Reclaiming Inner City Neighbourhoods: Land, Capital, Community

Today’s mail brought an antidote to gloom, with an e-message from the New Economics Institute opening with Jane Jacobs’ understanding of cities as:

“ a lively web of relationships, fomenting, and then bursting into exuberant episodes of import-replacement — creating jobs, building economic resilience. Of necessity, this fomentation relies on a base of local access to land, local access to capital, and strong community.”

‘Import replacement’ resonates with Colin Hines’ work on progressive protectionism and the question of ‘local access to capital’ reminds the writer of the ‘not-for-personal profit’ Aston Reinvestment Trust.

Constraints of time, money and environmental impact will inhibit readers’ acceptance of the invitation of the New Economics Institute, but we hope that a Skype connection will be available.

NEI President Bob Massie and Director of Education Susan Witt offer the opportunity to come and learn about innovation in theory and practice taking place in the United States.

Two examples are the Dudley Street Neighbourhood Initiative in Massachusetts and the Green Village Initiative in Connecticut.

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston, has secured and maintained local access to land through forming a community land trust in the early 1980s, providing sites  for local home ownership, commercial buildings, and community spaces via 99 year leases:

“Through a detailed and continuing democratic planning process, residents of the neighborhood determine development criteria, balancing residential, business, and public use of the land, and shaping the character of their corner of the larger city.

”Dudley Street relies on and fosters active citizen engagement leading to organization of other community programs in education, nutrition, job creation, and deepening of cultural roots.”

This project brings to mind the work of many who have presented Birmingham UK’s Eastside Ecohub Community Land Trust Proposal.

The Green Village Initiative started as a citizen group in Westport, Connecticut, committed to building edible gardens in city schools. It later established a community farm as an educational center and went on to connect area restaurants with local farmers, buying in quantity, ‘growing jobs’. Other suburban towns in this wealthy Connecticut seacoast area followed Westport’s model with similar programs.

Members of Green Village Initiative offered their skills, time and capital to the Bridgeport School District to build edible gardens in all the city’s schools. Listening and learning while working with parents and students, they recognized the need for decent manufacturing jobs for area residents. Convening a group of Bridgeport’s successful small business owners as mentors, they are now helping to fund, through a combination of loans and grants, what they hope is the first of several successful employee-owned businesses.

The first business recycles mattresses. The process yields cotton, wood, metal, and decent work while reducing the amount of incineration in a community with high asthma rates.

GVI is in the process of signing a lease for 1.5 acres of city property to grow food in quantities sufficient to service the City of Bridgeport’s school cafeterias.

New partnerships in New Haven are expanding GVI’s reach and influence as a model of citizen initiative linking an abundance of skills and wealth with an abundance of willing workers and an urban infrastructure ready to support new production.

Dudley Street and Green Village Initiatives will be presenting workshops at the Strategies for a New Economy Conference, June 8th-10th at Bard College – above. The growing list of conference speakers on the Conference Speakers Page and background materials by theme can be checked on the Conference Resource Pages: http://neweconomicsinstitute.org/conference/resource/index

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