The Urban Opportunity Agenda provides tools for civic leaders, advocates, and community members to see the potential for sustainability strategies to reduce poverty in their communities by creating jobs, lowering the cost of living, and helping low-income families achieve financial stability while creating more efficient cities for everyone.


The Urban Opportunity Agenda website was created by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) with support from the JPB Foundation. Like many organizations, CNT is concerned by the impact of rising income inequality on our communities and society. For people at the lower end of the income spectrum, cost of living is rising faster than incomes and has been for years. Despite renewed investment in cities and significant wealth generation, poverty remains stubbornly high. There are many important economic safety net programs that are helping families today that we must protect and expand, but we must also do more.

Our 40+ years of experience in working with cities has shown us that targeted approaches to improving energy, transportation, climate change, infrastructure and other urban systems can create efficiencies for everyone and be significant sources of opportunity for residents currently living in poverty. For example:

  • Making it easier for low-income workers to reach jobs with transit and new mobility solutions will: 1) reduce costs for low-income people by reducing the need for car ownership and driving; 2) improve sustainability by reducing vehicle miles traveled and emissions; and 3) improve the overall economy of the metropolitan area by increasing job access for all workers.
  • Performing energy efficiency retrofits to save energy in buildings will: 1) lower energy costs for households and businesses; 2) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy use; and 3) create new jobs to construct these retrofits.

The Urban Opportunity Agenda provides profiles of more than 100 U.S. cities with the largest populations of individuals living below the poverty threshold across all 50 states. It allows users to set a poverty reduction goal and quantify the scale of impact of a portfolio of sustainability strategies in their communities. A dashboard adds up all the strategy selections to show the resulting reduction in poverty based on the selections and user customization. A summary report assembles the information in a user-friendly format to print or display.

Our analysis approach is described in our methodology document. The strategies analyzed are:

The Urban Opportunity Agenda strategies can be viewed here with each described in more detail on its own page with real-world examples showing where the strategy has been applied. Case studies illustrate the implementation of multiple strategies together. Users can also access resources on next step actions and related projects in the news.

The Urban Opportunity Agenda strategy calculator provides a unique look at the possibilities that reducing poverty and fighting climate change simultaneously can bring to over 100 cities—home to 65 million people, including over 11 million people currently living in poverty today. The calculator shows a vision for significantly reducing poverty in our communities by improving our resilience with targeted investments that create jobs and reduce household costs.

If you would like CNT’s help applying these ideas to your city, please reach out to Jen McGraw (jen@cnt.org) for more information.



How were the cities in the Urban Opportunity Agenda chosen?

We selected the 100 U.S. cities with the largest populations living in poverty using U.S. Census data and added 16 other cities to ensure each of the 50 U.S. states were included.

What do the strategies cost to implement?

The strategy calculator shows the poverty reduction potential of sustainability strategies that can reduce costs for everyone. It is meant to give a sense of the scale of what is possible. Implementation costs vary a great deal based on the details.  For example, a housing strategy to enable elderly empty nesters rent rooms to those in need might have a near-zero implementation cost, while building a new accessory dwelling unit in a high-cost area could run $400,000. So, we have not included costs in the calculator tool at this point. We have, however, included real-world examples in the best practices on each strategy page and the case studies. We are happy to discuss implementation options for you community, please reach out to Jen McGraw (jen@cnt.org) for more information.

What is the Poverty Gap?

The Poverty Gap is the difference between current annual incomes and the poverty line, plus a cushion. More specifically we use the aggregate income deficit for those living below poverty, divide this by the population living below poverty (data from the US Census American Community Survey), and then multiply this by the Poverty Reduction Goal.  By default, the Poverty Reduction Goal is set to 25% of the total Population Living Below Poverty. We add a cushion of 20%, because living $1 over the poverty line is not a very secure place to be.

How is poverty defined?

The Poverty Rate is the share of the population living below the poverty line. The Population Living Below Poverty is the number of people in households where the household income is below the national threshold set by U.S. Census for their household size. In 2019, the poverty guideline for a family of 4 was $25,750.

There are many critiques of the federal poverty thresholds, and alternative measures have been proposed to better indicate economic need, but as the poverty rate is widely used and understood we apply it here. For more information about alternative measures see the Living Wage Calculator and the Supplemental Poverty Measure.

Where does the calculator data come from?

The data used are derived from mainly federal sources and a complete list of these sources are found in the methodology document.

What is the timeframe of the strategies?

We have not included an explicit timeframe, because every community is going to approach implementation differently, but the default values in the calculator are generally a level of change that could be achieved with focused action over a decade.

How can I have my town included in the calculator?

Get in touch if you would like to partner with us to apply our analysis to your community.

Can I use the calculator data and methods calculator for my project?

Yes! Please let us know if you are—we would like to include more examples on our site. Contact us if there is more we can do to support your work. We are always looking for ways to partner with folks to help communities create solutions to sustainability and inequality.

Why does the tool focus on cities, rather than regions?

We believe solutions to sustainability and poverty need to be place-based and account for local conditions and local needs, and we applaud leaders around the country have been stepping up to address inequality at any geography. In the calculator, examining these issues at the city level allows us to clearly see the scale of impact possible. We recognize that many of the systems and solutions may have regional elements—and we are interested in building a regional tool down the road, if you want to partner with us on this please get in touch—but we see cities as a good place to start the conversation of how we can better integrate sustainability and anti-poverty efforts.

Can I do just one of these strategies?

Yes! The strategies are presented as a portfolio of 10, because no one strategy alone is going to completely turn the tide on poverty but starting where your community is already investing and seeing results can create momentum. For example, expanding an existing energy efficiency program and ensuring it trains and hires workers currently living in poverty would be a great way to build a foundation of targeted workforce training that could be built on for other industries.

What about expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, subsidized housing, education, and other anti-poverty tools?

There are many important safety net and opportunity programs like these and others operating today that we need to work to protect and expand. The strategies presented in the Urban Opportunity Agenda can be implemented in addition to existing programs and are meant to complement those programs by simultaneously addressing sustainability and inequality needs.

How do I get started?

View our next steps to learn about ways to put ideas into action.



The Urban Opportunity Agenda uses data driven calculations to estimate the effects on poverty reduction. The methodology document describes how the cities were chosen, how each strategies’ poverty reduction potential is calculated, how a first estimate is calculated, what the data sources are used and how other statistics are derived.

Download methodology document (PDF)

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Urban Opportunity Agenda was developed by The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) an award-winning innovations laboratory for urban sustainability. CNT delivers game-changing research, tools, and solutions to create sustainable and equitable communities. Learn more at CNT.org.

If you have a question about the Urban Opportunity Agenda please reach out to Jen McGraw (jen@cnt.org).