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Vibrant|Adaptive|Equitable Cities

created by and for everyone



Vibrant|Adaptive|Equitable Cities

created by and for everyone



who we are

our vision

Vibrant, adaptive, equitable cities created by and for everyone.

Our Purpose

The Center, founded in 2005 in collaboration with Jane Jacobs, is a leading global urbanist organization, the purpose of which is to expand the understanding of contemporary urban life and inspire civic engagement and creative responses for the urgent advancement of social, economic and environmental justice.

The Center's programs have been funded by the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Knight Foundation, among others.

What We Do

What We Do


With its distinguished Governing Board and accomplished Advisory Board, the Center develops, funds and operates programs that:

‣  Broaden civic engagement with increased concentration on marginalized populations (equitable engagement) 

‣  Encourage and assist collective inquiry and utilization of community-based participatory planning 

‣  Elevate position and perspective of women and girls in social justice initiatives 

‣  Invite problem-solving through innovation and community-based creative responses

‣  Progress from best practices to a collective vision of best possibilities

‣  Advance ecology of cities (integration of social, environmental and economic systems in addressing urban challenges) as a pedagogical model


How We Approach Problems

How We Approach Problems


The way we operate reflects our Purpose and Priorities: 

‣  Educate and empower through programs of observation and development of community voice

‣  Employ “thinking small in a big way” and “urban acupuncture” (supporting small changes at the right place and time with big impact potential) to enhance vitality and sustainability of urban areas

‣  Invite creative responses for innovative initiatives, including art-based strategies and those with a fresh, even experimental, approach pertaining to specific sets of community systems 

‣  Employ a gender-balanced view of cities by illuminating the perspective of cities-as-homes, cities as habitat, the community common good, the democracy of, and safety in, public places

‣  Advance the ecology of cities pedagogical model through research and knowledge partnerships

‣  Leverage the operational and administrative capacities of strategic partners

The Human Face

The Human Face

why it matters

observe! program

Cities are living organisms where dynamic systems metabolize every element. Opening doors where youth can discover these invisible flows makes opportunities for cultural change visible. Teaching youth with dynamic, hands-on lessons about the intricate systems of cities empowers them to grasp a city’s essence. This understanding expands the ways they can participate in shaping, repairing and preserving the places they care about. To make a difference we have to know and love our cities.

Girl Scout,  part of the Observe! Program

A tenacious eighth-grade Girl Scout quickly emerged as a leader not only within her troop but also within the program. Her guidance, curiosity, and passion for social justice have catalyzed the initiative to strengthen girls’ and young women’s voices.  She began the program as an 11-year-old Girl Scout in the first troop to pilot Observe!  A year later, she took Observe! to Pakistan and is working with ten local girls and a Girl Guide council there to participate in the program. Her perspective and energy have helped shape the program’s future.

Helena (not her real name), part of the Observe! Program

Helena is quiet but perceptive. She is often the one in the corner observing her peers and choosing not to offer up her every thought. When prompted about what she might like to celebrate or transform in her community, she thought for a long moment, took a deep breath, then spoke up in front of her peers which is something she does not often do. She expressed that sometimes those around her are not in a good mood or very positive. To remedy this, Helena proposed creating a wall of kindness with reminders to be grateful and to be kind to each other. She was inspired by artist Candy Chang’s “Before I die” wall, but adapted it to address her observations in her community.

José (not his real name), a high school freshman and part of the Observe! Program

José has big ideas but they don’t always translate to his grades. Once given the opportunity to be engaged in his community and take ownership of the places he loves, he felt confident enough to share his ideas with his peers and community. Observe! provided the opportunity for José to learn and engage in a way that felt conducive to his learning style and the way he seems to learn best according to his leaders.

José’s concerns and ideas are now being taken into consideration by the local city government. José noticed that the main thoroughfare to get to school or the bus stop had recently become more uncomfortable in lieu of the homelessness crisis in the city. José suggested there should be a paved pathway for youth walking to or from school so they don’t have to walk through the mud or snow and he also suggested there be lighting along the pathway so youth can see their surroundings and feel safer. The Senior Advisor of Education to the Mayor’s office and the former council member were in attendance at the walk and suggested to José that he apply for a community improvement grant to bring his ideas to fruition.

It turns out the city is already in the process of transforming the park where José made his observations but they had not put into consideration that it was a main thoroughfare for students getting to and from school. The city is incorporating José’s suggestion into their master plan that will be carried out in 2019. José is currently in the process of writing a letter of support for the proposed park master plan to show that he and his peers support their recommended changes.


To further the understanding and complexity of urban life, the Center has created a new program, funded by the Ford Foundation, to strengthen the vocabulary, knowledge and skills of journalists who write about cities. The City Journalism Workshop addresses a shortfall in journalism and provides citizens and policymakers with the knowledge needed to accurately inform the ways people can preserve and transform their communities.

Rachel Jones, part of the 2017 Journalist Workshop

"The Center for the Living City Journalism Workshop changed the way I look at neighborhoods and urban progress.  I'll never be able to see a new housing development again without wondering who'll be able to afford to live there, or who might have been displaced. I have a much stronger grasp of how urban policies can help or hinder progress for entire regions."

Rachel Jones is an international media consultant and former reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, the Detroit Free Press, and National Public Radio.


“The workshop changed the way I look at neighborhoods and urban progress. I'll never be able to see a new housing development again without wondering who'll be able to afford to live there, or who might have been displaced. I have a much stronger grasp of how urban policies can help or hinder progress for entire regions. ”

– Rachel Jones

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Our Future

Our Future


We have begun the long-term process both to expand our current programs and develop new programs that address our Vision, Purpose, Priorities, as well as what can be termed, more universally, our ikigai (Japanese: the value of what we do).

These in-development programs include, among many others, issues of:

‣  youth in shelters

‣  business formation support for immigrants and refugees

‣  gender equity in safety, security, access to sanitation facilities

‣  urban neighborhood gentrification and social justice

‣  democracy and social justice issues of mobility and public space

‣  social justice in access to clean water

‣  environmental and development aspects of daylighting of rivers

‣  security, human health and environmental issues of urban lighting

‣  “housing” the city




selected ngo collaborations

selected academic collaborations

Western States

‣  Carl Anthony [Founder, Breakthrough Communities;  affiliations with University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; Harvard University (Institute of Politics)]

‣  Richard Furnau (Architecture, University of California, Berkeley)

‣  Laura Hartman (Architecture, University of California, Berkeley)

‣  Allan Jacobs (City & Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley)

‣  Elizabeth Macdonald (City & Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley)

‣  Stephanie Pincetl (Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA)

‣  University of Utah (College of Architecture + Planning)

Eastern States

‣  Clemson University (School of Architecture)

‣  Parsons School of Design (The New School)

‣  Pratt Institute (School of Architecture)

‣  Purchase College (State University of New York)

‣  University of North Carolina, Charlotte

‣  University of Virginia School of Architecture

‣  University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture

‣  Hunter College (CUNY)


‣  Technical University - Delft, The Netherlands

‣  Dessau Institute of Architecture - Dessau, Germany

‣  Technical University of Architecture and Planning - Vienna, Austria

‣  EiABC, Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia