A strong community is not built with one particular idea or project. There are many actors, ideas, visions and amenities that must come together to build a strong community.
A strong mayor can be instrumental to making change in a community. She must have a clear and strategic vision and she must have legislative power. Because she is responsible for hiring and firing staff and may also have veto power in implementing legislation, she inevitably will make a mark on how her city’s communities will grow.
The Chamber of Commerce
Chambers of commerce are generally made up of local businesspeople who promote and protect local business interests. They have existed in the United States since 1768. They choose their own leadership and debate which policies to promote and they can be effective in influencing regulators through lobbying. As a result they too can have an impact on the communities they serve.
Community Development Corporations (CDCs)
These non-profit, community organizations are an important piece of the puzzle. Their focus is on the revitalization of their communities, which are often low-income and underserved neighborhoods. Their initiatives are based around community health and can include the development of affordable housing, streetscaping projects and even social services and educational projects for residents. CDCs typically have local community residents on their board, and their work to enhance community conditions can also empower the residents. They play a critical role as well in building community wealth by keeping capital in the community.
Maintaining local assets is another important step to building a strong community whether it’s a beautiful building that has fallen into disrepair, a local outdoor space which could be better utilized, sidewalks that are more attractive, bike lanes for commuters, better access to groceries or a local connection to transport. All of these things can improve life for residents and can give them pride in their neighbourhood and help make a community connected.
All of these things drive private investment. Whether someone is looking for a new home to buy, or a potential real estate development site, they are more likely to invest in a community that is cared for.
One place where it’s all coming together is Erie, Pennsylvania. A typical rust-belt community, Erie lost jobs and people, and as a result saw many decades of decline in its infrastructure. Now the city has a mayor with a strong vision to make Erie a community of choice. And a private company, Erie Insurance, is playing an unusually large role in Erie’s comeback. Christina Marsh, chief community and economic development officer at Erie Insurance, has helped to create an equity fund that is now at 27 million dollars. She has also been involved in the strategic planning of the redevelopment of four central blocks in Erie’s Downtown. The city, Erie Insurance, the Erie Community Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce are working together to reinvest in infrastructure while embracing the city’s diverse cultures. With many rich assets, they want to build upon a healthy and vibrant downtown and ensure that the city continues to grow. And they want to make sure they match the needs of employers with those of the community by creating a pipeline for jobs with access to education or hands-on training.
Listen to my interview with Christina to learn more.