We all remember being a child on what seemed like an endless journey to grandma’s house or the Grand Canyon and asking “Are we there yet?” In America’s cities and towns, we are having one of those “Are we there yet?” moments — although it seems the GPS is malfunctioning and we have lost the ability to chart a course toward our future.
What does “there” look like? How will we know when we are “there”? What are the critical investments we need to make in order to strengthen our regional economies and ensure that America remains globally competitive? What are the attributes of communities and regions that help the people who live and work there succeed? How can we ensure that every child – regardless of what zip code they are born into or the color of their skin — has access to opportunities to improve their lives and contribute to America’s prosperity?
America is confronting serious issues in this second decade of the 21st century: The gap between rich and poor continues to widen, the middle class is shrinking, and nearly one in four children live in poverty. At the same time, the U.S. is in a transitional period in our economy and our demographics are changing, presenting profound possibilities for creating a 21st century America that offers opportunities for all.
Reconnecting America believes that when communities — urban, suburban or rural — offer what people need, we begin to get closer to “there.” We see higher high school graduation rates, reduced rates of obesity and diabetes, and reduced traffic congestion and cleaner air. We see more people walking and biking and engaging in their communities and we see a reduction in crime. Our children live in safe and affordable housing, and we see citizens getting active in the democratic process and the creation of civic environments that foster more economic activity and jobs — which gives the U.S. an economic competitive advantage.
Reconnecting America has collected data to help all of us understand the existing conditions of our regions and to track progress at the regional level in all 366 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the country. We believe regional measures can be very useful in capturing and compiling the impact of neighborhood change on regional performance.
The benefits of complete communities are regional in nature because they produce better air quality, less congestion, lower obesity rates, reduced poverty, job growth — the list continues. We have graded every one of the 366 metro areas based on how they measure up to our vision, overall and in categories of Living, Working, Moving and Thriving. Metro areas were graded on a curve against metro areas of a similar size.
The Are We There Yet? narrative describes real-life examples we collected — and in some instances experienced firsthand — of leadership, innovation and collaboration occurring in all sorts of places and by all kinds of people. From Oklahoma City to Des Moines to Seattle, we have compiled stories that illustrate forward thinking with tangible outcomes — getting people to work, reducing obesity and engaging in a productive civic dialogue.
But there were more stories than could be included in the report, and some of those can be found on our Stories page. These stories and anecdotes aren’t tinged blue or red — these are stories of people of all political persuasions who are employing creativity, ingenuity and collaboration to make our cities and regions better places to live for everyone.