The Center, founded in cooperation with Jane Jacobs in 2005, is a leading global urbanist organization, the purpose of which is to expand the understanding of contemporary urban life and inspire civic engagement and creative responses for the urgent advancement of social, economic and environmental justice. 

The Center provides opportunities for community engagement through the lens of urban ecology to further understanding of the interconnected human and ecological systems in our communities. 

Urban ecology is the study of the ways that human and ecological systems evolve together in urban and urbanizing regions. Through the comprehensive understanding of the ecology of cities, people can make more informed decisions about the future of places they care about. This urban ecological framework fosters collaborative, holistic and ground-up approaches to city building, and can help bring grace,  justice and aesthetic balance to our communities. The Center’s multi-disciplinary approach to community engagement is applied through educational programs, collaborative projects, fellowships, on-line portals, workshops and publications. 

The Center also creates opportunities for at-risk, underrepresented, and curious individuals to understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens, assisting them in finding avenues for community action. One current project, the Observe! Patch Program, funded by the Ford Foundation, encourages girls and young women around the globe to observe their neighborhoods, create a response to opportunities and problems they recognize and through these efforts, amplify their voices as engaged citizens. 

Cities are living organisms where dynamic systems metabolize every element. Opening doors where youth can discover these invisible flows makes opportunities for cultural change visible. Teaching youth with dynamic, hands-on lessons about the intricate systems of cities empowers them to grasp a city’s essence. This understanding expands the ways they can participate in shaping, repairing and preserving the places they care about. To make a difference we have to know and love our cities. 

To further the understanding and complexity of urban life, the Center is creating a new program, also funded by the Ford Foundation, to strengthen the vocabulary, knowledge and skills of journalists who write about cities. The City Journalism Workshop addresses a shortfall in journalism and provides citizens and policymakers with the knowledge needed to accurately inform the ways people can preserve and transform their communities.

Additionally, in close collaboration with the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies (multi-university, based at the University of Utah), the Center is investigating the environmental, health and social justice impacts of light pollution, light trespass and "the disappearing dark” in urban areas.

With both Governing and Advisory Boards in place, the Center's five-year impact priorities are:

  • Broaden civic engagement with increased concentration on marginalized populations (equitable engagement) 
  • Encourage and assist collective inquiry and utilization of community-based participatory planning
  • Elevate position of women and girls in social justice initiatives
  • Invite problem-solving through innovation and community-based creative response
  • Progress from best practices to a collective vision of best possibilities
  • Advance the understanding of the ecology of cities/urban ecology (integration of social, environmental and economic systems in addressing urban challenges) as a pedagogical model