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Winter 2011   

    HIGHLIGHTS IN THIS ISSUE:

        Choice Neighborhoods: History and HOPE
        Understanding Neighborhood Effects of Concentrated Poverty
        Building Community Capacity Through Effective Planning


Building Community Capacity Through Effective Planning

Highlights

      • Successful community change requires broad community participation, careful planning that defines the community’s vision, and a well-designed evaluation framework.
      • The Local Initiatives Support Coalition’s New Communities Program in Chicago uses collaborative planning to improve coordination and accountability across stakeholders and leverage additional resources for higher-poverty communities.
      • The redevelopment of Murphy Park in St. Louis, Missouri, illustrates how comprehensive community development enacted at the site level can be a key driver of positive neighborhood change.


Local Chicago youth beautify East Garfield Park’s commercial district with plantings to improve the public space.
Local Chicago youth beautify East Garfield Park’s commercial district with plantings to improve the public space. Credit: LISC/Chicago, Photography by Eric Young Smith

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, private foundations committed to transforming disadvantaged communities began experimenting with comprehensive community development, a strategy designed to promote “positive change in individual, family, and community circumstances in disadvantaged neighborhoods by applying the principles of comprehensiveness and community building to improve physical, social, and economic conditions.”1 Broadly speaking, these efforts sought to weave education reform, youth development, economic development, housing, employment, social services, and civic participation into the fabric of these neighborhoods.2 Although some attempts failed, others offered a viable roadmap for the long-term planning, coordination, and investment needed to build community leadership, increase civic participation, repair physical infrastructure, and ensure accountability among various stakeholders.

Over the past decade, a growing body of research has documented the strengths and weaknesses of community transformation and capacity-building strategies. No definitive answers yet exist to some of the most difficult questions about community change. But even as the empirical foundations for assessing such efforts emerge — and cultivating that body of knowledge will be a focus of HUD-sponsored research in the coming year — the evidence underscores the importance of broad community participation in effective planning, financing, and implementing community development initiatives. The effects of this approach can be seen both at the city level, as illustrated by the work of the Aspen Institute and of the Local Initiative Support Coalition’s New Communities Program in Chicago, and at the neighborhood level, as in the development of Murphy Park in St. Louis, Missouri.




Residents and a local nonprofit collaborate to build a playground in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood
Residents and a local nonprofit collaborate to build a playground in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood" title="Residents and a local nonprofit collaborate to build a playground in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. Credit: LISC/Chicago, Photography by Juan Francisco Hernandez

Emerging Lessons in Capacity Building Point to Planning
The Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Community Change has been collecting data for 18 years from a crosssection of groups and individuals who work to improve conditions and quality of life in disadvantaged neighborhoods. These data document the experiences and lessons learned by these builders of community sustainability. Aspen’s recent analysis of 43 different community change efforts, captured in Voices From the Field III: Lessons and Challenges From Two Decades of Community Change Efforts, emphasizes the importance of careful planning that defines the community’s vision, clearly specifies the project’s objectives, deliberately aligns implementation with goals, realistically assesses and adapts to actual capacity to implement, and brokers the necessary partnerships and collaborations. Finally, effective planning must also include a carefully designed evaluation framework that involves learning and making adjustments along the way.3

In Chicago, an interim assessment of the New Communities Program (NCP), a multiyear effort to support community capacity building in 14 distressed neighborhoods, reinforces the importance of inclusive and collaborative planning. Residents of each neighborhood first engage in a structured community planning process that addresses each community’s unique needs — from gentrification to crime to education reform — and develops projects and partnerships to address those needs. Such neighborhood-based planning, which facilitates coordination and accountability among the various public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders, is key to the program’s success. NCP’s reliance on collaborative planning and implementation not only builds on existing strengths and capabilities of local groups but also helps leverage additional resources for heavily challenged neighborhoods. Some NCP neighborhoods already show increases in home prices, school achievement, graduation rates, and business growth.4

This victory garden in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood was formerly a vacant lot — an eyesore in the community
This victory garden in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood was formerly a vacant lot — an eyesore in the community. Credit: LISC/Chicago, Photography by Eric Young Smith

Local Lessons Inform Federal Policy
Murphy Park, a mixed-finance demonstration project completed in St. Louis, Missouri, is an important site-specific case study of the type of comprehensive community development that informed the HOPE VI program. Murphy Park was created through the combined efforts of residents, the city, the St. Louis Housing Authority, the state, the developer, private enterprise, and philanthropy. This rental neighborhood of townhomes, garden apartments, and single-family homes — with amenities, a reconstituted school, and new, incoming investments — replaced thousands of public housing units concentrated within a one-mile radius that were essentially isolated despite being surrounded by single-family residential neighborhoods. Notably, the Murphy Park project led to reform in the neighborhood school that, in turn, sparked broader civic engagement in improving the Near North Side of St. Louis, additional investments in schools and neighborhood improvements, and systemwide school management reform, thus adding to the strength and capacity of the entire community.5

Taking lessons from both broad community change strategies and local case studies, policymakers at HUD are embracing the principle of comprehensive community planning in urban development strategies aimed at strengthening the capacity, resiliency, and sustainability of entire communities. The Choice Neighborhoods initiative in particular will be a key strategy for strengthening neighborhoods through effective planning and community-driven partnering.



  1. Karen Fulbright-Anderson and Patricia Auspos, eds., 2006. Community Change: Theories, Practice, and Evidence, Washington, DC: Aspen Institute, 10.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Anne C. Kubisch, Patricia Auspos, Prudence Brown, and Tom Dewar. “Community Change Initiatives From 1990–2010: Accomplishments and Implications for Future Work,” Community Investments 22, no.1: 8–12 and Voices From the Field III: Lessons and Challenges From Two Decades of Community Change Efforts, Washington, DC: Aspen Institute, 2010.
  4. David Greenberg, Nandita Verma, Keri-Nicole Dillman, and Robert Chaskin. 2010. Creating a Platform for Sustained Neighborhood Improvement: Interim Findings From Chicago’s New Communities Program. New York: MDRC.
  5. Mindy Turbov and Valerie Piper. 2005. HOPE VI and Mixed-Finance Redevelopments: A Catalyst for Neighborhood Renewal. Washington, DC: Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution, 18–9.

 

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