Signs of a thriving economy abound – a booming stock market, millions of new jobs, and the first balanced budget presented to Congress in 30 years. But prosperity has not reached everyone. Income disparity, poverty, and a lack of affordable housing have grown in the past two decades, in spite of the good work and intentions of individuals and organizations. This issue looks at two trends in poverty alleviation that address major shifts in the nation’s economy and political life.
The first is a focus on regional development. For many years, few places – outside of Portland, Oregon, with its one-of-a-kind regional governance and model anti-sprawl regulations – even considered regional solutions. After all, the thinking went, the suburbs were doing fine, no matter what happened in the inner cities. Today, however, more and more suburban and urban communities are realizing that their destinies are intertwined.
Guest editor Bruce Katz, the director of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy of the Brookings Institution, introduces a group of articles dealing with the reality of metropolitan communities and the implications of regional development for inner-city community builders. As several of these articles suggest, community based organizations must work with employers outside the central city to connect residents to enough jobs to end double-digit unemployment and economic distress.
Jobs will help – some say they’re the key to everything [see Shelterforce #89]. But people in low-income communities are not just complacent workers or recipients of services. They can, and do, control their destinies. What they lack in tangible resources, they make up for in other assets. Comprehensive Community Initiatives (CCIs) around the country are working to harness the often overlooked skills, energy, and ambitions of those living in low-income communities.
With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), Associate Editor Winton Pitcoff takes a close look at CCIs, particularly AECF’s Rebuilding Communities Initiative. Shelterforce explores the progress of these initiatives as participating community groups work to create comprehensive plans built on the ideas of residents. This article, the second of a two-part series [see Shelterforce #96], focuses on the challenges of bringing residents into active participation and integrating a wide range of ideas and agendas into a single initiative.
In many ways, CCIs are experiments in reviving democracy. They encourage residents to effectively meet face-to-face with government and corporate powers, to make those systems more responsive to their communities.
A Larger View
Without a doubt, a metropolitan focus will increase prosperity for those in the region’s core. And who can disagree that when people are capable of engaging and challenging the systems that exclude them, those people will revitalize their neighborhoods?
Yet even during these “good times,” as Wall Street firms hand out million-dollar bonuses, creating livable-wage work and reviving communities is not a simple task. A two-tiered economy – with one group that shares in the prosperity of the information age and another that is permanently left out – is a recipe for disaster. We must reward hard work as we reward smart investments, and we must open a new dialogue with the private sector on its role in community building. Those involved in community building must lead the way in reexamining what it means to “work hard and play by the rules” in America.