Why we need alternative models for rebuilding our disinvested and abandoned communities: building a path forward

At a recent conference in November 2012 of the Applied Research Center in Baltimore, Maryland-Facing Race- a panel discussion on community rebuilding resulted in lively discussion and shared ideas about knowledge in this area; not only by the expert panelists but by an expert audience. It was a standing room only forum and more than an hour after it ended and the last comments and questions were heard did we leave the room. Two days earlier, a similar discussion occurred after two bus tours- hosted by Baltimore Racial Justice Action- through East Baltimore surveying the current 88-acre development by East Baltimore Development Inc. of an expansion of Johns Hopkins Medical Complex and the communities peripheral. Having participated in both as a moderator of the panel and a tour guide on the bus, I noted the comments and questions shared by attendees who came from research and academia, foundations, community organizing, resident groups, social work, law, journalism, geography, sociology, anthropology, peace studies, urban studies, and public health students, public, health, and community development policy and legal sectors, anti-racism and anti-oppression networks, and development corporations from across the country-several from abroad.

 

What became clear very quickly was the unanimous decision that we need alternative models for rebuilding our disinvested and abandoned communities. Models which do not disproportionately grow the wealth of developers while using tax incentives and government subsidies gained on ‘poverty areas’. Models which do not view the existing communities as cause of the current conditions but recognized the racist and classist laws and policies which built these communities of disinvestment. Models which did not treat the current residents as obstacles to revitalization but participants in change toward healthy outcomes. Instead attendees at both these events shared about models that would assure that historic communities received equitable benefit in wealth or health through jobs, fair wages, affordable housing and amenities, effective transportation. Models which acknowledged the causes of current day outcomes and attempt to address these causes. Models which incorporate the affected residents in every aspect and a comprehensive understanding of all the conditions which lead to an unhealthy  and a healthy community. Models which address not only housing and jobs but opportunities for residents becoming business owners and investors in new businesses, apprentices in jobs that assure skills. Models which address the result of decades of abandonment and disinvestment on the health of the people and the means to address these effects (programs for those with drug and alcohol addiction, history of incarceration, affordable health care and preventive health services, programs targeted to chronic illnesses, obesity, addiction, etc). Models that address education as a major role in changing a community (see previous post) and how it can be equitably integrated. Models that address transportation which supports a healthy and livable community and provides access for all. Models which address recreational facilities for youth and nurturing programs for elders. Most importantly was the unanimous comments that projects like the current one in East Baltimore which treated historic residents as obstacles to rebuilding -by violating their human rights through removal and non-participation- needed to stop and new models which includes the affected community as co-decision makers and visionaries in their destiny must emerge.

 

While those of us involved in this work recognize that this is not new knowledge, what was important was the recognition that many across the US are tired of this ‘business as usual’ model of community rebuilding and are ready to stand up and struggle for change. And what came across very clearly was that these different sectors see the need for us to merge our forces together and become a powerful collective movement to assure change does happen-the parts must become a whole.

 

Below are issues/strategies toward solutions offered by attendees from these two events:

 

Identify equity tools and use them skillfully
Role of foundations in contributing to the status quo of unfair development: what do they gain?
Power and control in the hands of government, developers, community: Government has the most, community the least. Government: developer partnership is bad for community,  accumulated power and control
Role of the media in change/new weapon of social media/taking issues viral/outside of the US
Using PR like developers do: they create and sell their reality to the public, what about the reality on the ground?
Leverage their co-optation tactics, make it public, show their lack of accountability, lack of transparency
Follow the money trail: HUD dollars spent how? Judicial monitoring of housing built. Is there discriminatory intent in using federal, state, city dollars. Role of FHA
Gentrification as an acceptable part of revitalization-no it’s not
Keep a vigilant eye on boards and budgets-why and how they change
Building coalitions across diverse sectors and different struggles-unaffected communities are important resources and partners-community organizing is key to all
Recognizing how we got here-helps us get away from here
Role of universities in unfair development-always been there now highlight the pattern
Monitor environmental impact throughout projects
Accessing higher income people who recognize the injustice of current development projects
Know the facts/data and use -who is really behind the development project? who is funding it? leveraging funds? who are the trustees of funders/corporations/ foundations/  non-profits? Get the data they don’t talk about/hide
Challenging the giants (developers, universities, foundations, corporations,, stadiums, Walmarts etc)
Political process-how do we interpret the current ‘policy’ language and advocate for more beneficial to community
Using visuals more effectively: unemployment, boarded-housing, wealth of developers, racial segregation, high rises vs row houses
The system is working perfectly-for the developer and corporations. Turn it upside down so benefit for the community. Slow it down so community can organize for their rights
Litigation-public housing, FHA, integration vs gentrification, equity in benefit
Social enterprise as alternative model for development
Get better at putting research into practice by connecting research/policy activists and on-the-ground practitioners/activists/residents/organizers-everyone has a a role in translating change
Identify and build political power in community (tap, energize)-every tool must be used wisely
Crowd funding as source of supporting challengers; less dependent on foundations which are brain-drainers of communities
Probing the non-transparency of public meetings. Probing quasi public-private entities and lack of transparency and accountability
Affordable housing is a must-refinance, post-construction financing, note clauses that are linked to punitive outcomes and loss of housing
CBAs-lots of examples, notice implementation and evaluation
University students as allies for change

 

The symposium-Equitable and Sustainable Development: a Path Forward- on March 9, 2013 in Baltimore, MD is continuing this movement of change. It will bring together practicing experts from different aspects of community development from across the US to describe alternative models of community rebuilding implemented in their communities. It will acknowledge the wrongs of current rebuilding practices and use this knowledge to assure that alternative models right these wrongs. And it will acknowledge that only by bridging the gap between our various sectors can we accomplish an outcome which incorporates all these diverse sectors-health, housing, economics, safety, education, recreation, transportation. Join us on March 9th.

March 9, 2013 Symposium

 

 

 

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