Guest Editor's Introduction

David N. Cox, University of Memphis


The Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is designed to help 2- and 4-year colleges and universities develop and sustain effective community partnerships. Administered by HUD’s Office of University Partnerships (OUP) in the Office of Policy Development and Research, COPC is a peer-reviewed, competitive program that provides 3-year grants of up to $400,000 to help universities, colleges, community colleges, and technical institutes play an active and visible role in community revitalization.

Congress created the COPC program in 1992. A first set of 15 grants was awarded in 1994. By 1999, 106 higher education institutions in 36 States had joined the program. COPC-initiated partnerships involve all types of institutions of higher education (IHEs)—from community colleges to private universities—neighborhood residents, community-based organizations, local government leaders, private developers, and other parties who have a stake in a neighborhood’s future. While individual activities differ from one COPC to another, the overall aim of the COPC program is the same: increasing citizen capacity to improve the physical, environmental, social, and economic conditions of urban neigh-borhoods. As described by the first OUP Director, Marcia Marker Feld (1998), the grant program

encourages IHEs to apply their considerable resources to partnerships with faculty, staff, and students in tandem with community leaders to attack urban problems through creative technical assistance, capacity training, action-oriented research, program delivery, and the development of common agendas among sometimes conflicting groups.

Because they can bring myriad resources to local community-building efforts, colleges and universities are in a unique position to help their neighborhoods change for the better. With the help of distinguished faculty, experienced staff, and enthusiastic students, these IHEs are creating new urban development strategies and applying them, along with tested strategies, to the challenges facing local communities. They are also using their influential roles as neighborhood employers, investors, and developers to contribute directly and tangibly to community revitalization efforts. In return, these institutions receive substantial benefits, including the means to fulfill their own missions of teaching, research, and service. Through engagement in their communities, universities provide undergraduate and graduate students with learning experiences that offer academic enrichment, meaningful research opportunities, and competence in their chosen field. They also help to ensure their own long-term viability by improving the quality of life in the neighborhoods that they call home.

As reported by Victor Rubin in this issue of Cityscape, the body of knowledge about university-community partnerships is small but growing rapidly. Through the first 5 years of the COPC program, information generated by COPCs began to appear in a variety of media. Academic journals such as the Journal of Planning Education and Research and Metropolitan Universities Journal: An International Forum provided early program descriptions and reports. COPC project descriptions can also be found in regular OUP publications such as Colleges and Communities—Partners in Urban Revitalization, Law School Involvement in Community Development, and the three-volume University Community Partnerships—Current Practices. OUP maintains a Web site at http://www.oup.org with national information as well as links to various COPC grantee Web sites. Individual COPC sites produce newsletters and reports and announce upcoming workshops. Many of their sites are linked through the OUP Web site.

Each of these efforts contributes to the accumulating knowledge about community improvement being produced by COPC community-university partnerships. In part then, this issue of Cityscape adds to that body of knowledge. Taken individually, the following articles provide varied examples of the activities, outcomes, and analyses produced by the COPC program. When viewed as a whole, however, the articles can also provide readers with a valuable perspective on the range, scope, contributions, and enormous potential of community-IHE partnerships as well as the many challenges that colleges, universities, and community partners face to begin them.

Diverse Programs, Common Threads

Whether they are working with community partners to create jobs, support small businesses, increase access to healthcare, improve education, or expand the supply of affordable housing, all COPCs have common characteristics that define how they operate and relate to neighborhood partners. Across the board, COPC programs:

  • View their communities holistically. The COPC program places relatively few restrictions on the types of outreach, technical assistance, information exchange, and applied research activities that COPCs and their community partners pursue. It does require, however, that COPCs undertake multifaceted activities that focus on a specific target area and address at least three community problems simultaneously. This approach forces the COPC to address community problems through coordinated, rather than piecemeal, action.
  • Focus on bringing about permanent change in both the IHE and the community. The comparatively small COPC grants encourage universities, colleges, and local partners to seek and secure funding from other sources, both in the local community and the IHE. Requirements that each grantee raise matching funds that equal 50 percent of the cost of proposed research and 25 percent of the cost of proposed outreach activities helps ensure that successful COPC activities continue to impact local communities long after Federal funds have been spent. In addition, COPCs are encouraged to integrate community outreach into the university’s teaching, research, and service. This integration might involve making permanent curriculum changes that expand service-learning opportunities, modifying the university’s organizational structure to facilitate partnerships, or amending faculty tenure and rewards systems to recognize community service and applied scholarship.
  • Work with communities instead of on them. Above all, a COPC’s goals and priorities reflect those of neighborhood residents—not the university’s perceptions of what would be best for the neighborhood. To ensure local control over outreach activities, each COPC has a community advisory committee that consists of neighborhood residents, community leaders, nonprofit organizations, and university or college representatives. These individuals work together to identify local needs and develop strategies that are responsive to those needs. They also work in partnership with other community stakeholders to ensure full local participation in the revitalization process.

Articles in This Issue of Cityscape

Examining COPC Issue Areas
Each of the articles in this issue of Cityscape illustrates a different aspect of the widely diverse COPC program. The issue begins with a set of four articles that focus on major issue areas in which COPCs are bringing about neighborhood change: housing, education, community planning, and support for families and youth.

Wim Wiewel and Frank Gaffikin begin the issue by describing university-community partnerships that are designed specifically to address the lack of affordable housing in local communities. Using the COPC at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) as an example, the two authors outline the varied ways in which COPCs can and do play an active role in the housing field. For example, UIC students provided residents of two Chicago neighborhoods with technical assistance on home improvement, documented the spread of gentrification in the COPC target area, and worked as research assistants in local housing organizations. UIC’s Neighborhoods Initiative (UICNI) also enlisted the help of existing university programs to train community organization staff, provide grants to homeowners who could not afford to keep their houses up to code, and participate in a citywide affordable housing campaign.

UICNI carried out all of these projects in close consultation with a community-based steering committee and in partnership with city, private companies, and community-based organizations. It is the nature of these partnerships that Wiewel and Gaffikin examine next, outlining their strengths and weaknesses and delineating exactly what makes them work. COPC partners do not need to agree with or even like each other very much, say the authors. They only need to acknowledge honestly their different interests and cultures, agree on the specific tasks at hand, assert their commitment to the partnership, and be willing to compromise when necessary. Partnerships that rank equity alongside economy and efficiency may become part of a new form of governance that reshapes old-style, distant bureaucracies, Wiewel and Gaffikin predict. Such partnerships illustrate that what can be achieved by different parties acting cooperatively is greater than the sum of what each can achieve acting separately.

Ira Harkavy continues the examination of COPC issue areas with his description of the democratic cosmopolitan civic university, a new type of university committed to educating young people so they can function as active, informed, intelligent, and moral citizens in a fully democratic society. Harkavy calls on all IHEs to make it their highest priority to help develop an effective, integrated, and genuinely democratic American schooling system that ranges from pre-kindergarten to higher education. He bases his proposal on the work of William Rainey Harper and John Dewey, early 20th-century educators who identified the university as the strategic institution capable of creating a genuinely democratic society.

Since 1985, the University of Pennsylvania has been engaged in partnerships with West Philadelphia schools to do just what Harkavy is proposing. A central component of this work has been the development of approximately 100 academically based community-service courses that involve faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students in projects largely designed to improve schooling in the university’s neighborhood. Penn’s work, which Harkavy describes in his article, is being replicated nationwide through grants from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund.

The 13-year process through which the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed the Urban Extension and Minority Access Program (UEMAP) is the subject of Kenneth M. Reardon’s article. This initiative was launched to provide technical assistance to East St. Louis-based organizations engaged in community revitalization efforts, to train neighborhood residents and municipal officials in basic community planning and development techniques, and to offer undergraduate and graduate planning and design students hands-on urban research, planning, and development experience. Since the initiative began in 1987, UEMAP has evolved into one of the Nation’s most widely respected community-university development partnerships, largely because of its willingness to repeatedly reframe its community planning approach to overcome unanticipated obstacles. Reardon describes the process UEMAP followed in devising its approach to sustainable community development in East St. Louis and outlines how the process helped UEMAP develop a highly effective model of community planning practice in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Richard S. Kordesh of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) concludes the discussion of COPC issue areas by describing and analyzing the formation of Esperanza Familiar, a family education and support initiative in Chicago’s Pilsen community. The initiative, a partnership between UIC and a local Community Development Corporation, aims to empower Pilsen families by building their capacity to care for their own members, solve their own problems, and strengthen their community. In particular, Kordesh’s article focuses on the social learning network established by the project through its assessment, planning, and early implementation stages in fall 1998. Through this relational network, participants and researchers gather knowledge relevant to their shared interests and feed that knowledge simultaneously into diverse domains, such as university seminars, parent education workshops, and steering committee meetings. The author argues that network analysis can reveal some of the important, underlying dynamics in complex university-community partnerships, helping diverse partners achieve diverse objectives.

Partnership Strategies
Each COPC employs its own strategies for developing and maintaining meaningful and long-lasting partnerships with community members. These strategies often involve a concerted effort to gain the trust of neighborhood residents who may be suspicious of the university due to misunderstandings about its motives or a past history of unsatisfactory interactions.

Two articles in this issue of Cityscape describe university efforts to engage young people in community-building activities, both as a way to gain the trust of neighbors and ensure the long-term viability of COPC activities. In the first article, Marc Smith and Thomas M. Vetica write about efforts at the University of Florida in Gainesville to use youth programs and the arts to organize neighborhood associations and build relationships with local community development corporations. The COPC’s multifaceted approach has neighborhood children performing in an African dance troupe, university artists-in-residence conducting neighborhood programs and classes, and teenage photographers documenting and discussing their community’s positive and negative qualities. Smith and Vetica say these and other programs have garnered local support for the COPC, attracted neighborhood parents to community-building activities, and created forums in which other issues can be discussed and the roots of neighborhood organization can be established.

Robert H. Wilson and Miguel Guajardo present an overview of more formalized efforts by the Urban Issues Program (UIP) at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) to work with young people in El Cenizo, an unincorporated subdivision, or colonia, outside Laredo. The youth activities were part of a larger initiative, coordinated by Texas Rural Legal Aid and the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, to improve housing and infrastructure and to enhance governmental performance in El Cenizo. Wilson and Guajardo describe this larger initiative, which enlisted UIP students to serve professional internships in El Cenizo from spring 1996 to summer 1998. As part of the initiative, UT students enrolled in a graduate-level, service-learning course worked with El Cenizo teenagers on a 1998 project aimed at building the capacity of teens to participate in local affairs. Guided by the university students, teenagers developed a leadership training conference for local residents; gave public presentations on development, governance, and infrastructure; created a community newsletter; and produced a bilingual handbook on local issues. Wilson and Guajardo suggest that while young people have a keen understanding of community needs, they lack the political strength, standing, and experience to articulate these needs effectively and to advocate for them in the existing political system. Engaging young people in the community development process may be critical to long-term leadership development and capacity building in El Cenizo, they maintain.

Not all university-community partnerships get off to a good start, as Golden Jackson makes clear in her article about the COPC at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus. Despite OSU’s efforts to build an impressive administrative structure that supports community engagement, the partnership between the university’s COPC and its primary neighborhood partner fell apart shortly after grant funds were awarded. Jackson takes an objective look at mistakes made by both the university and its partner during the grant-writing process and describes both parties’ successful attempts to repair their rift. With the support of HUD staff, partners agreed to work collaboratively on an entirely new COPC work plan within the bounds of the original proposal. Having institutional structures in place to support partnerships is important, says Jackson, but success only comes to those who focus on the partnerships themselves and display a sensitivity to cultural differences, control issues, and communication.

Larry Keating and David L. Sjoquist provide a model for community partnerships that helped the Atlanta, Georgia, COPC avoid similar conflicts with partners. Their article describes a tripartite partnership among Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, and the Community Design Center of Atlanta (CDCA), a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance to low-income neighborhoods and nonprofit Community Development Corporations. As a COPC partner, CDCA functions as an intermediary between the two universities and the local community. It fulfills this role well because it is external to the two schools but represents—and has indepth knowledge of—the COPC target community. CDCA helps ensure that the partnership between the universities and the community is equal and that control of COPC projects is shared. It facilitates negotiations between the universities and community so the interests of all are served in a balanced way. Because of its close ties to neighborhood residents, CDCA has also helped the universities win community trust.

Jerome Lieberman, Jerry Miller, and Virginia Kohl describe another tripartite partnership taking place among the Florida Community Partnership Center (FCPC) at the University of South Florida, community-based organizations, and public housing authorities (PHAs). Convinced that PHAs have an enormous impact on their neighborhoods, FCPC decided early on to collaborate with the Tampa and St. Petersburg Housing Authorities to enhance outcomes for public housing residents and their neighbors. Lieberman and colleagues outline the COPC’s successful efforts, despite bureaucratic challenges, to work cooperatively with the regional HUD office in Jacksonville and to form collaborative relationships with the local PHAs. They emphasize, however, the importance of forging primary and initial partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) before reaching out to supportive agencies. Because CBOs are more representative of and sensitive to residents’ priorities and concerns, their involvement is essential if activities in impoverished neighborhoods will succeed and if other partnerships are to be effective.

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Neighborhoods Initiative (UICNI) also has enjoyed fruitful working relationships with CBOs in the city’s Pilsen and Near West Side neighborhoods. However, as Loomis Mayfield and Edgar P. Lucas, Jr., report in their article, good working relationships do not always translate into successful projects. Mayfield and Lucas present a case study of the UIC Hiring and Purchasing Program, a collaborative effort by UICNI and two CBOs to establish an ongoing process through which the university would hire more community residents and award purchasing contracts to local businesses. Despite official university support, a proposal to hire 30 residents and award 9 new purchasing contracts to neighborhood businesses was almost impossible to implement within the university’s bureaucracy. After 3 years of effort, the university had hired only two residents who had been referred by UICNI and awarded no new local vendor contracts.

Because partners in the UICNI project had a strong working relationship and had already enjoyed other successes, they were able to transform their hiring/purchasing failure into an important learning experience, report Mayfield and Lucas. As a result, they gained a new appreciation for the difficulty of changing university policy, were able to set more realistic expectations for certain kinds of projects, and remained convinced of the benefits of university-community collaborations.

Impacting Communities
Despite the challenges involved in developing community-university partnerships, COPCs have proven repeatedly that successful partnerships can provide tremendous benefits to local neighborhoods. These benefits are clearly illustrated by Burton Dean, Jerome Burstein, Linda Woodsmall, and Judith Mathews, whose article describes a business incubator through which 267 business students at San Jose State University (SJSU) in California have worked in teams to assist close to 100 existing and start-up businesses. While most incubators provide centralized, shared office space and services, SJSU’s Incubator Without Walls offers services both at the university and at the business site. The program provides real-world business experience for students while simultaneously supporting local small businesses that do not have the financial resources to hire the business advice, training, marketing tools, and organization implementation that they desperately need.

Alice Shumaker, B.J. Reed, and Sara Woods report on a similarly successful COPC effort at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). UNO initiated a broad-ranging urban outreach initiative 6 years ago when its department of public affairs (DPA) became a partner in Pulling America’s Communities Together (PACT), a national youth violence-prevention initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. As a result of the PACT process and its positive outcomes, DPA began rethinking and broadening its role in providing outreach services to the Omaha metropolitan area. Several initiatives followed and have subsequently been expanded with COPC funds. They include the Neighborhood Builders initiative, an ongoing leadership training program for current and future leaders of Omaha’s neighborhood associations; the South Omaha Family Mentoring program, which provides support to local Latino families; Project Impact, a strategic crime intervention, interdiction, and prevention effort; and Safety Net, a multidisciplinary team approach to developing comprehensive, neighborhood-based school safety strategies.

Evaluating Success
The final two articles in this issue of Cityscape try to help COPCs, and those who observe them, answer the ultimate question: How do we measure a COPC’s success? Stanley Hyland presents a methodology for evaluating whether outreach activities have contributed to quality-of-life changes in inner-city neighborhoods. Following this, Victor Rubin provides an overview and classification of the primary methods currently being used to evaluate and assess university-community partnerships themselves.

In his article, Hyland outlines various methods for evaluating neighborhood change. Using a geographic information system mapping project coordinated by the COPC at the University of Memphis as an example, he concludes that any evaluation of neighborhood change must assess the complex relationship between structural neighborhood change variables—such as the creation of jobs and houses—and community-building change variables, such as the creation of neighborhood identity and vision. Analyzing the interrelationship of these two sets of variables provides evaluators with a framework for assessing and understanding both anticipated and unanticipated outcomes, he says.

Rubin begins his article by suggesting that university-community partnerships are qualitatively different from other community development strategies. Therefore, any attempts to evaluate COPC programs must measure and interpret the novel and essential characteristics of their partnerships. The very nature of university-community partnerships will continue to create interesting challenges for evaluators who seek to determine the extent to which they are productive vehicles for community development, employ strategies to sustain outreach activities over the long term, and enhance students’ learning and faculty members’ teaching and research. Rubin concludes his article by warning that those who try too hard to quantify partnership outcomes may very well limit their ultimate success.

Conclusion
The articles in this issue of Cityscape are intended to help readers understand what has been accomplished thus far in the area of university-community partnerships and what potential these partnerships have to revitalize the most troubled of this Nation’s inner-city neighborhoods. Clearly, partnerships between universities and the neighborhoods they call home have evolved over the past 5 years and will continue to evolve. Many challenges lie ahead, particularly as universities and colleges strive to fine-tune their day-to-day working relationships with key community stakeholders. IHEs and those with whom they work have a good deal left to learn. However, as Victor Rubin so wisely comments in the final article of this collection, “Learning, not coincidentally, is what higher education is supposed to be about.”

Reference
Feld, Marcia Marker. 1998. “Community Outreach Partnership Centers: Forging New Relationships Between University and Community,” Journal of Planning Education and Research 17,4:285–290.