Microfinance for urban entrepreneurs

I’m at the Living Cities 20th Anniversary today, liveblogging on the discussions that panelists are having here. This post originally appeared at Next American City.

Patrick McCarthey of the Annie E. Casey Foundation articulated one of the missions of the Living Cities collaboration as helping Americans in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution. As the collaboration seeks to help cities develop, it also seeks to improve the development of human capital in these communities. To this point, Dudley Benoit of JP Morgan Chase suggested that improved efficiency in capital markets is key to achieving this goal.

While microfinance has flourished in developing countries, investors have not been as eager to provide small loans to small businesses in the United States. While philanthropic organizations focused on community development have often focused on the making top-down improvements to the physical landscape of urbanites, Benoit brings up that the human capital that allows cities to facilitate economic innovation is more important than their physical components, and that economic development must be a bottom-up process.

Living Cities’ President and CEO Ben Hecht points out that no one individual can solve the problems that a city poses – as Jane Jacobs and Friedrich Hayek both identified, complex human systems must draw on decentralized knowledge that cannot be centrally compiled. Access to capital for urban entrepreneurs is essential for the economic rebirth of cities that Living Cities fosters.