Leaders from across the Forward Cities – New Orleans, Detroit, Cleveland and beyond – are heading to Durham, North Carolina December 8-11 to participate in workshops, panel discussions, dinners, leadership training sessions and fieldtrips throughout the Bull City's growing innovation ecosystem. Building off the momentum from the first Forward Cities convening in New Orleans in December 2014, and the second convening in Detroit last June, Durham provides a unique backdrop for learning, sharing and working together, in order to accelerate inclusive innovation in our respective cities.
Like NOLA and the Motor City, Durham is a city currently undergoing a major comeback. Following the collapse of tobacco and the textile economy in the 1970s and 80s, downtown Durham emptied out and, as it declined, so did activity at the nation's premiere African-American business hub called "Black Wall Street". But in the last few years, pioneering young entrepreneurs have flocked back to the Bull City thanks to strategic investments by visionary developers, support from local government, and the leadership of our area's universities. Today, downtown Durham is at a 94 percent occupancy rate with growing demand for office space and housing. However, not all parts of the city are benefiting from this comeback. A half-mile to the east of the newly transformed downtown is North-East Central Durham – a minority and low income community at risk for rapid gentrification and displacement as downtown grows. This is the challenge that the Durham Forward Cities Council is taking on and will be a focus of this upcoming convening.
These challenges are not unique to Durham and during the multi day convening leaders from across the Forward Cities will have a chance to wrestle with questions such as: how can cities create vibrant, inclusive entrepreneurial hubs that bring life back to under-developed or decaying commercial corridors? What are promising strategies to increase access to capital for local minority entrepreneurs and small business owners? And what are emerging models for hubs/incubators to support entrepreneurs and small business development in low-income communities? Central to these conversations we will have in Durham are questions of equity and access, and how to increase participation by longtime local residents and small business owners in order to reduce gentrification or eventual displacement.
In addition to leaders from the Forward Cities, we are fortunate to be joined by national thought leaders such as Johnathan Holifield from Scale-Up Partners in Ohio who is using economic development tools to connect currently disconnected youth to the innovation economy. We will also be joined by national funders such as the Case Foundation, a leader in promoting “inclusive entrepreneurship” on a nationwide scale. And, we’ll hear from our local data partners and the Urban Institute on their efforts to map the entrepreneurial activity and connectivity of the Forward Cities' focus neighborhoods. Together we will explore how data is informing current collective impact strategies to grow the number of local minority entrepreneurs in these communities.
The work emerging from Forward Cities is highly instructive for any city wrestling with growing inequality that wants to create entrepreneurial opportunities for its citizens. The Durham Forward Cities convening will help advance this important work and opportunities for shared learning. And we will continue to share everything that we are doing through our web site, newsletters and social media (twitter: @forwardcities). So please join us and be a part of this great learning and sharing experiment!
Christopher Gergen, Co-Founder of Forward Cities
Denise Byrne, Co-Founder of Forward Cities