Community Development Week in DC
The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development has declared this week to be "Community Development Week" in DC.
The concept of the community development corporation grew out of work done by the Ford Foundation in the 1960s. There are great CDCs and lousy ones.
The difference comes down to support and opportunities, but a big problem generally is that CDCs mostly focus on creating better housing for the impoverished--and while this is a worthy, necessary goal, in and of itself it doesn't improve broken micro-economies.
To fix local micro-economies a broader focus on microenterprise development, and neighborhood and commercial district revitalization is required.
Some CDCs, such as Bethel New Life CDC in Chicago or the Famikos Foundation in Cleveland, the portfolio investments of the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem, those of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation in DC, or the various efforts involving Mihalio Temali in Minneapolis-St. Paul are particularly impressive. (Temali is the author of an excellent textbook, Community Economic Development Handbook.)
That being said, CDCs have a tough environment to work within, a lot of barriers, etc., as this paper from the late 1990s by Professor Randy Stoecker (now at University of Wisconsin) illustrates "The Community Development Corporation Model of Urban Redevelopment: A Political Economy Critique and an Alternative."
When I read it the first time, it explained a lot.
My thinking is that there is a difference between the traditional big project real estate development approach and "community economic development."
I'd forgotten that I had been involved in trying to create such an approach in the Ivy City neighborhood (draft document), but it didn't proceed for various reasons--that's one of the examples of my line about community organizing and community development, that "you are only as strong as your weakest link."
I have a bunch of pieces on the topic as it relates to DC.
In fact, you could argue I am "blowback" from CDCs because I finally became a "community activist" trying to figure out why after spending more than $100 million (including lease payments) via the H Street Community Development Corporation and related efforts (two senior housing developments, restructured housing, a strip shopping center, Hechinger Mall), the H Street NE commercial district remained "under-improved."
This piece from three years ago, "The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," was a response to a self-congratulatory op-ed ("The seeds of the H Street ‘miracle’") by the director of the DC branch of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, about how today's success of the H Street neighborhood, written about in newspapers like London's Financial Times and the New York Times, and called by Forbes Magazine one of the hippest neighborhoods in the U.S., is because of the long time involvement of the H Street Community Development Corporation in post-riot (1968) efforts to fix the declining neighborhood.
Just as some CDCs are better than others, it is also the case that some LISC offices--the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a kind of capacity building and technical assistance operation for CDCs created by the Ford Corporation--are better than others. DC has failed in both categories.
Needless to say, I disagree/d, "vociferously."
But I have been writing about this for a long time, for example in 2005, I wrote a blog entry about how a few years after the Washington Post ran a detailed series of failures on the part of some of DC's community development corporations, the DC Building Industry Association gave some of these same organizations awards. ("Falling up -- Accountability and DC Community Development Corporations").
Plus this "follow up" piece from 2011, also in response to a Post series, "(Some) Community Development Corporations still screwing up."
This piece originally from 2006, "The five periods of urban revitalization since WWII," is reasonably authoritative but due for an update because of
- the now noticeable population growth of at least some center cities
- which in some has moved to massive price escalation, called "super-gentrification ("Housing conditions in high demand markets") in cities like San Francisco, DC, Manhattan and Brooklyn, Seattle, and others
- combined with the rise of urban "innovation districts" and "creative quarters" ("Naturally occurring innovation districts")
- and the relocation of headquarters operations to the city by major corporations ("Smart Growth America report on businesses moving back to center cities (and suburban core business districts)," "A lesson that seeing is believing: Panasonic's new building in Newark, NJ as an example, positive and negative, in businesses coming back to the city center," and "Businesses moving back to the center: not a universal trend").
After 30 or more years of being vacant, this building has been renovated and a third floor added.
The struggle in historic preservation now isn't promoting stabilization in the face of shrinking cities and lost population and businesses, but how to respond to opportunities for urban growth and the need for more housing to accommodate demand ("Historic preservation continued").
Meanwhile cities are still having time casting off the yoke of public funding of sports facilities ("An arena subsidy project I'd probably favor: Sacramento") and the urban renewal tradition of big projects ("Urban planning and the difference between "economic development" and "building a local economy"").
There is limited movement to improving options for funding local government ("The real lesson from Flint, Michigan is about municipal finance").
And there is still resistance to adopting sustainable mobility strategies in the face of the primacy of the oil and automobile manufacturing industries (Quote of the day: "it isn't the place of the government to push people out of their cars and into alternative transportation").
Maybe the biggest problem is that even in the best circumstances, revitalization is a multi-decade process ("360 Apartment building + Giant Supermarket vs. a BP gas station, which would you choose?"). People aren't patient. And it's hard to be patient in the face of neglect.
* From "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh":
The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program. In writing about the various [revitalization] efforts [in European cities especially], I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:
- A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
- the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program. Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
- strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
- funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
- integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);