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Disruptive Strategies to Build a More-Perfect Union

Written by Nancy O. Andrews

In the past, we built our neighborhoods and cities in ways that divided and segregated us – from the homes we live in to the roads we drive on. Over the next decade we’ll invest trillions of dollars in the places where we live, learn and work and how we get around. These investments can further the status quo – isolation, segregation, racial inequality – or break down barriers, improve equality and increase opportunities for everyone. Our choices will define our social fabric for generations to come.

Thanks to research like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Opportunity study and the work of Stanford professor Raj Chetty, we know that growing up in healthy, connected, vibrant communities matters for the educational, economic and health outcomes of our nation’s children. But, the opportunities associated with living in great neighborhoods have been unevenly divided along racial and income lines throughout our history.

In community development, we were slow to attack these issues head on and debated too long about whether investing in people or places was the best way to combat poverty. Now, we know it’s both. We know that working on decent, affordable housing is working on health, investing in transit is an investment in getting people to good jobs and expanding early care and education is workforce development.

I am more energized than ever because this knowledge means we have a whole new world of solutions – and alliances – to tackle America’s greatest challenges. This week, I was named to Living Cities’ Top 25 Disruptive Leaders List. I am inspired by the other list members, who are reinventing our world by imagining new ways of connecting us digitally, asking how to change big institutional financial and political systems and exploring the dreams still unfulfilled decades after the Civil Rights Movement. These aren’t impossible tasks. They are challenges and opportunities to remake our nation and ourselves into our best versions – to ask ourselves to live up to our ideals and continue to build a more perfect union.

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