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Your November Useful Community Plus
November 17, 2022

This month: Places PLUS People

Visit us at the Useful Community Development Website.

November, 2022

Above: Maxwell Street Market in Chicago becomes a bustling place on market days, in ways responsive to the neighborhood culture.

If you think community development is only about places, you may have been hanging around in limited circles for too long. People development is as important as real estate development in most neighborhoods and cities.

This month we're concentrating on one illustration. Without a workforce where talent is not only appreciated but also enhanced, thriving places do not materialize, simply because businesses cannot afford to invest if their need for employees fitting a certain profile cannot be met.

Minus a meaningful percentage of people who have enough stability in their lives and belief in the future, we cannot form a large enough pool of people willing and able to participate in civic affairs, or even to be informed voters.

In practice this means that children and adults need to acquire basic literacy, numeracy, and media analysis skills, as well as an understanding of civility and building successful relationships. They need to be exposed to learning experiences that reward initiative, enjoyment of complexity, openness to change, and appropriate risk-taking. Such skills are acquired both in and out of school.

The challenges of what we are calling the Places PLUS People approach differ depending on community type. In pockets of large cities where many people have been left behind by poor educational systems, lack of proximity to jobs, and discrimination, you will have to work tirelessly to get the physical development/community development/real estate development agencies and actors to recognize that they need to place equal weight on developing people.

This means recognizing past trauma, but helping people move beyond it through painting a vivid picture of the future where everyone can see themselves fitting in.

Also in those large cities you will have a problem getting the social worker types to see that investment in place can be very helpful in lifting people out of poverty.

Some of you are in prosperous suburbs. If you're still reading, you probably recognize that there are people development challenges in your situation too. People may have great jobs, but how are the families doing?

There is community impact when families overspend and get into financial trouble, when children and teens fall into depression and self-destructive behaviors, and when households are too dependent on the success of any one business or institution.

Any one of these can be a really stubborn problem.

Rather than belabor the point, we simply want to leave you with something to think about:

Is your community's approach to a high-functioning workforce and a stellar quality of life too far out of whack either in the direction of too much emphasis on real estate development and not enough on people-centered interventions?

Or vice versa? (I worked in one of those suburbs too, where people paid attention to everything about education, home, and family, but real estate development didn't rank until municipal finances became dire.)

The public health field is a leader in recognizing the connection between people and places, and I think the community development field has benefited from more interaction with public health professionals in the last few years.

In the December newsletter, we will talk about another dimension of the Places PLUS People opportunity, namely diagnosing where trust among groups of people is lacking in your community. Our simple exercise has proven to be a great conversation starter in some recent workshops we have conducted.

This month we finally finished a piece that's been in the making most of the year. It gives a few ideas about what international pairs of cities might choose to accomplish together. These Sister City programs can inspire new business opportunities, novel solutions to problems, and lively cultural exchange.

Whether a church must be located a certain number of feet from a bar and strip club

Using church parking lots for a homeless families Safe Parking program

We applaud this excellent article about the causes of a crime surge among young adults in Philadelphia during the pandemic. The conclusion is that it is critical to keep vulnerable young people occupied within a social setting. After you read this engaging piece containing several storylines, you will understand more about why you must be adamant that your community keep up its "social services," libraries, recreation programs, and all the rest.

Catch a glimpse of the ongoing outdoor dining shed phenomenon in New York. The article is free "for a limited time," whatever that means.

If you are serious about improving the odds for disadvantaged people in your city, please check out this great work from Raj Chetty and his shop at Harvard, which presents economic data about the impacts of "opportunity neighborhoods" on children clearly. We found the Opportunity Atlas to be a fast way to compare income at age 35 for different racial/ethnic groups and parental incomes, keyed to your geography. For our rural readers, note that data are insufficient to show these comparisons for some sparsely populated areas of the U.S.

If your town has fewer than 30,000 people, consider applying for the Community Heart & Soul program. This organization makes a $10,000 grant, but you will need some local match that they estimate might be $57,500 over a two-year period. Trust us that the process, resources, and coaching are well worth it. Your nonprofit or unincorporated community group can initiate the process, although a resolution of support from your city government is required. If you can convince your town to be the applicant, that's even better. Start at the seed grants page and poke around on their website. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis all year round.

You might enjoy this video about parks as infrastructure. We did.

We don't think there has been a major rework of the idea of activity centers in cities for more than 40 years. But here is some new and important empirical research on activity centers in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) of more than 500,000 people. You might see your region--and your community's place in it--differently.

We have been intrigued with the research showing that regardless of political leanings, economic status, or region where people live, people in America consistently prefer classical architecture to modern architecture for courthouses and federal buildings. We wonder if people in other countries also share a preferred architectural style for buildings representing the dignity of the state, and if so, whether they would be the same or different across the world. We bet that outside of European/North American civilization, you would find different leanings. What do you know about this? Reply to this message if you have an idea.

Feel free to reply with comments. To ask a question, use that public-facing community development questions page on the website. We'll be back soon on a Thursday in December.

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