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TOP Support for Urban Projects

TOP has never focused on "traditional" Digital Divide issues such as basic access to Internet connectivity. Rather, TOP has consistently supported innovative projects that demonstrate how the tools of information technology can be used to address problems in the areas of public administration, the arts, public health, public safety, and education. TOP funds innovative models with the expectation that — once a model has been tested in a single community — it can be, and will be, replicated in other communities. So the emphasis less on disparities of access to information technologies than on disparities of ideas about how information technologies can be efficiently and creatively deployed.

Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles (NKLA) is a prime example of the innovative use of information technology to address a set of significant social, economic, and cultural issues. It developed out of a planning grant we awarded in 1996, only the third year that our program awarded grants. In that year, we funded an organization called the "Resident Controlled Housing Association" to develop a plan to provide greater access to information as a way of combating urban decline.

The planning initiative brought together non-profit community-based groups, government agencies, foundations, financial institutions, and institutions of higher education, one of whom was UCLA. The focus of this project was on concrete data-management issues – tax delinquencies, mortgage defaults, health and safety code violations, drug abuse – and the benefits of making this information accessible and usable online. In 1998, TOP funded the launch of NKLA.

The Resident Controlled Housing Association planning initiative emphasized what it called "user-directed community information and communication" systems. In its implementation phase, and through its creative use of state-of-the-art information strategies and its focus on providing users with sophisticated, but easy to use, online tools, NKLA became a national model, indeed an international model, of how community leaders and residents of low-income neighborhoods can use information tools to strengthen their communities. Tools that were once considered cutting-edge are now, through the example of NKLA, taken as basic strategies — e.g., online mapping of community assets, constantly updated statistics, community online forums.

And while NKLA — which has now expanded to a statewide project called Neighborhood Knowledge California — continues to define the state of the art in integrating public policy and online technologies, it has become one among a growing number of TOP-supported initiatives deploying sophisticated information tools to address issues of urban decline; the scarcity of affordable housing; and disparities in homeownership.

Other urban-based initiatives include:

Bringing IT Home: Cleveland Housing Network's Bringing IT Home initiative. Using Internet-based technology to enable community-based organizations to share data resources, collaborate on community revitalization projects, and build capacity for successful home ownership and financial strength among low-income families. In Portland, Oregon, the city's Housing Connections initiative has created a virtual one-stop housing center to integrate the work of over 75 housing-related agencies and enable residents of Multnomah County to find affordable housing and gain access to a continuum of housing services.

RightMovesNet: The Chicago Housing Authority's RightMovesNet is a web-based information system to support data exchange among public housing residents, school personnel, human resources providers, relocation counseling agencies, and property management firms — critical to Chicago's ongoing redevelopment initiative.

City Scan: Created by the Connecticut Economic and Policy Council in Hartford, CityScan creates a system connecting citizens of Hartford to information about 17 Neighborhood Revitalization Zones, while The Providence Plan in Rhode Island has created COZIN – the Community Opportunity Zone Information Network — a comprehensive system for delivering a wide variety of services to residents of the Providence Enterprise Community.

New York City Housing and Neighborhood Information System (NYCHANIS), developed by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University focuses on integrating data on housing stock, home ownership, housing affordability, housing quality, mortgage lending, foreclosures, tax delinquencies, land use, population statistics, immigration, racial demographics, income, crime, etc. — making it searchable, using online mapping, and creating a Neighborhood Information Exchange.

National Council of La Raza: The online Affordable Housing Initiative of the National Council of La Raza in Washington, DC, is a project to help thousands of Latino families across the United States realize the dream of home ownership.

City of Portland: Affordable housing is also the focus of the City of Portland's Housing Connections project in Oregon. Housing Connections is one of a number of urban initiatives designed to narrow the information gap facing city residents when they seek information and social services related to affordable housing.

The Digital Bridge Project in San Diego, California, is helping to revitalize one of San Diego's most distressed neighborhoods, a 3,000-square-acre triangle of land that is home to nearly 80,000 citizens, by working with a number of public and private partners to integrate wireless broadband into the economic life of the City Heights area.

Center for Neighborhood Technology: Wireless broadband is also the focus of a number of recent TOP-supported initiatives, including Center for Neighborhood Technology's Wireless Community Networks project to test a new strategy for bringing wireless broadband to low resource communities in Chicago in order to spark community regeneration and increase economic opportunities.

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