From 2002 to 2012, MacArthur provided $50 million to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Chicago (LISC) to implement the New Communities Program, a flagship investment in the Foundation’s work to understand the dynamics of cities and neighborhoods as a mechanism for addressing major urban challenges. The program mobilized diverse stakeholders and assets in 14 Chicago neighborhoods to improve quality of life by addressing a comprehensive range of issues that included employment, health, housing, and violence reduction. MacArthur’s investment was informed by research showing that residents have better outcomes when they live in neighborhoods where individuals and organizations come together to respond to local challenges. This assessment, commissioned by MacArthur and conducted by MDRC, describes the program’s successes and challenges and the implications of the program for federal and local community development programs.
Qualitative data was drawn from nearly 400 interviews and observations over the course of the program to develop case comparisons among neighborhoods and for formal coding and analysis of themes related to practitioner strategies, local context, and implementation outcomes. Project reports from practitioners were coded and analyzed, and geospatial analyses conducted, to determine where within neighborhoods the program investments were targeted. Finally, MDRC developed a comprehensive, longitudinal database of neighborhood conditions throughout the city of Chicago to document community trajectories over time and to understand the implications of events such as the Great Recession for local neighborhoods.
The assessment shows that nearly 850 varied improvement projects and over $900 million in total funding were reported among the 14 neighborhood areas over 10 years. The program succeeded in connecting many groups to citywide and national funders and resulted in partnerships across neighborhoods. Neighborhoods with multi-issue, high-capacity lead agencies and strong local partners tended to leverage the most additional funds. The assessment shows that the program helped to improve collaborative partnerships among local agencies. In neighborhoods where trust and cooperation were better established among community groups at the start of the program, interorganizational relationships deepened over the course of the initiative. Where there were histories of conflict among community partners, relationships improved during the periods of planning and early implementation, although it proved difficult to sustain both trust and collaboration over time. It was rare for interorganizational relationships to promote collaborative, coordinated programming across the many projects supported by the program, and it was rare for program networks to add value to the implementation of small, individual projects. In some significant cases, however, when guided by a high-capacity lead agency, these organizational partnerships could tap into new funding streams and promote strong collaborations.
Using information gleaned from the New Communities Program, MacArthur and LISC continue to invest in and test efforts to improve conditions in cities, with a focus on understanding the role that strong organizational networks play in urban planning and development and neighborhood change. MacArthur’s work to address major social and environmental challenges in cities and to improve the lives of residents continues with the Foundation’s exploration of a potential investment strategy focused on Cities, Information, and Governance.