This week, urban policy leaders arrived in the nation's capitol to launch the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development ("the Institute"), a venture of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). LISC Executive Director Michael Rubinger, Julia Stasch of the MacArthur Foundation, Robert Weissbourd, Richard Baron, and other innovators in the field of community development lent their voices to a chorus of support for the Institute. A clearinghouse for research, performance evaluation, and sharing of community development best practices, the Institute will inform and improve upon community development work across the country and policies coming out of Washington.
Why an institute? In the words of Julia Stasch, "[it] responds to a need and it will lead." By providing information that will enable practitioners and policy makers to better serve communities, the Institute will empower stakeholders to effectively respond to, and enhance, the way people live; to build healthy, sustainable and equitable cities for the 21st century.
The timing for this collaborative effort could not be better. As the White House Office of Urban Affairs works alongside the Domestic Policy Council to create comprehensive federal programming that will support sustainable planning and integrated initiatives at the local and regional level, who better to learn from than the community drivers who have a proven track record of creating resilient, vibrant and inclusive communities?
For federal policy makers, the Institute will provide evidence that will help to operationalize the philosophy that strong neighborhoods are central to strong regions. In the words of Senior White House official Xavier de Souza Briggs, efforts likes these enable us to "take stock of what we have to offer and how we measure success." For example, several launch attendees were excited by the prospect of having the Institute play a larger role in defining measures that will quantify the impact of planning grants and other federal programs, to understand if our work is moving the needle to improve the lives of residents and the quality of the neighborhoods in which they live.
The Institute will also provide a platform, or a network, to strengthen the linkages between communities and help build lasting capacity to shift and adapt to new realities. The recent economic downturn places a premium on these types of networks which can help make neighborhoods more resilient to economic shock and bring multiple resources to bear upon the visioning process for a more prosperous future. As a broker, the Institute has the potential to empower community practitioners to apply pressure for more systemic and structural reforms, locally and nationally, that will improve communities.
The Institute provides a refreshing and critical community voice, a deep bench of intellectual prowess, and practical on-the-ground experience to share with us here in Washington, and to paraphrase one former community organizer – I am fairly certain the ways of Washington will never be the same.