Among older industrialized cities, Milwaukee has made a concerted effort of planning and investing over the past two decades, especially in and around its downtown area. And Milwaukee has also seen many community development efforts take hold with social equity goals.

But these efforts have not been without headwinds. Out of 515 analyzed cities, Milwaukee ranked 456th in job growth, 437th in population growth, and 418th in new businesses growth from 2010 to 2019. The city has also struggled to address racial equity. A long history of segregation has been reinforced by redlining, in which neighborhoods of color were systematically denied access to capital.

To grow and thrive, cities and neighborhoods depend on a steady flow of investments, such as business loans, home mortgages, and real estate investment. Both private-sector “market” investors and “mission-driven” investors looking to achieve community development outcomes provide this capital.

Urban’s new report analyzes investment flows in Milwaukee, studying what kinds of money have been coming into the city over the past 15 years, for what purposes, and into which neighborhoods. We found that Milwaukee stands out as a city struggling to access capital, with neighborhoods of color and high-poverty neighborhoods in particular missing out on needed investments.

For leaders in policy, philanthropy, and the private sector, our research surfaces a number of questions. How much does bias unduly devalue investments in high-poverty neighborhoods and neighborhoods with high shares of residents of color? How can leaders better entice investors to stimulate demand? How can the work of mission lending and public sector subsidy be sufficiently scaled to meet the needs of more neighborhoods? How can connections between place, people, and community be achieved when new investment occurs?

Milwaukee struggles in its capital access relative to its peers, with those struggles especially acute in high-poverty neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color. The city needs a larger local economy and a more equitable one—not just growth and not just greater sharing of existing resources. To meet these goals, the private, public, and philanthropic sectors need to support innovation and solutions in this space and change their own practices that reinforce these dynamics.

Read the full article about equitable investments in Milwaukee by Brett Theodos and Tony Panciera at Urban Institute.