Jump to Navigation

Neighborhood Movement

Community Development, Entrepreneurship, and the Freelance Economy

Community development and economic development are often two sides of the same coin. Commercial and business development rarely flow into distressed communities. Likewise, communities can rarely overcome such intractable problems without an injection of economic resources. Attracting new business and creating jobs is often the first goal of any neighborhood revitalization plan. Encouraging big-name brands and corporations to move to your community may create jobs and improve the economy, but many profits are redirected to an HQ many miles away rather than being reinvested in the local community.
A new movement might be changing that, though, encouraging peer-to-peer economic exchange and a do-it-yourself mentality. A recent article from the Freelancers’ Union (an organization that promotes “new mutualism,” a “movement that relies on sustainable, community-driven solutions to solve seemingly intractable problems”) describes several municipalities that have specifically sought to cultivate independent businesses and entrepreneurship. Each successful city promoted small business ownership, sustainability, and buy-local initiatives. Each community also embraced its own uniqueness and leveraged individual strengths, rather than seeking to apply a template from another community. UNCA member agency The John H. Boner Community Center is doing just this type of resident centered engagement with its community development efforts on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis.
A similar article that appeared recently in The Atlantic describes Portland, Oregon’s,   individualized, entrepreneurial strategy. Of course, “be like Portland” is not an effective economic development strategy. The article states that many economically successful communities “seem to be rediscovering what makes them special, the distinctiveness of what they make or provide and sell to the world, rather than what makes them the same.”
The DIY mentality is taking root in the form of municipal policy in communities large and small across the country. One example is UNCA member Bridge Rockford Alliance in Rockford, Illinois, which has invested in “the Etsy economy” (so-called because of the peer-to-peer marketplace Etsy.com). At its heart, the initiative encourages residents to learn to make things, and to understand the basics of managing a business. It also encourages locals to buy local, engaging in economic interaction directly with the manufacturer rather than distant corporations and layers of middlemen, thus reinvesting the money directly in the community.
The federal government has long promoted the ideal of “Main Street” as both the economic and cultural heart of communities. Marking another step forward, Karen G. Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, announced at the 2013 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference that the SBA will waive fees on loans under $150,000. Ideally, policies such as these will encourage economic growth that leverages the unique skills of communities and reinvests the money locally. With these kinds of resources, neighborhoods can helm their own revitalization, bringing services, jobs, goods, and sustainable development to the local level.

Connecting a Bright Future with a Long History

On the heels of the 2013 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference last week, the future looks bright for policies focused on comprehensive, place-based, and resident-centered community redevelopment. Researchers, policy-makers, thought leaders, and practitioners presented and discussed the latest successful programs and models, delving into both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggesting that holistic and highly localized efforts can have huge impacts on persistent, intractable, concentrated poverty. The movement has grabbed the attention of federal policy makers, sparking continued investment in programs such as the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, Strong Cities Strong Communities, and Promise Zones. A lot of energy is coalescing around neighborhood building that encourages resident participation and leverages the strength of informal networks. These kinds of programs are trendy, which begs the question: if it’s such a good idea, why has no one thought of it before?
The short answer is that they have. In fact, this type of work has been going on continuously (if out of the spotlight) for a long, long time. At its core, “place-based policy” is essentially the same as the settlement house movement: local programs braiding together different funding streams and leveraging the strengths of the neighborhood to provide comprehensive wrap-around services to adults, children, and families in the community. A renewed interest from academics, politicians, and economists only lends quantitative evidence to what settlement houses have known and practiced for decades (in some cases, more than a century): where you live matters.
Far from being the antiquated relics from the time of Jacob Riis and Jane Addams, settlement houses (and their various iterations—neighborhood centers, community centers, etc.) are just as relevant in communities today as they were among the tenements 130 years ago. In fact, many settlement houses have had such longevity because of their ability to evolve and adapt to changing communities—always prioritizing responsiveness to the needs of the neighborhood itself. As other trends in urban policy have come and gone from the conversation in Washington, at think tanks, and on university campuses, settlement houses have quietly continued serving their communities with much the same philosophy throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st.
Rather than continuing to muddle through, and waiting for the next sea change in social policy, settlement houses and neighborhood centers should seize the opportunity to galvanize community members and decision-makers around resident-centered neighborhood revitalization. Many settlement houses have been around for so long because the values remain relevant: meeting the needs of a community with neighbors and as neighbors. The future is bright for place-based policy not just because of new research and trendy, new jargon, but also because of a long legacy that should be harnessed to inform the future.

Register Now for the 2013 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference!

Time is running out to register for the 2013 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference sponsored by the United Neighborhood Centers of America in partnership with the Alliance for Children and Families. The Conference will be held June 27-28 in Washington, DC. Join colleagues, stakeholders, issue experts, government officials, and community practitioners, in the exploration of neighborhood revitalization efforts in communities across the country. Sessions will cover best practices, new approaches and strategies, new federal updates, and tactics to adapt in a changing regulatory and funding environment. This year’s featured keynote speaker is Rosie Rios, 43rd Treasurer of the United States.

Panelists will include representatives from the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative workgroup, the Aspen Institute, the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative at PolicyLink, LISC, the Urban Institute, the Annenberg Foundation, the US Department of Justice, Bridgespan, NeighborWorks America, FSG, and many more prominent thought-leaders and policy-makers. Additionally, panels will feature best practices and stories from the field with presentations by local, on-the-ground practitioners such as the United Neighborhood Houses of New York, the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the Oakland Unified School District, the Rockford Housing Authority, United Way of Greater Atlanta, and many more.

Session topics include resident-centered community building, bringing data to life, creating effective partnerships, commercial corridor development initiatives, and other exciting and relevant topics in the field of neighborhood revitalization. View the complete conference schedule for more information. Register now!

How Do You Measure the Impact of Civic Engagement?

Civic Engagement provides opportunities for residents and neighborhoods to foster community involvement and place-based decision-making that is targeted, sustainable, and popular. But how can you truly know the impact of your community’s Civic Engagement efforts? The Alliance for Children & Families and the United Neighborhood Centers of America invites all non-profit human services organizations and neighborhood centers to participate in a project to measure the impact of civic engagement.

In 2011, the Alliance and UNCA assisted 50 organizations in measuring the impact of their civic engagement programs. The following dimensions were measured: constituent/resident, empowerment, public policy and community practices, community partnerships, service delivery, funding/resource availability, and perceived impact/outcomes.

Now, the Alliance and UNCA will assist 50 more organizations in measuring the impact of civic engagement. Organizations can get involved by filling out a participation form. The measurement system provides an organization with a comprehensive picture of the impact of its civic engagement activities on the community and its residents.

The timeline for the process is listed below. Check out the resources for more information on how your organization can use this opportunity to begin to understand the true impact of civic engagement.


  • Roll out Phase II Organizational Survey – May 15, 2013
  • Organizational Survey Submission Deadline – June 7, 2013
  • Organizational Survey Report Webinar for Participants – June 14, 2013
  • Announce availability of Community Surveys – June 15, 2013
  • Roll out Community Surveys – June 18, 2013
  • Community Survey Submission Deadline – June 28, 2013
  • Phase I CEMS Learning Session at the UNCA Neighborhood Revitalization Conference – June 28, 2013
  • Community Survey Report Webinar for Participants – July 5, 2013
  • Performance Improvement Activities – July 30, 2013

Strong Cities, Strong Communities First Annual Report

In April, the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities released the first annual report on the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (SC2). The report includes an overview of the program, accomplishments in the seven SC2 pilot cities, lessons learned, and next steps for the future expansion of the program. The SC2 pilot was launched to help eliminate barriers and reduce red tape in the use of diverse federal funds in seven communities hit hard by the Great Recession. The initiative placed federal education, justice, housing, transportation, and other experts directly in target communities to help navigate program planning, implementation, funding, and evaluation. SC2 initiatives in each city were place-based and individualized to best-serve a particular community.

Examples of SC2 projects include reducing red tape to access homebuyer assistance in New Orleans, demolition of an abandoned, blighted public housing development in Detroit, riverfront revitalization and economic development in Memphis, and many more. SC2 placed federal policy experts, staff, and fellows directly in the city halls of pilot communities to help them navigate the often-confusing federal funding and reporting requirements, to braid together multiple funding sources, and to craft relevant, neighborhood-specific projects to fit unique community needs. Successful projects have taken root in all pilot communities and, tellingly, all staff involved report a high level of satisfaction with the program.

The SC2 first annual report also identifies opportunities for further development. These lessons and opportunities include the need to retrain disconnected workers, creating time and space for comprehensive economic planning, investing in transit solutions, leveraging Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), deepening partnerships with philanthropy, and more.

These lessons can be explored in the near future as SC2 is set to grow in a number of ways. Later in 2013, SC2 will be inviting additional economically distressed communities to apply for another pilot round. In addition to another round of pilot communities, President Obama has also proposed the creation of 20 “Promise Zones” to be determined through a competitive application process. An SC2 National Resource Network is also slated for the coming year. The SC2 Network will serve as a single portal for training and technical assistance for economically distressed communities.

The first annual SC2 report suggests a bright future for the initiative. Communities and staff report strong satisfaction with this program that cuts red tape, streamlines processes, and allows for the flexibility to create place-based projects tailored to the needs of individual communities.


Subscribe to RSS - Neighborhood Movement

Main menu 2

by Dr. Radut