Fighting for Responsible Corporate Partnerships

We need a new mechanism for the next 36 years that forces corporations to anchor themselves in our neighborhoods.

Corporations are the pioneers of my generation, exploring new markets like Lewis and Clark. CEOs are celebrated and investors are rewarded. But we all saw The Matrix; the Corporation is the machine that feeds on the people, and literally, the corporation feeds on our desire for consumption. Of course, it’s the desire for consumption — in this case, profit — that drives the corporation to grow.

Corporate pioneering becomes an endless cycle of plowing through our neighborhoods, pulling money from our pockets, and rotating from one opportunity to the next.

Thirty-six years ago, the white flight and redlining that ravaged neighborhoods were the results of corporations abandoning one neighborhood to plow over another. Today, food deserts and disinvestment are common terms in these once proud neighborhoods. I entered community development in time to witness the banks blow through our neighborhoods like a giant tornado, resetting markets and obliterating decades of my colleagues’ efforts. Like the farmer rotating crops, the banks are fighting for their investments in neighborhoods of choice, abandoning the people and homes in neighborhoods of last resort.

It’s not over. Other corporate monsters continue to creep in from the shadows. The desire for profit is forcing the corporation to reconsider its once abandoned fields. Mega-box conglomerates have adaptable footprints being squeezed onto our city lots. Global convenience stores are turning on lights in the vacant and abandoned storefronts. The affordable luxury of dark roast coffee has even made an appearance. But uncontrolled and unchecked, these corporations will continue to squeeze us until there is no more. It’s our desire for profit that drives corporate growth, so let’s take the reins and force them to stay in our communities.

We need to capture the demands for corporate morality and socially conscious investment while echoing the screams of Gale Cincotta; the corporation should be responsible for reinvesting in our communities, rich or poor. Similar to the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977, we need a new mechanism for the next 36 years ahead that forces corporations to anchor themselves in our neighborhoods. Funding for affordable housing and better neighborhoods should not be limited to bank-mandated CRA initiatives and federal grants. I expect a future where MegaMart is paying to the build the homes of its customers.

It’s a win-win. Healthy neighborhoods are full of healthy corporations, both eating and feeding off of each other. With energy costs increasing faster than wages, some families are forced to choose between heating their homes and buying groceries. Making homes affordable allows people to buy spend more on goods and services. An investment in the community is like an annuity, with consumption as a perpetual payback. If a corporation is willing to pay to tattoo an advertisment on someone’s face, is it really too much to demand for a block of energy-efficient and affordable MegaMart funded homes be built on the corner of BigBox Avenue and CornSyrup Street?

Bryan Esenberg was former manager of single-family real estate and development programs for NHS Redevelopment Corp. As of 2017, he serves as Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago.


  1. Great thoughts. If businesses really were interested in the community that supports them then yes, everyone would be in a win-win situation but the movement of money and the desire for bigger and better profits are the reason that communities crumble and profits decrease. Impressive article!


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