Drexel’s Nowak Metro Finance Lab Vows to Make Cities More Inclusive

Bruce Katz, left, and Jeremy Nowak.
Bruce Katz, left, and Jeremy Nowak.

What does an inclusive city mean? For Jeremy Nowak, a former distinguished fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, and co-author of The New Localism: How Cities Thrive in the Age of Populism,” it meant a metropolitan area that works for all of its residents. Nowak’s ‘New Localism’ co-author, Bruce Katz, shares that view, and now, as a distinguished fellow in the Lindy Institute himself, he’s working to honor Nowak’s legacy by completing his vision through the Nowak Metro Finance Lab, which launched earlier this year.

Katz — who has more than 30 years’ experience and expertise in urban governance and finance with the Brookings Institution, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — will research how cities can invest in innovation and infrastructure to improve the quality of life for their communities. It’s an idea that he and Nowak, a national thought leader in community finance and creator of the groundbreaking Reinvestment Fund, one of the largest community investment institutions, put forth last year in their book. And it’s an idea that he and Nowak were planning to carry out together in Drexel’s newest academic endeavor.

This summer, plans were being finalized to create Drexel’s Metro Finance Lab, which was going to be co-directed by Katz and Nowak. But then, unexpectedly and heartbreakingly, the 66-year-old Nowak died of complications from a heart attack in early July.

Tributes poured in, both in the press (links can be found here) and through a memorial service at Drexel that drew hundreds to mourn the loss.

“Jeremy’s sudden passing … left a void in so many ways, but, at least at Drexel, we hope to carry on his important work,” Drexel President John Fry remarked in a statement.

Drexel leadership determined to honor Nowak’s legacy by giving the Lab his name, and, in a tribute to Jeremy’s legendary decisiveness and drive, the lab is already up and running. In its first term at Drexel, the Lab is already establishing itself as a major player and leader in the field of metro finance.

“Jeremy was a powerful intellectual rudder for our work at Lindy, and we’re humbled to host a Lab bearing his name and look forward to honoring him through work to bring greater equity and inclusion to communities. We are grateful to have his thought partner, Bruce Katz, at the helm, to bring his ideas to fruition,” said Executive Director of the Lindy Institute Harris Steinberg.

In its first months, the Lab has hosted workshops for mayors and leaders in finance, community development and infrastructure from across the country and around the world to come together and discuss best practices and problem-solve. The Lab has already published its first report in partnership with Accelerator for America related to the Opportunity Zones community development program established through Congress’ 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, “From Transactions to Transformation: How Cities Can Maximize Opportunity Zones.” The report, which was published Oct. 22, was co-authored by Katz and Evan Weiss, the director of the research and advisory firm PEL Analytics.

Katz has been a leading voice focused on the unique opportunity presented by the tax code established through the Opportunity Zones, and is one of the first to establish strategies for states and cities — particularly those that are struggling and are in need of investment — to organize local networks and solutions for economic development and civic opportunities.

Moving forward, the Lab plans to build a series of case studies, called “City Cases,” that would be distributed and used for educational purposes in ways that are similar to those published by the Harvard Business School. Katz plans to use workshops and other partnerships with national and international cities to create new case studies and develop strategies to adapt and create new intermediaries, instruments and institutions to meet the need for innovative funding methods.

“The fiscal writing is on the wall. With the public sector at all levels facing enormous political and fiscal constraints, financing of critical investments must come from an unprecedented collaboration between the public, private and civic sectors at all levels and require a heightened burst of experimentation around new forms of innovative finance. Drexel, with its commitment to community engagement, is the perfect host to create high-impact, new practices rooted in equity and inclusion principles,” said Katz.

To share updates on the Lab’s developments, Katz has created a biweekly email newsletter that releases news and publishes his thought pieces related to everything from the Opportunity Zones to the connection between geography and private capital. To stay informed of what Drexel’s newest academic center is developing, click here to sign up to be added to the email list and receive newsletters.