Last month I travelled to Indianapolis to attend a meeting of the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development's National Advisory Committee and to tour some of Indianapolis’ hardest hit neighborhoods. It was inspiring to see how local CDCs and CBOs are working together and with LISC and other partners to undertake long term and comprehensive community development initiatives. Indianapolis has had a strong CDC sector for many years, thanks in part to support from LISC, the City, the Eli Lilly Foundation and other supporters. Over the past five years, the community development sector in the city has fully embraced Comprehensive Community Development as part of their Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiative (GINI). GINI seeks to replicate the highly successful Chicago model in which broad neighborhood coalitions come together to develop Quality of Life plans for their neighborhoods and then work jointly to implement them. It’s a model that Boston LISC is now replicating through its Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program.
One of the neighborhoods that we toured was the Near East Side neighborhood where 40% of the homes are vacant and/or foreclosed and many of the others in disrepair. The neighborhood used to be home to one of the nation’s largest and most successful CDCs – the Eastside Community Investments (ECI) which collapsed in the 1990s (it went from over 80 employees to zero in just two years.) Now a new coalition has emerged led by the John H. Boner Community Center and they have a strategy to attract $100 million of investment to rebuild the neighborhood. The coalition has also helped start a new CDC to fill the void left by ECI’s collapse. I thought it was interesting that the demise of one CDC led to the emergence of new players and even a new CDC that are now taking the lead in the neighborhood. The lesson for me is that local, accountable, placed based leadership and capacity was needed to fill the void left by the old CDC – external actors and regional organizations could not fill that void.
Yet, external and regional actors do have an essential role to play. In fact, one of the most exciting things happening in the Near East Side, in addition to the emergence of strong local leadership, is that the neighborhood has been adopted by the National Football League and the Super Bowl Host Committee as part of the 2012 Super Bowl. This has generated millions of dollars and substantial political support for the neighborhood’s agenda. The Super Bowl Host Committee picked this neighborhood because it was well organized, cohesive and had a concrete strategy for sustained change. It is a good example of how well-organized neighborhoods with local capacity can seize unexpected opportunities and bring in regional and even national resources to support a local agenda (rather than impose an external one.)
The local LISC office and our counterparts at the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development have fully embraced comprehensive community development as their driving theory of change. Massachusetts has much to learn from their experience.