Last week, I participated in a panel at the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group’s Community Development Summit focused on the theme of comprehensive community development.
When I first got the invitation back in January, I was excited about it for two reasons. First, because it sounded like a great chance to share what we’re learning from The Integration Initiative and learn from practitioners and funders working in the Pittsburgh area.
And second, because it’s always fun to go be a bit provocative, and raise the question as to whether comprehensive community development is an antidote to urban poverty.
For decades, the conventional wisdom has been that the challenges the urban poor face are side effects of geographic isolation in blighted neighborhoods. If cities improved these neighborhoods through programmatic interventions — like upgrading buildings and creating training programs — residents’ opportunities and incomes would improve as well. Philanthropy, government and nonprofits have advanced this belief, yet poverty in America and its cities has continued to grow.
Over the last three years, Living Cities has been experimenting with a different approach to ending urban poverty because we don’t think programmatic interventions are sufficient to move people in cities out of poverty at a population level. Instead our big hypothesis is: if we want to end poverty in cities, we must transform the systems that produce poverty.
But here’s the rub. We don’t know how to rebuild a system that currently produces opportunity for some, and poverty for others into one that produces opportunity for all.
So, we’re trying to learn to build the “right” systems. And we now view every grant and flexible debt investment and research project and speaking engagement as an experiment where we can learn.
I captured a bit of what we learned when we shared these ideas, which are the foundation of The Integration Initiative model, in Pittsburgh using Storify. I encourage you to check it out!