I. A New Think Tank for the Bay Area

The Urban Institute for Development and Economic Alternatives (Urban IDEA) is a progressive think tank focusing on land use, housing, transportation, economic development and job creation, environmental justice, food and water policy, climate change strategies, and urban and regional governance. Urban IDEA serves as an incubator for new ideas and approaches to urban and regional development from a left-progressive perspective. Bringing together researchers, professional practitioners, scholars, cultural workers, policymakers and activists, Urban IDEA promotes dialogue, critical thinking, engaged scholarship, and a collaborative approach to addressing the larger forces influencing development in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Institute promotes exchange of ideas and strategies being developed elsewhere in the US, and internationally, that are at the forefront of efforts to bring about social and economic equality and long-term urban and environmental sustainability.

Why Urban IDEA is Necessary

On issues relating to governance, revenue, budgeting, land use and economic development, Bay Area social movements lack an incubator of alternatives and a repository for research. Lacking a proactive agenda, activists are often forced into a reactive mode, responding to an agenda driven by corporate interests. Progressive movements, and the public at large, will benefit from diversifying the policy discussion and creating a space to develop concrete, visionary alternatives to the dominant development paradigm.

Urban IDEA addresses another critical gap: there is no Bay Area forum linking progressive scholarship and theory-driven analysis with community-based organizations and grassroots movements.

II. Values

Urban IDEA seeks to link theory with social movements involved in land use, housing, economic development, and environmental justice to promote fundamental change in our political and economic systems.  We believe that urban and economic development should be a tool for allocating resources in an equitable manner, and shaping the environment to eliminate the great inequalities of wealth and power in our society. We are committed to participatory democracy, workplace democracy, and community empowerment; and oppose racial, economic, and environmental injustice and discrimination by gender and sexual orientation. We believe that urban development policies should be used to assure adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, jobs, safe working conditions, and a healthful environment. We advocate public responsibility for meeting these needs, because the private market has proven incapable of doing so. We seek to be an effective political and social force, working with progressive organizations and social movements to inform public opinion and public policy and to provide assistance to those seeking to understand and change the forces that affect their lives.

III. Goals

As progressives, our goal is to transform the currently unsustainable path of urban and regional development in a manner that integrates attention to race, class, and gender with recognition of natural and environmental limits. In order to help move us in this direction, Urban IDEA sets out the following goals:

  • To create and propagate alternative approaches to land use, housing, and economic development, in line with our values, that affect conditions “on the ground” in urban working-class neighborhoods.
  • To influence public dialogue and build an enduring and influential progressive presence in local and regional policy debates.
  • To foster deeper dialogue among diverse social movements —community-based organizations, labor and worker’s organizations, and environmental justice groups – through a multi-sector and multi-issue approach.
  • To link social movement organizations and activists to researchers, intellectuals, writers, and academics who share Urban IDEA’s orientation and values.

IV. Projects

To achieve these goals, Urban IDEA will develop collaborations and longer-term projects that enhance strategic thinking about how to build a multi-sector, multi-issue progressive movement over the next 2-3 years:

  1. Convene gatherings that link social movements with applied theorists to understand current conditions and explore alternative approaches to issues confronting urban populations.
  2. Develop collaborative research ‘clusters’ with partners at academic institutions to conduct high quality, in-depth analysis and research on local and regional development issues.
  3. Hold regular public forums on timely topics, with the aim of influencing the public discourse.
  4. Produce rigorously researched policy papers and an annual “State of the Bay Area” report on economic development, land use, housing, urban ecology, and governance that link local issues to regional and global trends shaping the political choices and responses of social movements, as part of a concerted public communications strategy.

V. Areas of Interest

The Institute takes on a host of issues connecting local realities to larger shifts in the regional, national, and global economy. Our areas of interest include:

  • Community-driven job creation
  • Alternative city and regional revenue-generation strategies
  • Local and regional responses to global warming and resource depletion
  • Participatory budgets and participatory democracy
  • Alternative economic systems and democratic processes

VII. Structure and Governance

To ensure accountability and relevancy, Urban IDEA will have an advisory board composed of representatives from academia, community-based organizations, labor and workers’ organizations, and cultural workers.  The advisory board will meet on a quarterly basis to discuss and steer research and policy priorities.

Conclusion: Re-framing the Future

As economic and ecological crises intensify, our ability to develop a deeper understanding of and response to these issues will be critical. Many of those active in social change organizations, as well as academics and cultural workers, are looking for alternatives to the current paradigm of corporate-led development.  Urban IDEA aims to help progressive movements and communities devise political solutions to create those alternatives—to democratize and diversify our economy and our politics while prioritizing ecological sustainability and profoundly reducing economic and racial inequality.