Published in Citiscope | October 12, 2016
Habitat III is "third act" for growing philanthropic focus on cities
By Gregory Scruggs
In 1889, the Scottish-born industrial Andrew Carnegie, who made a vast fortune in the United States as a steel manufacturer, wrote “The Gospel of Wealth”. In the article, he said, “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Carnegie led by example, giving away 90 percent of his fortune, some $350 million—the equivalent of nearly $80 billion in today’s value.
Among the many fruits of Carnegie’s generosity, his endowment constructed more than 2,500 libraries from 1893 to 1919 in cities and towns across the United States, United Kingdom and British Commonwealth—in Suva, Fiji; San Fernando, Trinidad; and many more places. With their elegant architecture, Carnegie libraries remain a historic landmark in many communities and oftentimes planted the seed of a more robust public library system.
This effort was an early indication of how philanthropy can invest in civic infrastructure to supplement the efforts of a municipal government. Carnegie sparked a wave of philanthropy among the titans of industry in the United States. In 1913, for instance, John D. Rockefeller dedicated a portion of his oil fortune to an endowed foundation. Two decades later, carmaker Henry Ford established the Ford Foundation.