Civic Life of Cities Lab

都市公益研究组 Stadt und Zivilgesellschaft

Comparative cross-city research to learn about the consequences of civic associational life for the vitality of urban areas, as well as local experiences of global trends influencing the nonprofit sector, such as social impact measurement and organizational transparency.

Most people around the world live in cities. They are the regional sites of economic productivity and innovation worldwide. It is in the cities where citizens experience global problems most personally (e.g., immigration, climate change, the gains and disruptions of the new economy), and actively engage their local governments in collective pursuit of (local) solutions. Some cities are highly proactive on behalf of their inhabitants. Cities sign multilateral treaties to reduce carbon emissions and collaborate with other cities to learn about sustainability solutions. City governments attempt to handle refugee crises and become sanctuary cities, even when their national states are inhospitable.

Even though cities play a critical role in the governance of society, we know relatively little about the civic life of cities, outside of a few select studies of metropolitan communities. Our goal in this project is to do comparative cross-city research so that we can learn about the consequences of civic associational life for the vitality of urban areas.

We have chosen five cities – the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle (the Puget Sound Region, including Tacoma and Olympia), Shenzhen, China, Sydney, Australia, and Vienna, Austria.  These are cities that are “bright spots” for learning about cities. They are places where people migrate to and then have to deal with a constant influx of people.  San Francisco and Shenzhen are tech centers; Seattle and SF are liberal west coast cities, Vienna and Sydney are in nations with strong social safety nets.

None of these cities is a world financial capital like Hong Kong, London or New York. But they are all in the forefront of global rankings. Seattle, Sydney and Vienna are leaders in environmental sustainability. All are consequential “lifestyle” cities, noted for their quality of life, attention to issues of public health, citizen involvement, and innovation. From its humble beginning as a fishing village, Shenzhen is now a mega-city, founded under China’s open door policy in 1978. It was unique in its inception as a special economic zone, and the first city in China to adopt western urban development practices. It is now a hub for technology development and is known as China’s Silicon Valley.

Undertaking comparative research of this kind is virtually unknown. There are, of course, various country comparisons of the social sector, but very little work at comparing cities side by side. We will draw representative random samples from tax records of the nonprofit sector in each city, and administer a single survey across five cities with common modules on leadership, staffing, decision making, collaboration, advocacy, funding, impact, performance, digital practices, and community integration. More information on the cities and the research teams in each city is included below. This research project is anticipated to last for three years, and involves collaboration between researchers at Stanford, the University of Washington, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of New South Wales, the University of Technology – Sydney, and Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien.