Reese Fayde & Associates
The National Community Development Initiative (NCDI) was a big, but somewhat vague notion to understand or explain to others. Community development in 1991 was a movement filled with many visionary and inspiring leaders who tackled problems in their neighborhoods with creativity, passion and a lot of hard work. They saw the problems—inadequate housing, poor schools, crime, unemployment—as issues to organize residents around and push for more resources.
NCDI posed a new question that spoke to a different approach and frame for the problem statement. By making capital available to communities at scale and in a predictable fashion, community leaders had a larger platform and greater ability to engage new partners in addressing community issues and problems. With technical support from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Enterprise Community Partners, and the capital investments of NCDI, community development corporations (CDCs) could leverage new attention for and commitment to problems that plagued their communities.
But who or what exactly were the “NCDI Funders,” mentioned so often with a blend of respect, appreciation and curiosity? They were the leaders of foundations and financial institutions who were working to change conditions in distressed urban neighborhoods and formalizing a new model for engagement. NCDI was a collaborative effort among leaders across sectors of finance, philanthropy and government that saw the issues that CDC leaders were tackling as issues of importance to them and issues which their dollars and stature could change. The local funder collaboratives that were established changed both who talked about and cared about neighborhood problems, and changed the amount and manner in which resources were dedicated to those problems.
More time at the work together and more reflection from evaluations and research gave the NCDI funders the vision and drive to take the engagement to yet a larger platform—to cast the agenda as one about whole cities and their long-term viability. These were now national issues and the new name, Living Cities, captured the change in mission and attitude for those around the funder table.
The work of CDCs, focused on some combination of housing, schools, crime and jobs, is not work that finishes. Yes, there are better mechanisms in place than 20 years ago to work on these issues in local communities, and the work is routinely linked to national trends and resource strategies, but it is far from finished and perhaps never will be. It is a more dynamic proposition. Funders, civic leaders, intermediaries and community leaders are each being drawn to new and/or changing sets of underlying issues—environment, sustainability, technology, healthy food, public education, deficit reduction and the list goes on—which pull their attention and resources away from the community development collaborative investment table. Because neighborhood issues are so fundamental and change as the national economy and social trends rise and fall, Living Cities only grows in value. The experience that 20 years together brings in terms of confidence to take on critical issues and the patience to stay the course over time, are some of the most valuable elements of Living Cities’ contributions to urban communities and their residents.