Philadelphia Conference Explores Future of Community Development

May 20th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

Last week I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at a conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia on the future of Community Development. The panel was the closing plenary session for the conference entitled Rethink. Recover. Rebuild: Reinventing Older Communities. It was broad conversation that gave me an opportunity to reflect upon and share some of the lessons and experiences we have had as part of the Community Development Innovation Forum here in Massachusetts. My fellow panelists were Kimberly Allen from the Wachovia Regional Foundation, John Bendel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh who leads its community investment program, and their Blueprint Communities program, and Raphael Bostic who is the Assistant Secretary at HUD responsible for Research and Policy.

The discussion touched on many themes, but the one that seemed to resonate the most was the importance of working comprehensively and across silos. This was very reminiscent of the discussion a few weeks earlier at the launch of the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development. Both Kimberly and John are focusing their grantmaking on efforts to undertake comprehensive, multi-issue, multi-stakeholder placed based change efforts. At the same time, HUD is working aggressively to break down silos between federal agencies and federal programs. Asst. Secretary Bostic said that HUD is in regular meetings with officials from transportation, education, health care and other agencies looking for ways to align their strategies and work on collaborative approaches like Sustainable Communities and Choice Neighborhoods.

The panel also engaged in an interesting dialogue about how we can determine “what works” so they we focus resources on those programs. While everyone certainly agreed that we want to fund “what works” there was some disagreement about how capable we are at really knowing what works given the complex set of relationships and networks that impact outcomes. How do we make decisions given this uncertainty? How do we make sure that we use data appropriately? And how do we decide what works when different stakeholders have different goals and priorities?

Fortunately, after participating in these policy and theoretical discussions at the conference Rick Sauer, from the Philadelphia Association of CDCs took me to visit one of his member organizations, the Hispanic Association of Contractors & Enterprises. HACE Executive Director Bill Salas Jr. showed us the neighborhood and the incredible work that his CDC has done implementing precisely the type of comprehensive approach that we discussed on the panel in the morning. HACE builds and manages family and senior housing, operates an innovative Main Streets program that includes an emphasis on cultural economic development and tourism, a wonderful partnership with a health care agency that serves the residents of their senior housing (HACE custom built a facility for the health care agency on the same site) and youth programming. The agency is led by a board of directors comprised largely of local, Hispanic residents working together to improve their community.

While my site visit did not answer all the questions raised at the conference, I left Philadelphia reaffirmed in my belief that resident-led, effectively managed, community based development is certainly among the things that really does “work.” Hopefully, as the federal government and other funders renew their commitment to place-based and comprehensive work they will also renew their commitment to building and supporting the local organizations that actually get the job done.

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Asian CDC Launches Participatory Chinatown as a New Community Tool

May 17th, 2010 by Pete Kane

Earlier this month, Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) showcased a groundbreaking tool for civic engagement. Developing a very realistic 3D environment mimicking Chinatown in Boston, Participatory Chinatown gives community members opportunities to learn about the possibilities and tradeoffs the neighborhood may face in the coming years. MACDC member ACDC, in collaboration with MAPC, has provided its community with a new way to learn about their neighborhood while at the same time interact with a possible future for that area. Provided in both English and Cantonese, the program has been crafted to meet the needs of the local residents. Youth from the neighborhood volunteer at the events as well to help other residents learn how to use the 3D space and feel more comfortable.

ACDC and MAPC have hosted a number of interactive sessions for the public. I attended their event on May 5th which was focused on educating practitioners about the tool. Broken down into two sessions, we are able to see Chinatown in two different lights. The first session focuses on playing a fully-storied character in order to achieve the character's desired goal. Each character is looking to fulfill a need within one of three categories: work, housing, social. My character, Hong Yee, was a recent immigrant with a family looking for suitable, low-income housing. By playing the character within the 3D world of the current Chinatown, you as the player are provided a view into what Chinatown is like today. Where can you find a job, where are the different types of housing located, what locations provide adequate social interaction? Through interactions both with hotspots in the world as well as with other characters, I was given hints as to where to find housing and what that type of housing could provide my family. At the end of this session, the player is asked to evaluate the options they have been presented and choose the three best options for their character. Which three jobs do you feel your character can be successful at, what housing options provide you with your needs, where can you socialize and thereby grow within your community? These choices come with tradeoffs, providing the user a view into the issues facing those currently living and working in Chinatown. There is also the chance you may end up with none of your choices - a direct reflection on the current needs of the area. As my character had a fixed budget and needed at least two bedrooms, my options were slim. In the end, I did not find housing as the wait list for my choices were too long.

The second session allows the user to examine some potential development scenarios. The three scenarios - housing-oriented, jobs-oriented, and mixed-use - were developed by MAPC and ACDC for the area of Chinatown south of the Turnpike. Participants are presented with a number of topics that deal with planning and development such as business, open space, parking and identity. Based on the three topics you feel are most important to consider when redeveloping this area, you are presented with one of the three scenarios. I selected “walkability,” “connectivity,” and “identity” as the most important factors which resulted in the mixed-use future scenario. As a user, you are invited to enter a 3D world again - this time it is the scenario that was selected. You then walk around the world to see what a future for the area might look like under this type of development. While walking around, you are asked to provide comments related to the earlier topic areas as well as to provide other comments. These comments are viewable by everyone and will be utilized in the visioning process for the Chinatown master plan.

The Participatory Chinatown team traveled to Washington, D.C., in May as part of National Lab Day to showcase the potential of this tool to senior White House Staff. This meeting will help to bring this virtual concept to the national stage, showcasing the possibility to many other community development organizations as a means to engage their communities. It will be exciting to see what information, concerns and ideas come out of this new innovation that MACDC's member ACDC has developed.

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Let's Stimulate Demand Driven Community Development

May 7th, 2010 by Joe Kriesberg

In recent months, there has been a great deal of buzz about the Obama Administration’s new placed based initiatives such as Sustainable Communities, Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods. This federal leadership is indeed very exciting and certainly long overdue.  They will create opportunities for taking a more comprehensive and integrated approach to community development, something practitioners have been seeking for years.

However, the overwhelming majority of federal funds still flow through highly categorical programs and even these new initiatives put the focus on Federal priorities. This perpetuates a supply-side approach to community change where policy makers, funders and non profits focus on what we can supply to low-income people: housing, jobs, and services. In this context, nonprofits become the “delivery system” for supplying the things that governments and foundations have decided are needed in local communities.

The risk is that we focus so much on what we can supply to neighborhoods that we will neglect the equally important work of building local capacity to exert demand on the larger private and public systems. 

Busting the silos

It will be hard to achieve comprehensive change with just a delivery system and supply-side model, because such a model inevitably pushes non-profits to specialize in specific areas while perpetuating silos within government agencies and foundations. The model is also inherently top-down because the key decisions are made by the suppliers, not the consumers, and the nonprofit agencies are seen largely as conduits through which resources pass, rather than vehicles through which local residents come together to solve problems. In a supply model, local neighborhoods are left to wait and hope that the delivery system will deliver something to them.

If we want to implement integrated programs at the local level – when the larger system is structured in silos that deliver specific services and programs – we’ll have to strengthen the demand side of the equation. In a demand-driven system, neighborhoods identify their needs and then exert demand on larger systems to bring in the needed resources. In this model, neighborhoods act like regular consumers in the marketplace, obtaining the services and programs they need to create the type of neighborhood they want. This allows for genuinely comprehensive and integrated work because at the neighborhood level the scale and complexity is manageable in a way that it is not on a statewide or national level. It also ensures a bottom-up approach since the local actors are determining what is needed and obtaining it.

Demand capacity is not a new idea. David Erickson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco talks about it in his new book, The Housing Policy Revolution: Networks and Neighborhoods. Bill Traynor, the executive director of Lawrence Community Works and a leading thinker in our field, has promoted this model for years. Traynor calls for “a much higher level of neighbor to neighbor engagement and of service to a larger good at the local level. The essence of these initiatives should be to re-awaken, re-activate and re-engage the American People in shaping their own quality of life and to that end, the mission of place-making.”

So what does local “demand capacity” look like? I see three key elements.

  • Neighborhood residents need one or more organizations through which they can work together to improve their community. These organizations must be truly rooted in their community, accountable to and led by residents. Individuals working alone or in ad hoc groups will not be able to build the power they need to spark change, nor have the wherewithal to steward new community assets over the long term.
  • These local organizations must have diverse networks and relationships both within and outside the neighborhood: with other actors at the city, regional, state and federal level, and extending into the private, governmental, philanthropic and non-profit sectors.
  • Local organizations must have the financial capacity to initiate their own ideas and sustain them over time without being completely dependent on outside sources of funding. 

Supportive policies

Building demand capacity has policy implications. First, our desire for scale and efficiency should not result in a purely supply-side delivery system – public and private funders need to direct their resources to community-based organizations as well, because they can operate high-quality programs in the context of comprehensive neighborhood strategies. Second, funders and policy makers need to allow community-based organizations to earn sufficient profits from their activities that they can build financial capacity over time. Third, local organizations need to develop business models that allow them to work comprehensively. And finally, funding streams are needed to directly support community-based organizations in their role of linking and integrating different programs and services at the neighborhood level.

We need to build demand capacity across the country – not just in a few sites lucky enough to receive substantial foundation support for a few years, but in thousands of places. This will require embedding capacity-building into everything we are doing and developing sustainable business models for community-based groups.

If we do this right, then 10 or 20 years from now, neighborhood residents will not have to wait and hope that someone delivers change to them. They will have the power to demand change and make it happen.

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