From Boston to New York: Is a More Just City Possible?

Monday, April 21, 2014

By Kevin Ryan, Program Director, New York Foundation

On April 2 and 3, Neighborhood Funders Group hosted From Boston to New York: Is a More Just City Possible?, a two-day learning tour that focused on the promise of both cities’ new mayoral administrations to be more transparent and accountable, and to develop strategies that bridge the income gap between the wealthy and the poor. More than 40 grantmakers joined us for the tour, as well as over 40 organizers, activists, community residents, developers, and public officials who presented their strategies to create a more equitable urban agenda for transportation, affordable housing, land use, and community benefit policies.

There were countless wonderful, provocative, and informative moments during the learning tour. Below are five points that resonated most with me:

1. Cultural displacement – When discussing the impact of low-income migration from communities that are experiencing gentrification, one of the key underlying impacts is cultural displacement. Some of the community groups that participated in the tour describe this displacement as a loss of cultural institutions, programs, and heritage. As higher income residents move into these neighborhoods, longtime residents can sometimes feel unwelcome in their own communities. This subtle but very real occurrence is an unfortunate but often ignored result of gentrification.

2. Intersection of arts, culture, and social change – Several community organizations pointed out that arts and culture is a key component to keeping community members, particularly youth, involved in organizing and advocacy campaigns. These activities were often overlooked for their important role in building and strengthening community engagement.

3. Funder patience – Grantmakers typically provide time-limited (1-3 year) grant commitments when it often takes much longer for community organizations to develop, implement, and fully incorporate community transformation strategies. While understanding that grantmakers are often pressured by their boards and executive leadership to demonstrate specific impacts and outcomes on very complex and deeply entrenched inequities in the short term, several community organizations urged grantmakers to push back against these artificial timelines and to fully invest in community change strategies for the long term, allowing grantees the opportunity to experiment and test their strategies. For example, it has taken more than 13 years for Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition to negotiate an agreement for the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory. Funding through the key phases, this process helped the Coalition staff this campaign. Also, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has experienced several ebbs and flows in its revitalization work over the past 25 years. Without long-term support for the organization as it faced these challenges, Dudley Street may have closed its doors.

4. The relationship between developers and community residents is challenging but possible – We learned that the Chinese Progressive Association in Boston was continuing a long term fight to pressure the Tufts University Medical Center to pay its fair share of taxes to support new affordable housing development in the community. At the early stage of this process, Tufts has not come to the table to negotiate, but the association Right to the City Boston and other neighborhood organizations are determined to continue their fight for these critical resources. In contrast to the Chinatown example, the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance and the Kingsbridge National Ice Center negotiated a community benefits agreement. The community-based negotiating team and the developers were able to identify key shared values to ensure that the community and the developers achieved some equitable standards. The community benefits of this development including a fund to support free ice time for community groups, jobs for community residents, and free space in the Armory for other community activities and meetings. Their negotiation is a great example of how community members and developers can create place-based projects that benefit a broad range of stakeholders.

5. Nonprofit leaders need technical support on community development issues – The language of community development and land use processes can be dense and complex. Many community-based organizations have created sophisticated and strategic organizing and advocacy campaigns that require a deep knowledge of processes. Although a few leaders have become well versed on these issues, grantmakers could provide more support for training, research, education, and peer learning opportunities.
For those who attended the Boston-New York learning tour:  What were some of the things that you took away from the tour?  Please send us your thoughts, observations, photos, and comments.

Read more about the tour, including the organizations we visited with and their work, here.

Read this blog post on the New York Foundation website. And on Neighborhood Funders Group’s blog.

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