Dedicated readers of our blog know that we at Cityfi are interested in developing a more comprehensive framework for cost-benefit analysis — one that incorporates the impacts on everything from equity and quality of life to health and safety and the economy. In addition to being more comprehensive, we envision a tool that is more engaging and transparent in its calculations than ROI or cost-benefit analysis today.

Recently, we have been delighted to find interest in broader cost-benefit analysis across sectors. In sharing some highlights and reflections here from our research and work, we aim to build on the momentum.

What We’re Reading


From 2017 to 2018, Cityfi partnered with the City of West Hollywood to create the WeHo Smart City Strategic Plan, an ambitious initiative to holistically weave technology into the fabric of the city and better serve all community members. Now, two years after its launch, the 5-year plan’s implementation is nearly halfway complete and the City is on track to meet its goals.

As innovative and impressive as the plan was when it launched, we urbanists know that implementation can be a far greater challenge. …


As we all know, 2020 has been a very difficult year emotionally and economically across the public and private sectors. At the same time, it has presented opportunities to make lasting positive change in terms of how organizations adapt to change and prepare for risks. While pensions have largely been spared from the financial crisis this year due to a spellbound, record-breaking stock market, the looming threat of unfunded liabilities remains urgent and now is as good a time as ever to address it.

At Cityfi we focus on municipalities so that is what I’ll discuss here, though these lessons…


Trash on the streets is much more than an eyesore. It finds its way into the ocean and into the food web, harming us and the planet. Let’s do something about it.

The last big social gathering I participated in before quarantine was a screening of The Story of Plastic, a documentary that illuminates the social justice and environmental issues plastic creates throughout its lifecycle of extraction to disposal. The film and panel had a big impact on me, and led me to borrow the audiobook Plastic Ocean from the library app at the start of quarantine. …


The Estate Tax threshold is absurd, simple to fix, and has a major impact on generational wealth inequality.

“Surely, an unknown gambler’s hand shakes the cup, casts you out, and out there you count upon landing either for a lot or very little. But after the die has been cast, you are put back into the cup and there, inside, in the cup, no matter how you come to lie, you signify all of its numbers, all of its sides. And there, inside the cup, luck or misfortune are of no concern, but only bare existence.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

Background — Equity and the Estate Tax

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire


$11B of interest on a $15B investment in public schools is hard to swallow.

My economic philosophy has been evolving lately. I’ve become a bit more anti-growth, a bit more pro-local, and a whole lot more interested in debt and interest as key pieces of the puzzle to make capitalism work better. I covered some of this in a recent blog post. Now my fledgling philosophy is being put to the test via California’s Public Preschool, K-12, and College Health and Safety Bond Act of 2020, aka Prop 13.

In short, the ballot measure dedicates $15B to rebuild crumbling school…


How to protect and enhance the commonwealth

In my first ever Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That! post, I wrote about Economic Development.

Ray Dalio’s “How The Economic Machine Works” video clicked for me in a way that economics and public policy courses hadn’t, and I wanted to explain my new understanding of why we seek economic growth and how we ought to achieve it. In short (I argued then), growth is good because one person’s spending is another person’s income, and vice versa. And the best way to achieve growth is to increase productivity.

Now, having read the mind-bending…


As City Councilor and chair of Portland’s Transportation and Sustainability Committee, Spencer Thibodeau has pushed for a wealth of environmental legislation, mobility investments, and quality-of-life improvements. In this interview, he shares insights with Cityfi about prioritizing issues and exchanging ideas from his experience as councilor and now as a mayoral candidate.

At Cityfi, we have the pleasure of working with governments, foundations, and the private sector across the country to help manage massive change in a rapidly urbanizing world.

While on a term of leave/sabbatical/extended honeymoon traveling through the US and Canada in an RV, my husband and I…


The US government encourages the production of commodity corn. The resulting surplus harms society — from obesity to antimicrobial resistance to water pollution. Understanding these social costs is the first step to addressing them. Comparing the costs and benefits visually can help with understanding.

America’s Corn Surplus

For the past 50 years, US corn production has been on a steady upward trajectory. We now produce nearly 4x the amount we did in 1970.

Where does all this corn go?

Strangely, we only eat a tiny fraction — less than a bushel per person — as actual corn (on the cob, in a tortilla…


Walpole, MA transforms a blighted property into a bustling center for seniors and beyond.

Standing room only for the Walpole Co-Operative Bank South Street Center

A smart city (or region, or country) is one that can collaborate through differences to identify projects that the community most needs and employ creativity to make it happen. The opening of Walpole, Massachusetts’ Senior Center on Thursday, December 20th, was an encouraging example of what that looks like. I felt lucky to attend along with my civically engaged family-in-law, with whom I am staying this holiday week.

Identify A Need

Pursuing an idea for public improvement requires both physical and political capital. In a town like Walpole, which…

Chelsea Lawson

One cannot fix one's eyes on the commonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy.

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