How mayors and city managers are using innovative approaches to fight entrenched poverty, finance infrastructure work, or protect the environment.

Innovation and the City: Cities are driving government innovation across the globe. This report highlights fifteen bold urban policies with a proven record of success.
What Are the Top 15 Municipal Innovations?

A new report by NYU Wagner and the Center for an Urban Future with support from the Citi Foundation highlights how mayors and city managers are using innovative approaches to ameliorate poverty, finance infrastructure work, or protect the environment. The report profiles 15 of the most innovative urban policies launched by cities over the past decade, spotlighting programs from Chicago and Seattle and from Nairobi and São Paulo.

Pattern-breaking policies detailed in the report, Innovation and the City, include San Francisco’s Five Keys Charter School, the nation’s only charter school embedded in a city’s correctional system; Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, which established a more inclusive process for urban policymaking; Barcelona’s Reempresa program, an economic development effort focused on small business succession; Los Angeles’ new model for integrating workforce and educational services for youth; São Paulo’s plan to capture value from new real estate development to help cover the cost of infrastructure improvements; and an initiative from Malang, Indonesia, that uses revenue generated from garbage collection and recycling to fund comprehensive health care for low-income residents.

A map illustrating all 15 initiatives can be accessed in this copy of the report.

The 15 urban policy reforms were selected by researchers from NYU Wagner and the Center for an Urban Future after hundreds of interviews with mayors, agency chiefs, policy experts, academics, business leaders, labor unions and philanthropic foundations.  

“Dynamic and effective city policies can be found in every corner of the globe, and the impact of these programs is astounding,” said Neil Kleiman, director of NYU Wagner Innovation Labs and report co-author. “Policymakers would be wise to look to other cities for inspiration when trying to solve major societal problems.”

“At a time when there is a growing discourse on how best to address urban problems, cities have stepped forward and developed an array of pioneering new policy solutions,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “These innovations happening in cities around the globe should be brought to the forefront as models for scalable impact.”

“Real and lasting change is happening across cities in the U.S. and around the world,” said Ed Skyler, Citi’s head of global public affairs, chairman of the Citi Foundation and a former New York City deputy mayor. “These wide-ranging examples of innovation at the public policy level show how we can address longstanding challenges and improve the lives of residents globally.”

The cities and programs profiled in the report include:

Public Health Solutions

  • Malang, Indonesia - Garbage Clinical Insurance: In a place where 60 percent of the population lacks any form of healthcare coverage and 50 percent lives on less than $2 per day, this unique initiative takes a radical approach to paying for healthcare for the poorest residents. Individuals collect garbage and recyclables for fees that are converted into comprehensive healthcare.

Reducing Recidivism

  • San Francisco, CA - Five Keys Charter School: The nation’s only charter school embedded inside a city’s correctional system, Five Keys Charter School helps inmates get diplomas and prepares them to secure a job after prison while reducing the likelihood of another crime being committed.
  • Lansing, MI - Financial Empowerment Centers for Reentry:  By providing formerly incarcerated people with free financial counseling, Lansing is helping returning citizens reduce their debt, open bank accounts, increase savings, move out of the transitional housing, and, ultimately, reduce the chance of re-entering the criminal justice system.

Internet of Things

  • Gwangju, South Korea - Carbon Green Card: Under this carbon-banking system that encourages and rewards reductions in energy consumption, Gwangju tracks citizens’ energy use through state-of-the-art technology, and when their energy use declines, they earn “carbon points” to redeem rewards.
  • Valencia, Spain - Smart Water Management: Valencia has pioneered smart metering technology using smart metering technology to repair leaks, catch fraud, and influence residents to reduce their water consumption.

User Driven Tech Solutions

  • Chicago, IL - Civic User Testing Group: Most civic tech projects lack an active role for city residents, but this innovative Chicago program makes use of a diverse group of more than a thousand local denizens to test the usability of city websites and mobile apps.
  • Nairobi, Kenya - Map Kibera: A crowd-sourced project that enlists slum residents to map their community with GPS devices has enabled residents to keep one another informed of significant events, such as crime and extreme weather, and document areas to make it easier for the government, NGOs, and charities to target interventions and assistance.

Education & Workforce Development

  • Los Angeles - YouthSource Centers: While virtually all American cities struggle to connect with high school dropouts and bring them back on track, LA’s innovative model for integrating workforce and educational services for youth has proven effective in pulling high school dropouts back into the educational system and giving them a better shot at a career.
  • Tacoma, WA - Tacoma Education Project: A novel integration of the public housing authority and school system, this unique project leverages assets of the public housing authority to support education success.
  • Albuquerque, NM - Talent ABQ: In this innovative skills-based hiring model, Talent ABQ assesses job applicants based on their skillset rather than solely on education attainment, while giving applicants the opportunity to build skills in the workplace.

Inclusive Growth

  • São Paulo, Brazil - Certificates for Additional Construction Potential: An innovative mechanism for capturing value from new real estate construction to help cover the cost of infrastructure improvements, CEPAC converts construction approvals into transferable, bond-like instruments that are publicly auctioned and traded.
  • New York City - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing: In the midst of a monumental affordable housing crisis, New York City established new rules that set aside up to 30 percent of apartments in new residential buildings for low-income residents.

Job Preservation  

  • Barcelona, Spain - Reempresa: A rare economic development program focused on small business succession, Reempresa connects small businesses in danger of folding with interested buyers.

Combating Inequality

  • Seattle, WA - Racial and Social Justice Initiative: At a time when many U.S. cities are struggling with race relations, Seattle’s Racial Equity Toolkit creates a framework for a more constructive dialogue with communities of color. It provides a blueprint for city agencies to solicit the input of communities of color in departmental policymaking and identify impacts of their policies on minority communities.  
  • San Francisco, CA - Enforcing Wage Standards in Immigrant Communities: A unique way to work with immigrant communities to ensure that employers are not exploiting workers, San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcements (OLSE) contracts with nonprofit organizations that have the trust of immigrants to identify exploited workers, educate residents about their labor rights, and refer cases of exploitation to OLSE for investigation.


About Center for an Urban Future
The Center for an Urban Future (CUF) is a catalyst for smart and sustainable policies that reduce inequality, increase economic mobility, and grow the economy in New York City. An independent, nonpartisan policy organization, CUF uses fact-based research to elevate important and often overlooked issues onto the radar of policymakers and advance practical solutions that strengthen New York and help all New Yorkers participate in the city’s rising prosperity.

About The Wagner Innovation Labs
Part of the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the Wagner Innovation Labs are a series of initiatives that marry theory and practice to promote informed, evidence based policy decision-making in a complex world. Each Lab has its own focus and approach, and operates independently, but all reflect NYU Wagner’s broad commitment to bringing scholars, thinkers, and practitioners together, both figuratively and literally, to improve the way policy is made.

About Citi Foundation
The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant cities. The Citi Foundation's “More than Philanthropy” approach leverages the enormous expertise of Citi and its people to fulfill our mission and drive thought leadership and innovation. For more information, visit

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