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The Business of Community Change

Wednesday Apr 22, 2015 - Comments: 0


This past February, NeighborWorks’ America hosted a Symposium on the Business of Community Change at the National Training Institute (NTI) in Los Angeles, California.  The event brought together hundreds of community development professionals to examine the key principles that guide neighborhood change.    


One of the featured speakers was David Smith, founder and CEO of the Affordable Housing Institute, who shared his perspective on how communities change, and how strategies to promote growth are impacted by these shifts. 

Insights from the presentation include:


  • Global forces like rapid information sharing, the rise in multi-national companies and interconnected economies, and increased workforce mobility are hallmarks of the 21st century that de-emphasize place-based identity.  Yet people still live in discrete neighborhoods and a competitive community aligns their neighborhood vision with these trends rather than resisting them.


  • Neighborhoods are impacted by three stressors - what Smith refers to as ‘Prevailing Winds,’ ‘Bending Branches,’ and ‘Meteor Strikes’ – that describe different types and degrees of community impact.  Specifically: 


  1. ‘Prevailing winds’ are ongoing forces that exert pressure gradually over time, pushing growth strategies in particular directions.  The persistent reduction in federal funding for housing falls into this category.  This trend is shifting the emphasis from top-down to bottom-up decision-making and goal-setting, meaning municipal rather than federal efforts are driving neighborhood innovation, and local community development agencies have never been more important.
  2. ‘Bending branches’ are forces that are applying pressure, and could potentially lead to disruptive breaks.  The increasingly large price-tag associated with affordable housing ownership is an illustration. 
  3. Meteor strikes are situations that are very unlikely to occur, but if they do, the impact could be dramatic.  Examples include a radical housing policy overhaul - or indeed - the 2008 housing crisis.  


  • Federal housing initiatives are concerned with scale and commonalities among communities, and are less focused on what makes places distinct.  Localized entities understand the uniqueness of place, and are able to capitalize on this knowledge.  By combining federal and local efforts, communities can benefit from both ‘scale’ and ‘touch.’   


Additional speakers included the Honorable Aja Brown, Mayor of the City of Compton, and prominent community development practitioners like Rosanne Haggerty from Community Solutions, Angela Blanchard from Neighborhood Centers, Inc., and Devin Thompson of Jubilee Housing.  After the presentations, participants had the opportunity to view community transformation efforts firsthand through tours of several Los Angeles area neighborhoods. 


Click here to get a more detailed overview of the Symposium, and access speaker presentation slides, including David Smith’s!   


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