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Nowak Lab Newsletters

Below linked are Nowak Metro Finance Lab newsletters, shared biweekly by Bruce Katz.

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The 3CDC Model - June 26, 2019

Yesterday the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University released the first in a series of City Cases: Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine: A Private Led Model for Revitalizing Urban NeighborhoodsCreation of this series was a high priority of Jeremy Nowak and myself in starting our new venture at Drexel, now (unbelievably) a year old. We believed that cities, given their immense and growing responsibilities, require new governance and finance models that organize public, private and civic capital in novel ways. Most 20th century institutions, frankly, are ill-equipped to meet the challenges of our times. They are too tired, too compartmentalized and too narrowly focused (on “housing” or “convention centers” or “stadia” or “community development”) to take the holistic view necessary to drive transformative change. Read more...

The Great Misalignment - June 13, 2019

As the 2020 campaign takes hold, Democratic candidates have been issuing ambitious proposals about the platform role of the federal government: helping people live productive lives via a robust and secure safety net and (mostly) enhanced investments in health care and housing. We have been hearing much less about how the federal government helps places build prosperous futures by mobilizing the energies and expertise of sub-national players like states, counties, cities, universities and non-profits around issues like innovation, infrastructure and climate change. Read more...

Governance Time - May 30, 2019

Over the past several months, I have been working with a disparate group of colleagues on two signature studies. Julie Wagner, Tom Osha and I have been writing an update to the 2014 report, “The Rise of Innovation Districts,” in collaboration with the new Global Institute on Innovation Districts. At the same time, Karen Black, Luise Noring and I have been preparing an analysis of Cincinnati’s Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), in collaboration with Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and Accelerator for America. Both reports are near completion and will be released in June. Read more...

UniGov At 50 Years - May 16, 2019

In 1969, the Indiana state legislature consolidated the city and county governments of Indianapolis and surrounding Marion County. In one act, “Unigov” increased Indianapolis’ population by about 250,000 and its land area by about 275 square miles, establishing it as one of the top U.S. cities (its population of 863,000 in 2017 made it the 16th most populous city in the United States). Read more...

Opportunity Zones and Philanthropy - May 2, 2019

As I engage with dozens of communities around the country on Opportunity Zones, I am often asked “Where are the philanthropies?” The question is rooted in some simple math and hard market realities. The Opportunity Zones tax incentive could generate tens of billions of dollars in market equity investment in low-income communities, which could, in turn, leverage hundreds of billions of dollars more in conventional lending, concessionary capital and public subsidy. Most Opportunity Zones are in desperate need of such investments given their high rates of poverty and vacancy and the absence of businesses and business demand. Yet there is a disconnect today between the orientation of capital allocators (who have access to countless tax advisors, accountants and lawyers) and community advocates (who are more familiar with policy or subsidy driven tools). Read more...

HUD and Opportunity Zones - April 17, 2019

Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a Request for Information, seeking public guidance on how HUD can leverage the economic and social impact of Opportunity Zones. As part of the Request, HUD crunched the numbers and revealed the remarkable way in which Opportunity Zones overlap with public and assisted housing, home to millions of low-income Americans. Read more...

Reflections on Federalism and Localism - April 3, 2019

Over the past ten days, I have been in Israel and the United Kingdom exploring how to adapt US market dynamics and tools — innovation districts, opportunity zones, city investment prospectuses — to foreign shores. As often happens when I leave the United States, a trip abroad has sharpened my sense of the special assets that America possesses at home and some of our keenest liabilities. Read more...

Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectus Overview - March 20, 2019


On Monday, Accelerator for America, Drexel University’s Nowak Metro Finance Lab, the Economic Innovation Group and The Governance Project hosted a packed Opportunity Zone Investor Summit at Stanford. The Summit celebrated a milestone: over the past year, 27 cities have used a common template to design Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectuses to help communicate their assets and unveil projects that are investor ready and community enhancing. While cities have largely constituted the first wave of Prospectus adopters, the tool is already being applied at the metropolitan and neighborhood scales and could form a useful tool for states and rural counties. Read more...

Towards a New System of Community Development - March 7, 2019

Our continued visits to Opportunity Zones across the country (most recently Austin, Dayton, Kansas City, Norfolk, Baltimore, and San Antonio) and our conversations with literally dozens of practitioners reinforce our sense that the new federal tax incentive is (unexpectedly and slowly) driving the creation of a new system of community economic development. The process of invention is messy, haphazard and chaotic even by U.S. standards, made more complicated by the fact that a new class of investors and a relentless market orientation has been introduced into a system that has been largely dominated by a closed loop of actors motivated by either federal bank regulation or social impact. Read more...

Health Care and Opportunity Zones: The Game Begins - February 19, 2019

The Opportunity Zone incentive is a new community investment tool established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term investments in low-income communities. The Act creates a tax incentive for investors to re-invest their capital gains into dedicated Qualified Opportunity Funds (“QOF”). Of the 8,762 census tracts across the county that have been designated as Opportunity Zones, 2,905 (33%) either contain a hospital or are ½ a mile from a hospital. While much of the early attention given to Opportunity Zone investing has focused on many of the “usual suspect” cities, hospitals and healthcare systems are a unique institution in that they’re represented in almost every kind of community—serving big city neighborhoods, mid-sized cities, small towns, and rural areas. Hospitals can play a leading role in efforts to attract, organize, and even make QOF investments in the communities that they serve. Read more...

Playing “Gotcha” with Opportunity Zones - February 13, 2019

In the past couple months, the national media has been replete with stories about the pitfalls of Opportunity Zones. Some stories have focused on the curious selection of robust, gentrifying areas Zones, raising the prospect that scarce federal resources will be allocated for projects that would have happened anyway and merely spark more gentrification. Other stories have focused on projects that either benefit well-off global companies or have little social value. There is even a Trump angle to explore given the real estate interests of the Kushner clan. Read more...


Mayors for President
 - January 30, 2019

In the past week, there has been a flurry of articles about mayors (and former mayors) running for president (see, e.g., http://time.com/5510973/pete-buttigieg-mayors-president/). The announcements of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (and the likely announcements of former mayors like Senator Cory Booker and (former) Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper) have clearly captivated the media. Read more...

The Unanticipated Effects of Opportunity Zones - January 16, 2019

As many of us involved in cities know, the indirect effects of large policy changes are often more important than the direct ones. The development of cities in the latter half of the 20th century was driven more by the Interstate Highway Act (negative) and the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 (positive) than by any law with “Urban” or “City” in the title. The Opportunity Zones tax incentive is shaping up as another federal intervention with multiple, indirect effects. Read more...

Welcome the New Community Institution - January 3, 2019

Happy New Year!  As many of you know, I (and a group of fellow travelers) have become virtually obsessed with building a new set of local institutions that align with our 21st century economy and society and unlock and deploy capital for a new kind of purposeful growth. Read more...

From Amazon Bids to Opportunity Zones - December 19, 2018

For the past year, US cities have been transfixed by Amazon’s intention to build a second headquarters. An incredible 238 cities prepared bids to woo the tech behemoth and, in many cases, offered a plethora of incentives, ranging from enormous tax abatements to infrastructure improvements, free land and special fiber broadband networks. Read more...

Prospectus Guide - December 5, 2018


Last week Accelerator for America and the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University released a policy brief entitled “Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectus Guide.” The paper, co-authored by Ken Gross and myself, can be found here. Read more...

Creating Institutions that Work - November 21, 2018


On November 14-16, we held a “soft” launch of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University with a several-day hands-on working session among a high-level group of reflective U.S. and European practitioners. Read more...

Drinking from an OZ Firehose - November 5, 2018


With election fever rightly seizing the land, I have spent the past several weeks visiting six separate cities — Albuquerque, Cleveland, Dayton, Madison, New Orleans and Winston-Salem. This whirlwind travel has given me a chance to tour dozens of Opportunity Zones and get an on the ground feel for market condition, practitioner energy, investment possibilities and social challenges. Read more...

How Cities Maximize Opportunity Zones - October 23, 2018


Yesterday Accelerator for America and the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University released a policy brief entitled “From Transactions to Transformation: How Cities Can Maximize Opportunity Zones.” Read more...

On Jane Jacobs and Opportunity Zones- October 2, 2018

I have been thinking a lot about Jane Jacobs recently and how her writing informs our thinking about metropolitan finance in general and Opportunity Zones in particular. One of my favorite chapters in The Death and Life of Great American Cities is chapter 16, where Jacobs spelled out her views on “gradual money and cataclysmic money.” Read more...

Governing Opportunity Zones - September 20, 2018

As Jeremy Nowak and I wrote in a previous newsletter, realizing the full potential of the Opportunity Zone tax incentive will require a broad group of urban institutions to act with purpose and discipline. To that end, we began to ponder a set of steps cities could take to create a suite of modern institutions with the capital resources, public sector relationships, community standing, and private sector credibility to effect change. Here are the steps we were considering: Read more...

Stirring Market Demand - September 5, 2018

As the Opportunity Zones incentive evolves, two dominant, overly simplistic narratives have taken hold. On one hand, there is the view that all cities should merely compile and bundle a list of investable projects and reveal the true strength of the market for some distant investor on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley who have no connection to the city in question. This perspective treats the market failure that Opportunity Zones was intended to resolve as one primarily involving information and marketing rather than underlying business demand and market realities. Read more...

Rethinking Capital and Geography - August 22, 2018

The enactment of the Investing in Opportunity Act and the designation of Opportunity Zones across the United States compels cities and investors to rethink the interplay between sub-city geographies and private capital.  Consider this: US cities have evolved along distinct demographic, economic and cultural lines but have followed similar development patterns over the past 100 to 150 years. As Chris Leinberger and others have shown, a familiar set of urban archetypes have emerged across cities. Read more...

Remembering Jeremy Nowak - August 7, 2018

As many of you know, my good friend and business partner Jeremy Nowak passed away on July 28th at the age of 66 due to complications from a heart attack. There has been an outpouring of grief and appreciation in Jeremy’s beloved hometown of Philadelphia. And for good reason. Jeremy lived a remarkable life in the service of his city and, more broadly, disadvantaged places and people in the United States and beyond. He had a deep, unwavering commitment to making a difference in people’s lives. Read More...

Read previous newsletters from The New Localism