Place-Based Community Change: The Time is Now

 By Dawn Phillips, Right to the City Alliance and Causa Justa :: Just Cause

This September, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group convened 100 local, regional, and national funders for Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy. Here, Dawn Phillips of Right to the City Alliance and Causa Justa :: Just Cause outlines an agenda for place-based change that acknowledges our past and looks to local solutions to guide the future. 

The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group’s Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy convening was provocative and insightful. The gathering explored the importance of place-based community change and its potential to support community transformation towards resiliency and cohesion. If we are to fully realize the ideas discussed at the convening, there has to be clarity about what the approach entails and philanthropy’s role in supporting it. This is that action plan.

Place-based community change is political change. It must transform systems of race, class, and gender injustice. It is a commitment to support communities addressing racialized disinvestment, the role that government has played in driving inequitable development and the fiscalization of land and housing. It has to build the participation and leadership of those historically disenfranchised to advocate for their collective interest. It has to connect the struggles of communities and sectors previously divided and build an inter-sectional movement for social change. Ultimately, it has to develop the capacities of everyone involved to imagine a healthy, just, and people-serving society.

Place-based community change is strategic. It must address immediate issues facing communities as well as change conditions over the long term. It has to engage solutions that promote community stabilization in the short term, support community-led planning and development in the medium term, and ensure community control and ownership in the long term. It has to support communities to stay in place and benefit from new investment and development in their neighborhoods. It has to ensure that vulnerable, longtime residents are central in designing and deciding the type of development most needed in their communities. It is a commitment to supporting anti-displacement efforts that promote truly affordable housing, strong tenant rights, and housing security for those who need it most. Place-based change is particularly important because the most dynamic and innovative solutions are being developed at the local level right now.

Place-based community change is both possible and necessary. Our communities are a reflection of many decades of public policy and investment. From housing covenants, redlining, Urban Renewal, suburbanization, policing, and immigration policies, there are a myriad of public policy decisions that create our communities today. If public policy and investment created our neighborhoods, then we can and must redirect those policies and investments to reimagine a new reality. This is a moment of multiple, interconnected crises—historic racial and economic inequity; anti-Black racism; deepening violence against immigrants, communities of color, and women; and much more. It is critical that we stand up to realize transformation at the individual, community, and societal levels. Change is possible and necessary.

There is a clear role for philanthropy in supporting place-based community change. Tell the truth about this moment, name the crisis facing low-income and communities of color nationally, and speak clearly about the need for racial, economic, and gender justice. Lift up the stories of those most impacted by the crisis, and center their voices and experiences in conversations. Talk about the crisis in terms of its impact on the lives of people, not just in terms of data and statistics. Lift up the vision, ideas, and work of organizations building the power and capacities of impacted communities. Leverage your credibility and relationships to support this work. Invest in basebuilding and organizing—not just today, but for the long term. Support impacted communities in coming together, developing shared vision and plans, realizing those dreams, and being able to maintain their collective needs over time. Become an organizer in your field. Support your peers in developing a similar perspective and approach, and work to build broad support for place-based change. Philanthropy can and must be part of this change.