During economic downturns, funding from private companies, foundations, and government grants usually wane.  So what ideas from other organizations can we borrow that can help community development corporations sustain neighborhood revitalization initiatives and diversify their funding source?

Why do people include certain organizations in their wills and trusts?  One reason is at one point their lives were profoundly transformed by those organizations’ work.  They have an emotional connection with those organizations that have been a part of their lives.  They value what those organizations do.  They believe that even after they pass on, a part of them will continue to do good.  They believe that their heirs are well-off enough.  They might not have anyone else to pass their assets to.

Cancer foundations, faith based organizations, and university foundations have long marketed—and benefited from—planned giving.  Some organizations even have specialists to actively market the effort and guide the legal process.

In addition to increased funding, those organizations also benefited from having a more diversified funding source.  An over reliance on a few sources can mean that when the funders are not doing so well, the survivability of the recipients and their initiatives might be jeopardized.

As related to neighborhood revitalization, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is one such organization that capitalizes on those benefits. PHS helps improve the quality of life, creates a sense of community through horticulture, and uses innovative greening strategies to improve neglected urban properties.  To support those efforts in the future, PHS offers bequests, trusts, and life insurance policies as planned giving options.

All those reasons point to why CDCs should actively market planned giving as part of their long-term funding strategies.


The PHS planned giving webpage is at http://www.pennsylvaniahorticulturalsociety.org/supportphs/planned.html.


As economic and population declines continue to plague shrinking cities, a number of them are adopting greening plans to combat the vacant land and blight problems.  Two of those plans are Rochester’s Project Green: From Blight to Bright (soon to be made public) and Detroit’s Leaner, Greener Detroit (Nov. 2008).  They all stress greening strategies, but what are some of the plans’ strengths and weaknesses?  And, perhaps more importantly, what can other shrinking cities take from these plans when they craft theirs?


Rochester’s Project Green examines different housing and demolition scenarios to tackle its housing crisis, provides vacant land strategies, and proposes green corridors that reflect the historic streetcar routes.  Beside the brief mentions of parks, land banking, land leasing for various uses, and energy generation as vacant land strategies, the plan devotes much attention to community gardens.  The green corridors would connect neighborhoods and downtown, enhance recreation opportunities, provide wildlife habitats, and manage stormwater.


Leaner, Greener Detroit emphasizes urban form, sustainable transportation, economic development strategies, urban agriculture, and sustainable energy.  The proposed urban form involves enhancing the urban core and reconfiguring the use of land to promote high-density, mix-use and mix-income developments.  Sustainable transportation, which includes transit, bicycle, and pedestrian modes, would link neighborhoods and land uses.  The economic development section lays out a framework for a 10-year economic development plan into three phases that capitalize on human capital, existing and future assets.  The Detroit plan wants to bring to scale urban agriculture so it can provide economic and workforce development, on top of localized food production.  The plan also establishes phases to achieve the urban agriculture goals.


It appears the Rochester plan functions like a traditional greening plan, where as the Detroit plan functions more like a comprehensive plan.  That major difference is what separates a narrow-focused traditional plan that addresses last century’s problems from a more comprehensive, integrated plan that tackles 21st Century challenges of sustainability that all cities will invariably face.  Greening plans should not limit their focus to parks, community gardens, corridor beautification, and single-purpose vacant land strategies.  Food, urban form, transportation, economic development, environmental sustainability, energy, and social issues are critical challenges of the 21st Century and beyond.  Further, those issues form an intricate web within which any one issue relates with all others.  A more comprehensive greening plan not only tackles the challenges, but it also allows planners and decision makers to see before them the relationships between the challenges and facilitates more integrated planning.


Let’s look at some elements of the Rochester plan.  Project Green advocates for community gardens, but it stops short on taking the idea further.  There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a more detailed, longer-term plan on scaling the idea into urban agriculture that serves as part of an economic and workforce development strategy, in addition to localized food production.  The plan does a good job on proposing the historic streetcar lines as future green corridors, but it fails to advance the full potential of the idea.  Future commitments for major green corridors are toward bicycle and pedestrian facilities, aesthetics, and stormwater management, and those are good commitments.  But how do the future urban form and the mix of land uses relate to those corridors?  Should density be clustered around those corridors to maximize the use and investments?  As for economic development, there is not a section that speaks at length about the goals and separates potential strategies into manageable phases.


The Rochester plan notes, “It is…an occasion to lay the foundation for the next 175 years.”  There is not much of a foundation with such a conservative, narrow-focused plan that aims not for the stars but for the hills.


If we are going to plan for the future, then let it be more comprehensive, integrated, and meaningful planning to tackle the core issues of the 21st Century and beyond.





Read about Leaner, Greener Detroit at http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek09/0710/0710n_sdat_detroit.cfm.  The Rochester plan, once it has been made public, will have a link from here.

It takes but several days to turn a vacant building into rubbles, rubbles into leveled ground, and leveled ground into a green lawn that appears it has been there for years. Recently the media has brought the demolition strategy into mainstream debate. So how do citizens benefit from the strategy?

ABC aired its Nightline News: “Realty Check,” a story about strategic demolition in Flint, MI, a couple days ago. You know the story: GM left town, then went the jobs, then went the mortgage payments and owners—leaving about 10,000 homes vacant, dragging down surrounding properties’ value. Flint is having as many as 4 boarded-up vacant homes backhoed per day to address that and other problems. Several days later those vacant homes turned into lawns. Surrounding homeowners are supportive of the strategy for an obvious reason: when dilapidated structures go down, other properties’ value goes up. For declining cities like Flint, the story presents valid reasons of why the strategy is necessary.

Beside the potential to increase surrounding properties’ value, there is another point to be gained from the story. People will unlikely support something if they do not experience the benefits. People care first the impact on their dinner table. So what does this say about shrinking cities strategies that do not directly provide tangible, meaningful benefits to economically distressed families and communities? How long can strategies that focus on ecological sustainability be sustained if people do not experience the benefits and, as a result, do not provide adequate support to keep the programs going? This is not to say that ecological sustainability strategies are not important. Rather, those strategies also need to provide economic benefits to the people in distressed communities.


View ABC’s Nightline News: “Realty Check” at http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/Business/shrink-survive-rust-belt-city-bulldozes-vacant-homes/story?id=8936668.

How can we fix the failure?

Shrinking cities have been plagued by disinvestments for decades, despite the countless interventions by local stakeholders and other entities to stem the decline. The question is not so much why are the strategies not effective, but it is where in the decision making chain is the link the weakest. Those who failed to accept that their cities have a shrinkage problem are the weakest links. If decision makers do not acknowledge that the problem has existed, planning for the challenge is difficult at best. So how can we fix the failure?

A number of articles have been written about right-sizing strategies, how to spend NSP funds, public involvement, and so forth. However, shrinking cities-related articles and research are far and few, if any, on how to convince elected officials that there is an emergency. So where can practitioners find ideas on how to fix the failure?

Solutions to society’s problems are either new and innovative, or familiar ones that have been adapted from other purposes. For instance, sea shells are just that, but at one time people used them for currency. Clay has been used for pottery for centuries, and now it has been adapted as heat shield for space shuttles. The attributes of traditional towns have inspired people to borrow from those ideas to design today’s New Urbanist communities. Parks used to be at ground level, but within the last several decades people in urban environment have adapted them to rooftops. And now, one of the shrinking cities strategies is to demolish blighted properties and turn them into park space.

So from where and whom could practitioners draw ideas to fix the failure? Could it be from Capitol Hill lobbyists who have done so well at convincing politicians to support their self-serving agendas? From psychological warfare strategies? From books on how to sell your ideas? Unlikely sources should not be discounted as inspirations and ideas could come from anywhere. So how can we fix the failure?