What Can ED Learn from Baltimore’s Sandtown?


FreddieGrayPrecinctProtestLet’s turn the recent Baltimore riots into a teachable hour for economic developers. Sandtown, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood, offers a unique and fascinating perspective on neighborhood-level, people-based economic development.  Often labeled as “community development” people-based economic development has been around for over a hundred years. So let’s task ourselves with the following objectives: (1) briefly outline the two types of community development that were applied to Sandtown; and (2) review post 1990 Sandtown community development(s), participants and their objectives at that time;  (3) briefly critique Sandtown-style community development, conclude, and send you off on your merry way.

Task 1: Outline Briefly People-Focused Economic/Community Development

Community Development

Coming up with a description of a more than century-old economic development approach is not easy. Community development I define as “people-focused” economic development–it is almost always focused on people in a particular place–usually a neighborhood. Traditional economic development usually is focused on corporations/companies, private sector/non-profit projects–the community’s economic base or physical infrastructure. Not so community development. Community development can include physical development or redevelopment with the goal being that physical development  improves/ empowers individuals residing in the project geographies. The goal is people change–not place change per se. For example, waterfront or CBD redevelopment is not intended to change people–housing rehabilitation or homeownership hopes in the end to bring about an favorable environment for individuals and families to grow in a positive direction. Community development embraces policy areas including education, public health, social services, recreation, safety and housing–unlike traditional economic development which is primarily economic, maybe political. Community development addresses power imbalances within society and the specific community, while more traditional economic development, whatever its effect on power relationships and social imbalances, is content to generate economic growth and prosperity–and on a good day individual choice and social/political stability through economic advancement.

A broad definition of community development includes 1890’s housing reformers such as Riis and settlement house leaders like Jane Adams. If the reader agrees, community development has been around for a very long time. Old-style community development rose from immigrant neighborhoods, schools and playgrounds during the first decades of the twentieth century. From there, it split into several variants, the most successful of which were housing reformers who allied themselves with the then-new planning profession, both relying upon financing by private foundations (Russell Sage). These traditional partners continue to the present day. Private foundations/think tanks have become the cutting edge of present day community development and housing continues to be a core policy area in most community development initiatives. More on that shortly.

The New Deal Housing Act of 1933 engaged community development in a multi-decade neighborhood-housing urban renewal focus that continued until the War on Poverty (1964) and Great Society “community action”. The mid-1960’s then is the beginning of “new style” community development. New style community development probably originated in initiatives gleaned from the 1950’s Ford Foundation thought. The Great Society and War on Poverty were the breakthrough initiatives that launched community development into its present day position.The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has integrated old style and new style traditions–and today  is the governmental cornerstone of community development federal financing.  Post Great Society community development moved quickly from “empowerment” into a very serious focus on people-focused, power-balancing social/economic mobility concept, often in a neighborhood setting–with HUD playing a critical role.

Community development has consistently been appropriate for urban low income neighborhoods and the ever-famous “low-mod” individual that populates such neighborhoods. The obvious and inherent problem confronted in community development is that of “improving” and “empowering” the individual in these neighborhoods. This often means addresses of power imbalances between these individuals and societal, political, and economic institutions. As described by the Anne E Casey in its Sandtown Report, this shift to changing people “enter on the complicated nature of interactions between powerful mainstream institutions (schools, bureaucracies) and poor people in poor communities. They emerge from the differences in people’s lives and perspectives, from the inequality of power [and economics] between institutions, and from the common struggle to establish an effective working partnership … critical for comprehensive community initiatives (CCIs) that focus on community-building” (p. 37)

Saul Alinsky

Saul Alinsky

Community Development and “Comprehensiveness”

Contemporary community development can be described as “Comprehensive” as it seeks to address power and economic inequalities between poor low-mod neighborhood residents and the institutions with which they must deal to make their way successfully through life. Comprehensiveness attacks the many policy and institutional areas that confront poor residents in poor communities: education, employment (skills, access), safety, personal and public health–but often still center on housing-intensive initiatives as well as “resilience” and family-related programs as well. Core to comprehensiveness is that no one policy area or initiative can be ignored–all must be dealt with more or less simultaneously–a critical mass is necessary if meaningful people-change is to occur.

No one thinks changing people is an easy affair. Whether caused by poverty, broken families, unemployment or racial discrimination, the reality is low-mod family/personal lives in distressed neighborhoods is a complicated and chronic (long-term) affair at best. Success is usually defined in following conventional middle-class pathways–stable families, solid education, meaningful employment, upward social mobility, personal growth, and political/economic efficacy. To accomplish these desired ends, personal value systems and attitudinal patterns must often be changed. For example a traditional change in attitude has been replacing present with future-oriented personal decision-making. Staying and competing effectively in school as opposed to leaving and working (hopefully) is another. Avoiding drugs and crime is obviously another set of actions/decisions which are critical to community development people-change. The point is people-change is the foundation for economic, social and political development.

People-change is not without its tensions when low-mod residents, working or lower class individuals live in neighborhoods populated with few middle class role models. Working class cultures have long been a staple of sociology and low-mod neighborhoods usually possess a critical mass of working and lower class cultures. This often can mean community development requires something called community-building, or “comprehensive” community initiatives at their core. Somebody has to be the change agent and mostly that task is borne by upper/middle class folk who interact with the working/lower class to bring about productive change in the latter. For this to occur the two classes must cooperate and work together–which usually translate into neighborhood resident board membership, participation in planning and goal-setting, and working with community leadership/indigenous institutions such as churches, activists and sometimes political leaders. “Community participation” based on trust and respect is obvious–but also are shared vision, common agenda, and shared power. This is a very difficult affair, especially if one of the parties is out-of-town. There are serious cultural chasms inherent in comprehensive community development.

Two Versions of Community Development Evident in Sandtown

The middle/upper class version is easy to document–it is the traditional model of community development that has seemingly been around the longest. The traditional model is the one I have described in my above description of community development. That model is very Policy World dominant, HUD-financed–and implemented directly or indirectly by foundations, think tanks, policy institutes–outsiders all to the community and neighborhood undergoing change.

The challenge is to outline a “working class” form of community development. The one that comes readily to mind is Saul Alinsky’s model.  That model is valid, but it is not relevant to what happened in Sandtown. Another working class-based variant of community development occurred there. It started with a coalition of churches (BUILD) which was adopted by Baltimore’s first black mayor–and then seemingly were taken over by him. There is much in this approach to community development that reminds me of the old-style political machines and the War on Poverty efforts of the 1960’s. The interesting dimension is that this “working class-neighborhood-led initiative” forged an alliance (at the instigation of the mayor) with a middle/upper class foundation to come into the neighborhood and lead the change process. It didn’t work. But the heritage left us today’s Sandtown–scene of the 2015 Baltimore riots and home of Freddie Gray. For the moment, let’s review the history of community development in Sandtown from the middle 1980’s to recent years. After that description and comment, we can return to the two variants of community development and see what emerges.

Task 2: Outline of post-1990 Sandtown Community Development

Thurgood Marshall's High School

Thurgood Marshall’s High School

Sandtown is a 72 block neighborhood that includes about 10,000 residents in West Baltimore. West Baltimore is the site for David Simon’s Homicide on which The Wire was based (interestingly The Wire was filmed mostly in East Baltimore in areas presently a part of a large Johns Hopkins “eds and meds” style physical redevelopment–more on that in a later issue of the Journal). Let’s spare ourselves the statistics and simply assert that Sandtown has been for several generations among the most deteriorated and troubled of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Just plug in bad numbers and statistics–pretty much insert images and stereotypes you have of such troubled neighborhoods and appreciate that Sandtown is among the most stressed on the East Coast. Half of its residents were unemployed and it suffered from four times the nation’s infant mortality rate. The neighborhood in 1987 (and today) was renown for its rates of drug addiction. The activities described below would never have occurred without Sandtown being as troubled as it was, and presently still is. It wasn’t always thus. Earlier it was a working class black neighborhood that produced success stores like Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday and Thurgood Marshall.

My principal sources include: “Left Behind in Sandtown”, Barry Yeoman; “Baltimore’s Shame is America’s Shame”, Joan Walsh (Salon.com); a DailySignal.com interview by Josh Siegel  of Mayor Schmoke (5/19/2015); “Rouse;s failure in Sandtown-Winchester” by Paul Marx, Baltimore Sun 3/13/2015; “On the Ground with Comprehensive Community Initiatives, by Diana A. Meyer et al (Report of Enterprise Foundation (2000); the Sandtown-Winchester Neighborhood Transformation Initiative” Report, by Prudence Brown et. al, Anne E. Casey Foundation; and my bible for community development: Ronald F. Ferguson and William T. Dickens (Eds), Urban Problems and Community Development (Brookings, 1999).

Schmoke, Rouse, and Sandtown

Our Sandtown-Winchester story begins with Kurt Schmoke, present day President of the University of Baltimore, Rhodes Scholar, Harvard and Yale grad, former Howard University Dean of Law, and Baltimore’s first African-American mayor. Democrats have ruled Baltimore since 1967. Mayor Schmoke was elected in 1987 and served thru 1999 when Martin O;Malley took over (he served thru 2007). Schmoke was first elected to office in 1982, as Baltimore City’s State Attorney. His mayoral campaign opposed Reagan’s War on Drugs instead urging drug decriminalization, stressing programs in housing, education, economic development and public health.

Early in his administration, Schmoke forged an alliance with BUILD, a church-based coalition affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, a nationwide umbrella organization of community action groups founded by Alinsky in 1940. BUILD advocated a program to push homeownership in “the Sandtown-Winchester 600”, six hundred abandoned brick rowhouse vacant and boarded up units in the two adjoining neighborhoods. BUILD, looked to its sister IAF agency, in East Brooklyn (New York) that had initiated the first famed Nehemiah Project–whose prime goal was to turn around a terribly depressed neighborhood through homeownership. Schmoke bought into BUILD and its approach lock, stock and barrel. By 1989 Schmoke amassed over $20 million in federal, state, city, foundation and church funds to attack the “Sandtown-Winchester 600”. An inital project, the Gilmor Project composed of 227 row house units was identified. But Nehemiah needed a developer–and formally in 1990 the James Rouse of Faneuil Hall and Baltimore Inner Harbor fame stepped into the Sandtown story.

Rouse and his wife (Baltimore area natives) founded the Enterprise Foundation (EF) in 1982. The EF was intended to “serve as a national platform” for community economic development initiatives. It was centered around low-mod affordable housing, but open to other initiatives to enable low-mods to rise from poverty “into the mainstream”. In 1990 the EF, joined with Schmoke, to start the Sandtown-Winchester Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI). NTI was intended to simultaneously attack a comprehensive set of neighborhood problems–i.e. “broken systems” such as schools, health care, jobs, safety, as well as housing. The BUILD-Nehemiah Project was its first initiative.

Comprehensiveness was a key element in the Rouse approach to community redevelopment. Another key element was EF’s decison to set up its own neighborhood based CDO (Community Building In Partnerships (CBP-1994), as well as other subsidiary CDOs as well) to serve as its organizational vehicles of change. The CBP was intended to be the vehicle around which residential and institutional participation was to be be centered. The EF, however, was on site, providing staffing, direct financing, and technical assistance. This decision was made because at the time, it was believed no local CDO or anchor institution could be used–although long-standing Sandtown CDOs existed at the time.  The third key element was the joined at the hip partnership with Schmoke and his city administration. I note the total absence of the private sector.

The CPB Approach

Again, I repeat the Rouse/CPB approach was comprehensive, i.e. included housing, schools, health care, jobs, safety (not crime) and was entitled the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI). His folks forged a number of alliances with other foundations, Rockefeller, Kellogg and Anne E. Casey were especially active. Professional staff were assembled, community participation on boards was recruited, and studies of various types were conducted. Housing, a Rouse strength, was the center piece initiative, but several organizations and local alliances were formed to flesh out the “comprehensiveness”, i.e. to extend into various other policy area programs. Over the next decade or so these organizations launched many programs and initiatives. Most were funded from city/HUD or outside foundations.

Comprehensiveness was a rough go from the start. Educational initiatives, faithful to the Boston Compact model, meant developing widespread relationships with a non-involved private sector, and an exceedingly troubled Baltimore school system. Other program areas, lead paint for example, operated at the margins of neighborhood priorities. Anti drug efforts got off to a late start and were mostly confined to referral–which makes for neat statistics–but no measure of impact or success. Anti-crime and Police Department-related programs were virtually non-existent–an important factor in that these are felt to be critical areas that prompted the 2015 riots. The thrust to me seemed programmatic (bureaucratic and policy-focused), designed to leverage public funds, and private foundation involvement. Several (highly critical) books were written and reports generated– including a decade long self-assessment by EF which was very favorable. An interesting off to the side fact was that EF located its office downtown, not in Sandtown. After reading these reports and evaluations, I was left with the impression that people-based community development in practice was program-based economic development. Units delivered, not people changed. I am sure this will be regarded as unfair–but that’s what I got from them. Their audience appeared to me as one outside Sandtown.

A review of the 2000 Enterprise Foundation Assessment of Sandtown reveals that program initiatives were grouped into the following categories: community organizing, community-building, commercial revitalization, job generation (primarily for environmental positions), public school reform, employment and training, vision for health, healthcare reform, housing rehabilitation and new construction, and last, but not least, community safety organizing. No mention was made of voter registration which is not generally regarded as an economic development program

The EF initiative (1994-1998) was set up and responsible for at least eight corporations and five “consortiums”–one of which was the “Transformation Consortium. It included eighteen organizations. Also identified were seven other organizations (for example AmeriCorps which operated the jobs programs component) who either ran programs within the EF/CPB network or were in some way connected to programs. This does not include local entities such as the City, BUILD, Baltimore School System, Urban League, universities or HUD.

EF acknowledges and thanks sixty-five public and private funders that expended “around $70 million” between 1990 and 1998. The Anne E. Casey Evaluation (2000) states $70  million “new funds were committed … by federal programs such as Healthy Start and Empowerment Zone. The BUILD Nehemiah housing initiative, already on-going, as EF/CPB was established raised $28.r million. Foundations such as Aspen, Kellogg, Habitat for Humanity, Anne E. Casey,  Abner, Annenberg, Rockefeller, Walter Jones, Urban Institute, NY Community Trust were involved in activities/initiatives beyond funding.

Anne E. Casey reports that “the city provided substantial in-kind support to the CBP: its Commissioner of Housing and Community Development served as CBP board chair, and a city staff person served as its Executive  Director”.  CPB alone had 35 paid staff in 2000 and “at its peak, CBP had a staff of 53, most of whom were community residents” (p. 18, Anne E. Casey); I personally identified twenty-eight separate and distinct programs or “initiatives”–leaving out a number of programs whose status I could not determine. None of these organizations or initiatives were City, State or HUD organizational initiatives (for example, no Empowerment Zones or City HUD programs). I also did not include specific “events” as programs or initiatives.

I again note the absence of the private sector.

Perhaps more to the point, BUILD eventually separated from EF and CBP. Local political leaders, activists, and media interviews suggest that CBP leadership was perceived as both political (loyal to the Mayor) and not especially attuned to residents–the age-old perception was that CBP was more adept with bankers and bureaucrats than with its client population. A new church group, New Song, became involved. Anne E Casey  conducted an evaluation of the EF initiatives in 2000/2001–spending considerable effort deriving “Lessons Learned”. Phrased in civil and academic terms, there were several serious, in my opinion, deficiencies noted–but penetrating questions as to how salient “comprehensive” programs were to neighborhood viability were not made–and community participation/involvement was not a special focus, Only a selected core of forty were interviewed and few were residents or board members–most were allies or involved bureaucrats.

When the Mayor left office in 1999, CBP seemed to lose its thrust. O”Malley had other priorities, and embraced more traditional forms of economic development. Police, crime, and anti-drug programs were more his signature initiatives. Before the middle of the decade, CBP closed up shop–and I was unable to find any local reference as tp exactly when that was. Today, political types that were involved bemoan the CPB’s departure–but the consequences felt by the community as a consequence of its loss were far from critical to the neighborhood.

After the Nehemiah Project, EF moved onto large scale “Sandtown-Winchester” scattered site, substantial rehab housing initiatives intended for owner-occupied, but mostly rental. Little momentum was generated behind the housing, no critical mass was achieved and the neighborhood downward spiral was not stopped. Nevertheless, between Nehemiah and the other housing initiatives approximately 1,000 new units were constructed and another 2,000 rehabbed–out of about 4,300 units in the two neighborhoods.  You would never know it today–as I drive through the neighborhood, my eyes tell me housing is a major issue. I would also add that Freddie Gray was a life-time resident of the Gilmor (Nehemiah) Project. and his short life story is a very complicated one.

The Mayor’s Approach

Mayor Kurt Schmoke

Mayor Kurt Schmoke

Mayor Schmoke was the defacto link to the community and city government. The overlap of the Schmoke administration and the foundation organizations (CPB, NTI, and EF)- was intense, i.e. very “close”. At the beginning, the Mayor appointed a task force to lead the CBP planning process. Local comment asserts that two successive CEOs were the mayor’s picks, the last a mayoral appointee whose performance at CBP was not favorably received by residents especially. Phillip Hummel in his PhD Dissertation observed the CPD redefined community outreach and hired staff whose activities included voter registration campaigns and block captains. Joan Walsh herself walked the streets with an organizer, ward captain involved in “fledgling attempts at political mobilization”.

The Mayor brought in all sorts of other goodies, including a Federal Empowerment Zone (2000) to Sandtown. Other Baltimore neighborhood organizations asserted they got little from the HUD and city’s Community Development programs: “All the money that’s coming into Sandtown is coming at the expense of other neighborhoods” (Ed Rutkowski. East Fayette St CDC) or that Sandtown “is supposed to be a model, but its sucking up a huge amount of resources” (Jackie MacMillan, Waverly Housing Committee)–both cited from Barry Yeoman. Indeed, through the 1990’s as the city involvement drew more intense, BUILD pulled away from CBP and Sandtown, remaining involved in the Empowerment Zone, but dropping its name from CBP literature. Resident leadership in the CBP allegedly weakened during these years. By 1993 Harold McDougall in his book “Black Baltimore: a New Theory of Community” charged CBP with “developing relationships with banks, not with people”. Joan Walsh, present day editor of Salon worked in Sandtown for the Rockefeller Foundation at the time and she comments in a post-riot article that CBP was driven “by an ambitious mayor and a wealthy developer”.

Said and done, over the existence of CBP lots of public and private funding went into Sandtown–$ 60 million from Rouse alone (Walsh claims a total of about $130 million)–other commentators claim as much as $150-180 million. Lacking a comprehensive audit, double-counting, multiplier and the like–it is impossible to determine how much actually was spent. Over the course of EF/CBP’s NTI project, the various participating entities easily spent several hundred million (pre-2000) dollars. Approximately, 1,000 new units were built (about 25% of the neighborhood units); another 1,000 units were substantially rehabbed, sold (two-thirds owner occupied, the remainder rental). Crime and drugs were visibly and statistically reduced. Infant mortality also noticeably improved.

Reformers “left the office”

But by 2000, the gild was off the ghetto. Rouse himself had passed away in 1996, and his staff, notably Patrick M Costigan had moved onto Harvard and, later to HUD. Schmoke moved on, termed out of office, replaced by O’Malley. O’Malley had his own priorities and Sandtown wasn’t chief among them. O’Malley’s conception of economic development was more traditional physical economic development–and Baltimore Inner Harbor tourism. Reagan and Bush were gone, Clinton was President providing an Empowerment Zone to Sandtown, New Markets Tax Credit project followed–then George II stepped in and federal involvement went by the wayside. There is little to suggest that these programs had any notable effect in Sandtown. In the 2000’s CBP lost  momentum and at some point closed down–closing with it a host of organizations,  programs, relationships and people. Baltimore neighborhood development shifted to the East Side, also in its own crisis after the previous decade’s relative neglect, deterioration and collapse. The EF pulled out; and the Anne E. Casey Foundation refocused around an East Side Johns Hopkins eds and meds project–playing a very significant role.

And that was that. Freddie Gray, a resident of Sandtown and the Gilmor Project, died in a police vehicle after his arrest. And then the media took over, followed by politicians, and god knows who else to follow–probably academics and online journals of economic development.

Task 3: A Critique and Analysis of Sandtown Community Development

The Script of the Book of Nehemiah - Rebuilding Jerusalem's Walls

The Script of the Book of Nehemiah – Rebuilding Jerusalem’s Walls

From the get go, I have two discontinuities with the Sandtown Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NYI). Comprehensiveness has to be an overwhelming concept–especially to an out-of-town driver of change attempting to set up in-town organizations. Dealing with a number of “theoretically-related”, but disparate policy areas drives me to the bourbon bottle pronto . The sheer mechanics of implementing programs derived from good intentions and academic theory seem destined to degenerate into organization process conflicts, mismatched priorities, and faulty definitions. To simultaneously develop staff expertise, resident’s trust and credibility, and handle personality/leadership conflicts arising from a variety of funders and program implementers across levels of government strikes me as little short of permanent crisis management.

Quoting Joan Walsh once again she comments that Sandtown community development initiatives “couldn’t adequately grapple with the hole at the center of these communities: disinvestment, job flight, wage erosion, the ‘disappearance of work’ (William Julius Wilson). Foundation-driven community-building efforts alone couldn’t power the engines of middle class mobility that helped the white poor and working class move up in the years after World War II“. I would argue it takes more than a job to power community development–but she is absolutely correct in saying without one no one is going anywhere. Sandtown community development confronted a manifestly hostile economic environment not of its making. But, the hollowing out of manufacturing and disinvestment were well-appreciated realities by the 1990’s–they should have been addressed in some ways the foundation-operated programs.

All this makes one wonder if one should equate community-building with nation-building. The comparison is by no means inappropriate. If so a lot of time is required and, if that stands a chance to be successful, the attempt ought to be home-brewed and led. Sandtown, in my opinion was an awkward and clumsy alliance of Policy World and local politics–with local politics seemingly controlling affairs in the neighborhood. This task is so overwhelming execution must be faultless. It wasn’t.

Evaluation Disclosed Some Problems

The Anne E. Casey evaluation was excellent for my purposes–and it concluded with a number of “lessons to be learned”. The report is very positive, totally understanding and sympathetic to the EF/CPB. For those who step back, the six lessons are a devastating critique. For me, the connecting links in these six lessons were the clash of cultures and the perils of community (nation)-building.

Some outsiders thought the community lacked sophisticated leaders, but many residents thought  the neighborhood already had many talented individual, organizations, and informal networks … Differences in partner’s assumptions about leadership intensified as NT (neighborhood transformation) moved toward implementation and as pressures mounted to produce results. [Lesson 1, p. 21]

In Sandtown-Winchester, NT leaders viewed the community structure as weak, so they created their own intermediary organizations to implement change. By not investing in indigenous organizations, or using them strategically, however, NT missed an opportunity to build grassroots capacity and ownership” [Lesson 2, p. 21]

Please grab your copy and make your own judgments, of course–but for me one quote captures how culture affected the CPB Sandtown transformation and even permeated Casey’s evaluation:

Unfortunately, a failure to meet goals can undermine stakeholders faith [“stakeholders”–I thought they were neighborhood residents or “people”], especially in poor communities that have borne the disappointment of broken promises before. When Rouse and Mayor Schmoke failed to produce quick results, some residents assumed it was because they didn’t care about the community. This experience suggests that it is essential to manage stakeholder’s expectations so that they both believe that change is possible and see concrete evidence that it can occur“. [Lesson 3, p. 22]

“MANAGE STAKEHOLDERS EXPECTATIONS”–who is in charge of this initiative? Where is the community in this relationship? I am not playing semantics here-this was a top-down initiative no matter who participated in goal-setting, who is on the board of directors, or how many residents are hired.

To me comprehensive community development can be just a notch away from class war–or at least a war between two cultures. How would a foundation board of directors and staff feel and react to a group of out-of-town unemployed low-mods taking over their foundation and instructing them on how to think, act, and conduct themselves in the foundation’s organizational environment. Sandtown Residents and community developers live in two radically different worlds with different value systems and desired goals. Was this endeavor doomed from the start?

Conclusion: Two Incompatible Cultures

That brings us to wonder as to whether there exists two styles or versions of community development. The Sandtown experience shows that two quite distinct forces were at work–a Sandtown community development initiative and a Policy World, foundation-led and staffed initiative. Keeping the two together, as in nation-building, seemed a lost cause from the start. The fragility, personalism and opportunism of locally-driven community development, just wasn’t up to the task. Without local support, the Policy World community development drifted, came under local attack, and simply was overwhelmed. I wonder if a sufficiently durable alliance between the two styles of community development is “a bridge too far”.

Are the cultures, if not at war with each other,  are they in any case fundamentally incompatible? Let’s explore how far apart these two cultures are by setting up a Weberian ideal type contrasting a Policy World-driven comprehensive community development initiative with an Organic neighborhood resident approach.

  • The Policy World approach: rationalistic, conceptual, research-dependent, written, national, attack disease, bureaucratic, resource-driven, and long-term
  • The Neighborhood Organic Working/Lower Class: charismatic-non-rational, emotion-based, personal experience, oral, local, fix problems, ad hoc, people-dependent and immediate.

The gap in the goals desired by each is even more massive:

  • “cosmic” (poverty, inequality, powerless, competence, justice)


  • “concrete” (a job, a decent safe place to live, dignity, troubleshooting, fairness, respect).

How on earth can there be a shared agenda when one speaks Greek the other Chinese–when one shoots for the moon while the other tries to cross the street. Moreover, the distance between two is not closed when one seeks to make the other more “competent”. There are very real status and power differences implied in such a relationship.

The disjuncture of Weberian style charismatic versus bureaucratic/rational is startling and obvious–the NTI, I think without realizing it, built into itself an internal war of conflicting leadership styles that warped its subsequent decision-making. Organic community leadership is usually charismatic and political; Policy World community development leadership is rational and bureaucratic. Good luck making them work together. A “shared agenda” is nothing less than an impossible dream.



Your extensive research/analysis is appreciated, though I must offer a different point-of-view based upon my knowledge/experience in this field, for whatever it’s worth to your readers.

This “teachable hour for economic developers” raises a red flag due to the fact that the conventional view of an “economic developer” in all planning, political, business, & academic circles is someone who is dedicated to the built environment. This activity is private sector enterprise, and not the primary focus for those in the “economic development” field in the public sector, whose “enterprise” is to raise standards of living and quality of life outcomes. After all, “economic development” is a public term. Consequently, we continue to see the mashing of a proper public term embedded into the private sector, so that we have the Chambers of Commerce touting their “economic development” successes, when their mission in life is to promote private enterprise for their membership.

Using this logic, city gov’t should tout their success in creating an affordable housing company, for example in Toledo, Ohio, hiring contractors and subs to brag about their “economic development” capabilities. They can also adopt private sector terms & activities to talk about P&L Statements, stock prices, and leveraged buy-outs. If the private sector can hijack a public term to enhance their bottom line, why can’t the public sector do the same, and use private terms to embellish their business credentials? It’s all absurd, and no one says a word about it.

True “economic developers” need to understand that their primary job is to “move the needle” in socioeconomic, real, terms. We need the metrics and protocols to go with it. No where do you mention the value and necessity for upward mobility opportunities, the need for transparency, and accountability in financial monitoring or auditing reports. How do the community stakeholders define success? What benchmarks are they vying to achieve at a minimum? The private sector should join in these goals as a complementary, strategic force, but regrettably does not happen often enough.

No where is there mention of community economic developers and their legitimate role in this process. I do not agree that “community development” (can) include physical development or redevelopment or that it deals with power relationships and social imbalances. And I certainly do not agree that “traditional economic development” is “content to generate economic growth and prosperity” — this is a very simple, dated notion, which is contrary to anything relating to CED practice. The contented ones are those who took public funds from their P3 projects and made their money via those “change agent(s). . . who interact with the working/lower class”, but where are the corresponding public benefits or socioeconomic outcomes? Where is the accountability from these change agents?

Finally, this binary construct between Weberian Policy World vs. the Neighborhood Organic Working/Lower Class is too simplistic to make sense of; it implies that neighborhood stakeholders do not know what they want or what they are doing, and it implies that policy wonks are too conceptual to make concrete progress in real terms.

Those of us who delve into “economic development” issues need to be on the same page in conceptual, basic planning terminology terms, to begin with, and share the conviction that public terms are not interchangeable with private terms; our metrics, goals, methodologies, and ideal outcomes are not the same either. Based on what I’ve read here, I do not see what “economic developers” can learn from the Baltimore Sandtown experience except that they are out of their league in community economic development terms.


Comment by Fernando Centeno, CED on September 15, 2015 at 3:34 pm

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