(Over)Focusing on community benefits agreements does not substitute for economic revitalization planning: Atlanta; Chicago
Recently, I've come across two interesting articles about "community benefits agreements," as part of development projects.
One is on the construction of the Atlanta Falcons football stadium ("Building a stadium, Rebuilding a neighborhood, New York Times) and the other is an op-ed in the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, "One way for Obama to secure his legacy: Make sure his library helps Chicago's South Side," University of Chicago sociologist Eve Ewing caling for a "community benefits agreement" in association with the construction of a new Presidential Library honoring Barack Obama, in Chicago's South Side.
From the article on the Falcons:
... But rarely does such public investment do much good for the areas around these mammoth stadiums. Such venues effectively blot out a part of the neighborhood when not in use, reducing foot traffic and fraying the fabric of the community. Even when stadiums do draw big crowds, ticket holders spend little of their money at local businesses.Generally, community benefits agreements call for hiring protocols, employment of locally based and minority/women owned firms, and buying agreements. They don't usually focus on ancillary economic revitalization programming in association with the project.
While some owners try to offset these problems by donating money to local charities or buying land to make way for new homes and shops, Blank wants to rebuild the neighborhoods where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond and other civil rights leaders once lived. ...
So far, his foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, has donated $20 million to pay for, among other things, a job training center called Westside Works, new parks, a youth leadership program called American Explorers, and homes for police officers willing to live in the area. Blank’s investments have been matched by groups including Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, more than doubling the amount raised.
And Blank has also committed to spending millions more while also getting the team’s sponsors to strengthen their ties to the community. ...
While Blank’s spending on the Westside so far is significant, it is still just a fraction of what the city is spending on the stadium. Although some residents appreciate his efforts to create jobs and fight crime, others fear they will ultimately be pushed out.
Indeed, speculators have bought up hundreds of parcels of land hoping to turn a quick profit, and rents have risen by about 20 percent since the stadium plan was announced in 2012, according to a Georgia Tech study.
“This is not a sports stadium. This is a development deal, and unless you understand that, you can’t really get a grasp of what’s happening here,” said State Senator Vincent Fort, whose district includes English Avenue and Vine City. “The stadium deal is nothing but an engine for gentrification.”
-- "Community benefits agreements (revised)"
-- "Community benefits agreements revised (again)"
-- "Not understanding what triggers a community benefits process"
-- "Whole Foods and community change: Prince George's County vs. Boston"
The issue comes down to helping individuals and firms, through workforce, hiring, and purchasing agreements versus investing in complementary revitalization, or doing both. Mostly, CBAs and these projects do the former--workforce, hiring, and purchasing agreements--and not the latter.
Another way to look at this is the classic conundrum in economic development -- do you invest in people or places?
I think that comes through in the op-ed. From the article:
Community benefits agreements, or CBAs, have emerged over the past decade and a half as a strategy for residents and businesses in cities to make sure that large development projects help them, not harm them. CBAs are legally enforceable contracts and may require developers to meet a number of local demands. One of the most well-known CBAs was drafted in 2001, when Los Angeles residents, businesses and organizations agreed to support the construction of the Staples Center in exchange for community benefits such as local park improvement, residential parking, a job training program and affordable housing. Since then, CBAs have been implemented across the country, from New York to Oakland, for projects ranging from a research hospital to a casino. Each CBA is different, responding to the perceived needs of the community and the resources the new development might be able to offer — from a transit developer agreeing to preserve historic buildings in Atlanta, to a wireless provider in Minneapolis offering free Internet access in public locations.CBAs as a panacea? Not to knock workforce and purchasing programs, but I argue that the best long term place-based economic development comes from the development and execution of broader revitalization programs.
In the case of the Obama Presidential Center, what do residents want? A coalition of South Side organizations has created a list of development principles that includes setting aside jobs for young people and formerly incarcerated people, guaranteeing a living wage for employees, partnering with local public schools to provide educational programming and free admission for students, and improving nearby public transportation. When the Obama Foundation first announced that Chicago would be home to the Obama library, foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt dismissed journalists' questions about a potential CBA: “This whole initiative is a community benefit, right? That's what this is about.” But without a written commitment, the definition of “benefit” is likely to be a slippery one, left to the city's most powerful to determine at the potential expense of those whose actual lives are most affected by the library.
It's not either/or but and/and.
The text identifies four points that comprise the foundation of successful neighborhood economies, which he calls pivot points:
■ developing the community work force;
■ revitalizing the commercial district/industrial base;
■ growing good neighborhood-based jobs; and
■ developing micro-businesses.
I was impressed though that the Falcons have followed through on the job training program and have hired some people through it. There is no question that those programs and actions are changing the lives of many in positive ways.
At the same time, there needs to be focused investment in the built environment, on residential improvement, new housing, business district physical improvement, and business development.
Similarly, while all those desires on the part of people in the South Side community are great, and they will have some impact, if agreed to by the various parties, they aren't likely to have the real impact people are seeking.
I'd argue that a fair amount of money needs to be put into programs assisting housing rehabilitation comparable to the Healthy Neighborhoods program in Baltimore targeting emerging neighborhoods ("The Healthy Neighborhoods Program: A Middle Neighborhoods Improvement Strategy," Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco) or the Elm Street neighborhood revitalization model developed from the Main Street commercial district revitalization model ("The Elm Street Program," Places Journal). Plus commercial district revitalization.
DC Convention Center. For example, upon the opening of the new DC Convention Center 13 years ago, I said it was a mistake to not simultaneously invest in physical and business improvements in the corridors--9th and 7th Streets NW--bracketing the facility ("If you don't understand linkage and context then you have learned nothing" and "The time to plan for retail in and around the Convention Center was long before it opened in 2003 and certainly before 2015").
The original "community investment program" associated with the project provided small home improvement loans totaling $1 million (miniscule), a job training program, and a commitment to hiring and/or purchasing from local small contractors, but no investment in commercial properties and businesses and business development (Washington Convention Center, ULI Case Studies).
But it is only in the last couple years, more than ten years after the opening of the Convention Center, in an area within walking distance of Downtown, that there has been significant and evident progress in the commercial districts, even though for the most part retail in the facility still lags (and will continue to do so because of design flaws).
1200 block 9th Street NW, west side, 2006.
1200 block 9th Street NW, west side, 2014, Google Street View.
Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock. Little Rock attributes a great deal of its recent success (as does the Clinton Foundation) to the construction and operation of the Clinton Presidential Library there. While it was an important anchor, many other revitalization steps and investments occurred before and after its construction, which in combination have significantly assisted community improvement there.
Streetcar at the River Market (a newly constructed public market which is also very successful in its own right) in Little Rock, Arkansas. Flickr photo by Skyline Scenes.
The Clinton Library and related developments followed by five to ten years other investments in the area, including the creation of a Downtown streetcar system connecting Little Rock and North Little Rock, the construction of a new public market, River Market, which has been very successful, an 18,000 seat sports and events arena called the Verizon Arena, just like the one in DC, a new Central Library relocated to a renovated historic building, and an expanded Convention Center ("Ten years after the Clinton Library opened," Arkansas Times).
That being said, it is key that the Clinton Library was complemented by additional new major projects as well, including the construction of a new University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, a 30-acre public park, and (from the article):
Development just as and since the Clinton Center opened in 2004: The Courtyard Marriott, which opened just in time for the dedication of the new library. High-rise condos at 300 Third. River Market Tower, another high-rise condo development that includes a grocery and a pub on the ground floor. The Capital Commerce Building at River Market Avenue and Third Street. The Axciom building. Heifer International. The Arkansas Studies Institute, across the street from the River Market, which houses the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and Clinton's gubernatorial paper and classroom space for the Clinton School. The new Arcade Building, with its state-of-the-art theater and the Little Rock Film Festival headquarters, along with a new restaurant and retail. The Residence Inn, another Marriott development. The Hampton Inn and Suites. The Hilton Homewood Suites, going up at River Market Avenue and Fifth Street. The MacArthur Commons apartment development by Moses Tucker.
Conclusion: purposeful revitalization programs work better than community benefits programs and trickle down economics. In "short," revitalization projects before the Clinton Library, with the Clinton Library, and after the Clinton Library added to to be much more significant than the Library itself, a fact that the average person paying attention to revitalization is not likely to appreciate.
While the conditions and opportunities were different in Little Rock from Chicago's South Side and the English Avenue and Vine Street neighborhoods adjacent to Downtown Atlanta, it's fair to say that having a broader revitalization planning effort has a much bigger impact than a much narrower focus on "community benefits agreements" focused on workforce, hiring and purchasing programs, expecting revitalization to occur over a multi-decade period from "trickle down" improvements.
Or as I wrote in the 2008 piece, "Another example of 'trickle down policy' and service failure":
It's not enough to "merely" build the big project. You've got to take simultaneous steps to ensure that the community outside the lot boundaries of the big project is ready to connect.A full-fledged economic revitalization and implementation program is the way to do that. It's unfathomable that this message still hasn't percolated through the economic development office of the typical American city.
For more discussion of neighborhood revitalization programming see "Sexy and fashionable programs don't make blight go away."
And for wide-scale revitalization, "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh," That includes a recap of some of the lessons I learned writing about urban revitalization in seven European cities:
The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program. In writing about the various efforts, 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);
- flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).