–can that be possible?). Spacing is a publication–online and off–focused on urban issues that affect public spaces to provide opportunities for residents to get involved. Spacing‘s blogs became so popular, with such passionate commenters, the publication capitalized on that energy with ThinkTORONTO, an urban ideas competition, that published concepts from readers for the city, as well as exhibiting the proposals in Toronto’s City Hall.
Detroit: The Hudson-Webber Foundation seeks to differentiate Detroit from its Motor City-Motown City past, that they believe tarnishes their image with the innovative young talent they want the city to attract. Katy Locker presented a four-fold grant-making program focused on remaking Detroit’s image, from physically revitalizing Woodward Corridor, a major thoroughfare home to many civic anchor institutions, to rewarding economic development plans that introduce talent from new and diverse industries to southeast Michigan.
San Diego: Even though it feels like paradise (foggy skies just parted to reveal a sunny, 70-degree day), Aaron Contorer says that many people who move to San Diego are disappointed with the lack of engaged community. He found out that what most transplants felt San Diego lacked was good public transportation, so MoveSD focused on developing a massive transit proposal that uses dedicated busways in a radical new way. A group he founded, Equinox Center, is a nonprofit that works on improving environmental and sustainable issues that they believe affect that elusive “quality of life” quotient in San Diego.
Chattanooga: In this Tennessee city, Josh MacManus founded CreateHere, which finds the intersection between arts and culture initiatives and the city’s goals of economic development. His organization supported a series of microprojects throughout the city, activating local programs that were determined to make the city look more attractive to companies (a campaign called We Believe in Main Street boosted the central business district from 25% occupancy to 75% occupancy alone). CreateHere also assists local businesses with retention and relocation to keep talent happy, and funds a competitive leadership program, LeadHere. It is now surveying thousands of residents to create a collective vision for the community; an open-source mission statement for the city.