Recently we have seen a flurry of impressive activity at the level of city government, all around policies designed to build community wealth and encourage the growth of cooperative local economies. It's encouraging to see that the work of grassroots developers, local foundations, community activists, and field builders is beginning to gain a foothold in the world of municipal policy. While certainly many of the models that have currently proven themselves on the ground have done so with the invaluable support and close cooperation of local policymakers, what's new and exciting in 2014 is the way an increasing number of city governments are stepping into leadership roles and catalyzing new projects and initiatives.
Concentrated urban poverty remains a pressing issue; 2012 data shows that nearly one in six people living in major metropolitain areas lives below the poverty line. In Jacksonville, Florida — the state's most populated city and, geographically, the largest in the contiguous United States — Mayor Alvin Brown has the distinction of being not only the first African American to hold his position, but is also the first mayor in the United States to commission and convene a Community Wealth Building Roundtable to explore comprehensive approaches to tackling this problem head on.
The Roundtable process (in which The Democracy Collaborative participated as consultants to the city) brought community leaders together with institutional stakeholders for a conversation about steps that could be taken to redeploy existing assets strategically to transform the economic situation on the ground in Northwest Jacksonville, where generational poverty has resulted from historical patterns of disinvestment.
This video shows highlights of the Roundtable — including some of the best moments with community leaders from Cleveland, Ohio; Washington DC; Amarillo, Texas; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who talked about their experiences with initiatives designed to build community wealth through transformative local economic development (like Cleveland's Evergreen Cooperatives). Our just-released report to the city identifies key strategies for building off these conversations to develop a comprehensive wealth building initiative.
Jacksonville isn't the only city getting excited by community wealth building; the first Office of Community Wealth Building in the country was recently opened by Mayor Dwight Jones in Richmond, Virginia. (Coincidentally, the other Richmond, in California, is also part of the municipal-level community wealth building story, with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin one of the first US mayors to support worker cooperative development!) In Virginia, the new office, with a budget of $3.5 million, and headed by former Democracy Collaborative researcher Thad Williamson, will be actively working to isolate opportunities to build community wealth across traditional city government silos.
Cooperatives: An Effective Economic Development Strategy
Cooperatives in particular seem to be gaining new recognition as an effective economic development strategy that keeps capital anchored locally while democratizing ownership. In Austin, the city council recently worked with the Austin Cooperative Business Association (ACBA), one of the new local cooperative alliances developed under the aegis of the National Cooperative Business Association, to draft and pass a resolution highlighting the positive impact of Austin's 40+ cooperatives, and directing the City Manager "to convene stakeholders to develop recommendations that detail ways the city can promote the development of new and existing cooperative businesses."
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Something similar is happening in New York City, where, with the support of Mayor De Blasio's Director of Industrial and Income Mobility Initiatives at the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Miquela Craytor, and numerous members of the City Council, $1.2 million has been allocated to spur the development of new worker cooperatives, specifically targeting low-income and minority residents. This initiative follows an excellent and forward thinking report by the Federation of Protestant Worker Cooperatives highlighting the unique power of worker cooperatives to create both jobs and asset building opportunities in historically marginalized communities; our own new report, Worker Cooperatives: Pathways To Scale, makes the policy case for supporting worker cooperatives more generally.
This article was reprinted from Shareable
About the Author
Community-Wealth.org is a project of The Democracy Collaborative. The goal of the Democrary Collaborative is to change the prevailing paradigm of economic development – and of the economy as a whole – toward a new emphasis and system based on: Broadening ownership and stewardship over capital; Democracy at the workplace; Stabilizing community and emphasizing locality; Equitable and inclusive growth; Environmental, social, and institutional sustainability. Their commitment is to advance a new understanding of democracy for the 21st century. Community-Wealth.org brings together, for the first time, information about the broad range of community wealth building activity.
Gar Alperovitz marshals years of research into emerging "new economy" strategies to present a comprehensive picture of practical bottom-up efforts currently underway in thousands of communities across the United States. All democratize wealth and empower communities, not corporations: worker-ownership, cooperatives, community land trusts, social enterprises, along with many supporting municipal, state and longer term federal strategies as well. America Beyond Capitalism is a call to arms, an eminently practical roadmap for laying foundations to change a faltering system that increasingly fails to sustain the great American values of equality, liberty and meaningful democracy.
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