Franklinton - Flooded Again

Civic Engagement School #3: How To Build Community Wealth

Raise your hand if all of this development and civic engagement jargon is getting confusing *raises hand*. This is a lot for me to process and I’m the one writing it! (In case you missed part 1 and part 2 of this series, check them out then come back here.) We’ve talked about participatory planning, social impact assessments, community land trusts, community benefits agreements, inclusionary zoning, workforce development, and transitional employment opportunities. There’s a lot of overlap amongst those subjects and you frankly can’t look at any single one in a silo– there are much greater and more complex systems at work.

Figuring out how all of these pieces fit together is quite the task. Luckily, there is already a pretty comprehensive systems approach that incorporates a lot of what we’ve talked about– it’s called community wealth building. It isn’t perfect, but it’s arguably the most reputable model for inclusive economic development to date. Read on to find out how it compares to traditional development, and why you should be advocating for it in your community.

Community wealth building

Community wealth building is “a systems approach to economic development that creates an inclusive, sustainable economy built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership.” The term was coined in 2005 by The Democracy Collaborative to describe a range of strategies that help anchor jobs in a community, democratize wealth and asset ownership, and make communities more economically stable.

Too often, traditional development operates based on the implicit assumption that everyone will benefit from a city’s economic growth. And sadly that’s pretty much never true. So community wealth building proposes a new model that puts people first, especially communities that are in most need of economic opportunity. The overarching goals are to enable residents to build personal wealth through stable well-paying jobs, to create opportunities for community ownership through employee stock ownership plans or cooperative business models, and to keep wealth within the community by reinvesting in locally owned businesses.

Source: Democracy Collaborative

In doing these things, communities are afforded greater control over their economic destiny. Residents are stabilized from displacement pressure, they build more socioeconomic mobility, and the neighborhood experiences growth and vibrancy. So that all sounds nice and rosy– but how do we achieve it?

First things first: there are 7 drivers that build community wealth, as outlined by The Democracy Collaborative. They are:

  1. Place: place-based planning demonstrates a loyalty to geographic place– it involves investment in assets that can’t simply be picked up and moved elsewhere.
  2. Ownership: ownership should be broadly distributed across the community, not just through local and family owned businesses, but also through employee owned coops and stock options.
  3. Multipliers: local institutions like hospitals, museums, and universities can have a multiplier effect on community wealth by implementing buy-local strategies that keep money circulating locally.
  4. Collaboration: a wide variety of stakeholders are included in decision-making, including non-profits, local businesses, and residents.
  5. Inclusion: economic inclusion involves deliberately creating living wage jobs that enable all families to enjoy economic security.
  6. Workforce: job training should be linked to employment opportunities, with a particular emphasis on jobs for those with barriers to employment.
  7. System: ultimately new supportive ecosystems will be developed that exist to reinforce a thriving local economy.

There’s a wide array of potential strategies that can be used to build community wealth, all of which deploy the aforementioned drivers. They include things like: using community benefits agreements to get local institutions to commit to procuring a certain amount of resources locally, mobilizing federal and city funds to support the growth of cooperatives, and creating community land trusts.

Source: Democracy Collaborative

Encouraging businesses to transition to employee ownership is another strategy being successfully implemented across the country, including in our great state of Ohio. The Ohio Employee Ownership Center out of Kent State University has helped employees buy all or part of 92 companies, creating more than 15,000 employee-owners and to date $344 million in wealth for said owners.

Closer to home, we have the Affordable Housing Trust for For Columbus & Franklin County, which provides loans for affordable rental and home ownership projects. We have several entirely employee owned businesses, like Star Leasing and Ketchum & Walton Co. The Columbus Foundation, the eighth largest community foundation in the country, continues to support important community assets like the Franklin Park Conservatory. Plus, we have at least 7 Community Development Corporations (CDCs) that help guide more equitable development projects across the city.

So clearly, Columbus isn’t totally out of the community wealth building loop– we have some great organizations and resources at our fingertips, we just need a more comprehensive plan that connects these resources together and ensures they’re mobilized equitably.

Civic Engagement School: The Way Forward

My hope is that with a greater understanding of the potential strategies for inclusive development, you will feel empowered to have thoughtful discussions around this topic and advocate to your local representatives for what you believe is right. As I’ve expressed from day 1 of this series, no one strategy is a panacea, and you yourself can’t possibly advocate for the implementation of everything I’ve outlined. Instead, I suggest you pick one or two things that resonated with you, maybe community land trusts and job creation for people with barriers to employment, and get even more familiar with case studies, methods, and challenges. The Democracy Collaborative and their Community Wealth website are fantastic resources. Attend local community and city hall meetings and start advocating for these things. Find other people with similar interests and collaborate on small scale neighborhood projects. You’re capable of creating more change than you know. Active citizenship is a powerful thing.

As for later stage development projects that seem too far along for changing course, as some people feel about Franklinton, it’s not too late. What is important, as I covered in part 1 of this series, is to find out what aspects of the development designs are negotiable or still in flux. There may still be a chance for compromise.

And remember Chad Rochkind of Human Scale Studio, the urban strategy firm in Detroit? His final advice for a community like Franklinton– “get people in the room together in a low stakes environment.” Rochkind recommends hosting community dinners that are not about development with the developers, local leaders, and residents. “There’s no agenda, aside from getting to know each other. The desired outcome is just to build bridges.”

Speaking of building bridges, we’re hosting a community conversation around the issues that fast-growing neighborhoods like Franklinton experience. Check out the event and RSVP here.

Feature photo by jens johnsson on Unsplash

Staff writer and community manager for 1812 Columbus. Creative community developer for SEEN Digital Media and Snapfluence. Loves doughnuts, kittens, barbells, and oxford commas.