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City-size counts when it comes to U.S. racial and economic inclusion

A young girl jumps rope on the sidewalk next to her family's belongings after she, her parents, and her four brothers and sisters, received a court order of eviction that was carried out by McLennan County Deputy Constables in Waco, Texas, December 31, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing

An economic downturn in a city could prove to be a useful time to put in place opportunities that promote greater racial and social inclusion

LONDON - Smaller cities in the United States have beaten heavyweights such as Miami, Dallas and Atlanta to become more racially and economically inclusive, a report published on Wednesday found.

A cluster of small cities such as Fremont and Santa Clara in California and Naperville in Illinois ranked top for their inclusion efforts, according to the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organisation.

The report analysed 274 of the country's largest cities over three decades.

Although economic inclusion and racial inclusion do not always trend together the report did note a correlation, with economically healthy cities tending to be more inclusive than economically distressed ones.

"Size does matter. There is something to (cities) being the right size - large enough to fund services, but small enough to pay attention," one of the report's authors, Erika Poethig, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"I think that being slightly smaller in a growing metropolitan area or a state that is doing well economically certainly helps your ability to adopt more inclusive practices and policies," she said.

The report found that an economic downturn in a city could prove to be a useful time to put in place opportunities that promote greater racial and social inclusion.

"We're a diverse and wonderful country and we've had periods in our history, and are currently living in one, where that sense of inclusion that we all are trying to strive together is fraught," Poethig said.

Rich and poor countries alike are tasked with creating sustainable and inclusive cities by 2030 under global development goals agreed in 2015.

And with two-thirds of the global population forecast to live in cities by 2050 - compared with about half now - urban-planners and policymakers are increasingly looking at ways cities can foster inclusive development.

The study seeks to encourage change at the local level by equipping city leaders and officials with "building blocks" to put in place strategies that bring about greater inclusion.

Those include providing more social services, improving local leadership, and recognising that inclusion of low-income residents is integral to growth.

For Sarah Treuhaft, who oversees the All-In Cities initiative at PolicyLink, a U.S. national research institute on racial and economic equity, cities are key "crucibles" for overturning racial and social inequities, she said.

"In the United States the neighbourhoods in cities are incredibly unequal in terms of the types of opportunities they are providing their residents," she said in a phone interview.

"Lower-income people and people of colour are often relegated to polluted neighbourhoods, those that have the worst schools, that don't have parks, transit, access to jobs - all of the things you need to have economic and social success."

Despite the report's findings, no U.S. city - big or small - has cracked the code on achieving full racial or social inclusion, but cities have cause for optimism, Poethig said.

"We're only going to get stronger if historically marginalized people or communities where investment has flowed out rather than flowed in are reinvested in - otherwise we're not going to succeed as a nation."

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