Organizational Capacity Building

Candace LaRue and Associates

Promise neighborhoods panel live blog post #CICSUMMIT

Michael McAfee

Measuring Performance for Promise Neighborhoods: Collecting Data and Reporting Results

Promise Neighborhoods is a current opportunity to work on a core set of results over a period of time. It is grounded in 10 results and 15 indicators. The implementation grant competition is built from a results framework. Indicators are focused on education, communities, and supports. The intention is to use the neighborhood as a unit to advance guiding principles: working at scale (serving all of the children in the neighborhood) and creating a culture of accountability. Many of these principles are similar to the Harlem Children’s Zone. There are right now 5 implementation Grantees working over 5 years. All PN Grantees are following a cradle-college-career strategy. He do we weave systems of support to address the complete continuum. We understand what data will tell us if we don’t learn from past experience. So what? PN is not a new idea, nor is it a silv bullet. It should not be divisive in your community. promise Neighborhoods can hold all of that. If we are doing good cradle to career work, we will be building organizations that can deliver. It is easy to ask for results and to move indicators, but it is hard to ask if we are insetting in organizations to be able to deliver.

The framework: define the neighborhood, identify partners, develop contracts for accountability, capitalize on partnerships to really deliver over the long term. It is difficult for organizations to fund administrative capacity such as data system and days system management. It is important to think about what it really takes to do this work. W have to include all the stake holders, including children, parents, teachers, service providers, and policy makers. It is important to think early on about how each partner will contribute. How do non-profits do the work? How should funders be funding it? And how can policy makers remove variables? There is nothing special about PN…it only becomes special when we do something about it. What makes it special is what we do with it in communities.

The PN institute at PolicyLink was established to provide technical support to PN Grantees. This includes getting the federal appropriation every year, and possibly to make it permanent. They are working to build communities of practice by bringing Grantees together at least 3 times per year. We provide technical assistance – one on one coaching, reports, gathering resources together. How do we build national infrastructure so we can mature as a field? We should not be building new databases and governance structures every time there is a new opportunity. We should be building capacity so these things don’t have to be recreated. Some communities were struggling with data systems, especially those who did not have high capacity regarding data. PNI purchased licenses for Grantees from Social Solutions, so they could hold some of that capacity in their organization. The data system has allowed there to be a common conversation. The data needs to be aggregated to track data at the national level. The PN communities are using a common data platform, working on the same results and indicators, and using the same framework for action. How do communities develop the capacity to do this work at this scale? Some of the capacity needs to be held as national infrastructure. A cradle to career strategy suggests a 20 year commitment – but where is the 20 year investment? If we can invest in PN strategies over the long term then we can achieve results and scale up the work that needs to be done to move an indicator, and build the capacity of organizations so they can move beyond failed models. In congress, people have read all about what non-profits want to do, but where are the results? This is an opportunity to build capacity, to learn to have different conversations, and move beyond this. Promise Neighborhoods is a funding stream and strategy, and it should be used with all the other good work being done in a community.

Jennifer Comey: Data Technical Assistance for Promise Neighborhoods

She is part of the National Indicators Project in DC, and has worked with the DC Promise Neighborhood initiative for 2 years (now moving forward to implementation). The Urban Institute was awarded a contract to provide national technical assistance.

Goals of presentation:
– review efforts to assist PN implementation sites with data definition and data collection
– describe required performance measurement for PN
– Lost potential sources of data
– challenges for data collection and evaluation (place-based initiative)

Task 1: data definitions
– common data definition and methods of collection
— project and program indicators
— implementation indicators
— neighborhood indicators
— various levels of observation: individual, school, and neighborhood
– technical working group

The department of education did not provide a data system or a specific set of requirements around data indicators. The Grantees were able to identify what they thought about data collection, and the UI worked to create commonality among Grantees. Grantees were required to set up a longitudinal data system, which became a case management system. Grantees also need to understand how the neighborhood is changing over time.


1. Enter kindergarten ready
2. proficient in core subjects
3. successful transition from Ms to HS
4. graduate from HS
5. high school graduates obtain post secondary degree, citric action, or credential (without the need for remediation)


6. Students are healthy
7. Students feel safe at school and in their community
8. Students live in stable communities
9. Families and community members support learning in PN schools
10. Students have access to 21st century learning tools

Potential Sources for GPRA Indicators
1. Individual administrative data
2. Aggregated administrative data
3. Neighborhood survey
4. School climate survey

Urban Institute will be publishing a guidance document. At the beginning for UI, the goal was individual level data, but that wouldn’t necessarily allow Grantees to measure the broader neighborhood rather than just people participating in programs.

Case Management Data System
– track participants, services received, and programs on goals
– coordinate and communicate between programs and solutions
– determine effective solutions and make changes

All PN sites are a partnership of multiple organizations, state, local, and non-profit. It is very difficult to create a unified case management data system due to confidentiality, sensitivity, etc.

Task 2: National Promise Neighborhood TA
– TA for sites to collect GPRA indicators and other programmatic performance data
– TA for local data systems

This includes TA on issues of surveys, IRB issues, etc.

Task 3: National PN efforts
– collect grantee data and prepare are restricted – use data files for researchers
– developing code book and documentation of files
– risk disclosure analysis

Task 4: National PN Efforts
– annual performance reports
— develop databae to collect GPRA indicator data
— TA for forms
__ analysis of baseline data and eventual performance in GPRA indicators in aggregate

1. Tension between place-based vs project-based initiative
2. era of school choice
3. people move – do the successful families succeed and move out?
4. penetration rates are expected to increase
5. formative evaluation as opposed to a random experimental design

Alison Churilla and Paul Mattessich: Promise Neighborhood, Strive, and MN compas: Lessons from the Nascent Implementation of Data-Driven Cradle to Career Initiatives

Michael started with a conceptual framework, and Jennifer presented a methodological framework. How do you get this to work in a community? How do you work with multiple languages, or competing political interests, or when people believe the computers can do everything for them? wilder has worked with 2 Promise Neighborhoods projects and a STRIVE project, navigating these challenges.


Data is meant to tell a story, and MN compass is more than just an indicator project – these are people, individuals, and communities. MN compass provides unbiased, credible information curated by the topic area advisement groups. For example, there is an advisement group for Education with a variety of stakeholders to tell them what information they need to do their job and improve life. MN Compass provides a set of key measures that tell an initial story and the “tip of the iceberg” on these measures. The data is “cut” by different demographics, I.e. race and ethnicity, age, gender, and income. MN Compass also provides additional resources/information – I.e.evidence-based programs.

Information is kept as up to date as possible, as a we based tool – MN Compass

There are three types of PN indicators – Community Outcome Indicators, Promise Neighborhood Outcome Indicators, and Process indicators

COI – education level of workforce, crime rates, property rate, etc
PNI – achievement scores, graduation rates, etc
PI – use of navigators, participation in out-of-school time activities, etc (longitudinal database)

Putting together a team that can gather all these types of data require different skill sets.

Creating indicators is science, politics, and art.

Note: these are my notes from the presentation, not my opinion. In the case of Jennifer Comey, the notes follow her power point very closely (as did her presentation).

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Lyle Wray measurement framework and the evolution of our field #CICSUMMIT

A conceptual framework is the basis for many theories. We have implicit ways of organizing data. It is a group of concepts that provides a focus and a rationale – what is important and why is it important. We are drowning in data. On the train ride up here, everyone was looking at a screen. How to you integrate these massive amounts of data? How do you know this is important? We develop our frameworks through word models.

The Thomas Acquinas used a framework to make room for science 800 years ago. They have a variety of domains (economic, environment, etc). An example is sustainability – that has a very broad framework. Frameworks are nested from local to broad. We need to figure out indicators that next from a neighborhood to the world. Instead we have a Tower of Babel where the data doesn’t work well together. It is important to be able to both nest and disaggregate data. We have incompatible layers. Frameworks have different time frames – some things change quickly, some change slowly. For example, dashboards are short term but reports are long term. Frameworks may be based on individual measures, portfolio measures, or composites. Portfolio measures may be collapsed into an index.

Domains – from simple to direct. Some measures are direct measures (like birthweight) and others are complex and based on theoretical judgment. For example, if someone gets shot, it increases the GDP – what is wrong with this picture? We need a broader measure of social well-being, like the Fordham measure. An example of nesting is being able to understand local sustainability in a global context.

Composites or singular indicators? It depends on what we want to measure. Higher level indicators are helpful to communicate. If you don’t have them, you are “down in the weeds” and can’t see the overall effect. But, then the issue is the selection and weight of elements in the index. What is the decision process for developing the measures? An example is the Legatim Prosperity Index created for France by Stiglitz and Sen. The US 12th in this index. You can “drill down” to individual elements and countries and then aggregate up to the world and the composite index.

The triple bottom line is another framework – economic performance, social performance, environment performance.

Another example is the Paul Epstein cause and effect chart on childhood obesity. They identified six major causes of obesity – prenatal practices, genetics, early feeding, environment, lifestyle, and policy. The cause and effect chart provides a way to identify an intervention approach on what might be more “moveable.” This is in contrast to the “intervention du jour.” Unless you have an understanding causes and effects, it is easier to “peddle” interventions that do not have evidence to support them.

Another example – the Balanced scorecard framework (see Kaplan and Norton 1996). This gives multiple perspectives that need to be looked at at the same time – financial, customer, internal business processes, learning and growth. Vision and strategy is at the center. One perspective is not enough. Learning and growth implies that organizations need to get better all the time, not have the same problems all the time. Internal business processes ask how much it costs the business to “get it out the door.” The customer perspective highlights customer relationships. This framework goes beyond the financial perspective, but organizations that have adopted it do better than those that focus on financials only.

What are the benefits of frameworks? Analysis – comparison across communities, analysis and synthesis cycle, scope and scale, point to prospective indicators. Where are we, what are we doing, and what do we know? Communication – common language, points attention to important elements (example of checklists for important repetitive tasks like preparing for surgery), improves communication, organize to understand 5+- 2 (this is how much we can understand at one time). This allows us to communicate with a common language while avoiding starting from scratch. Action – point to intervention targets, avoids intervention du jour, select promising practices based on comparison data (omega squared – powerful variables, not the ones that you have to tease and twist to identify impacts). How do we actually get things to change? We need to use our frameworks to understand what we can do to create change. We need Big Bang variables in order to move achievements of struggling students faster. Frameworks can help point us to the game changing variables.

Frameworks take a while to develop, and there are many evolving frameworks. We need to integrate nested frameworks into the massive among data we have coming down the tubes. Who convenes and how to we make progress on frameworks over time?

Note: these are notes from his talk, not my own opinion.

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Charlotte Khan – data in the context of national and global trends live blog post #CICSUMMIT

Local communities are operating in a global context, and it is important to include that context in our understanding of what is occurring at the local level.

There is an unprecedented rate of change right now, with, for example, population growing more rapidly than ever before. The majority of population growth is in Asia and Africa.

Another important trend is automation in technological change. Today 3 billion people are chasing 1.2 billion jobs, making educational attainment even more important to “outrun robots and computers.”

In 2010, a report came out on global reading scale scores. The USA was 17th, but unpacking by race and ethnicity, White and Asian students were towards the top of the list, but Black and Latino students ranked in the 40s. This achievement gap is not acceptable.

How did we get here? Betwee 1947 and 1979, there was broad based prosperity. People at the bottom of the distribution benefited most. Since then, productivity has increased but wages have been essentially flat. Inequality has widened, and people at the top have benefited from growth but people at the bottom have suffered (note – this is partially because gains in productivity from technology are attributed to the capital, owned by the wealthy)

In the last decade, corporate taxes have gone down, profits have gone up, and job growth/creation has been going down. Moreover, the economy has been incredibly volatile with a rapid boom and bust cycle. The US economy is 70% dependent on consumer spending. In 2007, there was record- low savings and record high spending. By going to school, getting an education, and buying a home, people ended up in debt. When the housing market softened, we fell off an “economic cliff” into the Great Recession. What we need to understand in terms of our communities is that this recession has created a widening of inequality in the nation and in communities. Latinos, Asians, and African Americans have all lost more assets due to the housing bust than Whites.

This last recession has popped a bubble we were all living in, and “nothing will ever be the same again.” We need to be creating new jobs that will create sustainable wealth for families.

An example of this “longest bubble” is Health Care, with health care costs going up much faster than wages. And yet, even though we are spending so much on health care, obesity has doubled between 1995 and 2007. Our health outcomes, also, are lagging behind other industrialized countries, including life expectancy. Health care spending is also crowding out other investment – health care costs rose 75% in the MA budget from 2010-2011. We are waistline about 1/3 of health care expenditures on unnecessary or harmful health care expenditure – in MA, eliminating that expense would more than make up for the Budget Gap.

The US has the highest level of income inequality and lowest mobility rate among our peers.

In comparison with our wealthy developed peer nations, Americans are: the most personally indebted, incarcerated, unequal, obese, pay the most for health care, most energy, least inter generational mobility.

The young population is increasingly made up of people of color. If we don’t fix achievement gaps, we are in trouble. Cities in the Us are increasingly vulnerable to climate change, such as flooding an drought.

We need new ways of working. We need shared indicators, regional alignment on charged goals and a civic agenda. We need to use open source data analysis and visualization software, such as Weave, so we can communicate data to our communities and take advantage of the open data movement. We need to help our communities to put data together in such a way that the data can give them a handle on what is happening and traction on what the solutions can be.

Please note: these are my notes from her presentation, not my own opinion (except for where I started the statement with “note:”)

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#nei2012 Sharing Common Wealth

Peter Barnes

This workshop is related to the themes of institutions – we need to build new economic institutions if we want a new economy. Second, ownership forms are important – worker, public ownership. This workshop is about common ownership, ownership by all citizens in a community collectively through an intermediary institution like a trust, but not state ownership as in the government owning something. The government has a role in creating trusts, but they are self-governing, not agents of the state.

There are a few fundamental features of trust organizations.

1) trusteeship. The organization must preserve its common asset for future generations. There are plenty of organizations that already do that. Trustees have a legally binding fiduciary responsibility.
2) Charge rent for use of the common asset, and to share that rent with the beneficial owners, which in the case of common wealth is all of us, equally.

“Common Wealth” is similar to a “commons,” which is often thought of as a space or system that many people share like the commons where we had breakfast, a pasture, or the Internet. Common wealth is shared economic wealth as in property rights to assets that have value, but assets that are shared and held by all of us out there. At the moment it is invisible, unorganized, and unprotected. The first step is to identify the assets, organize them, assign property rights, and in most cases limit use and charge rent. Finally, the rent needs to be shared.

Capitalism has a couple of serious systemic flaws, including that it fails to internalize “externalities” and destroys nature. Nature is priced at zero. The second flaw is that it sucks income and wealth to a small elite at the top. Part of coming up with a new economy involves new forms of ownership that are much more widely spread, doing that without increasing the size of government.

Common ownership of common wealth is the key to preserving vital ecosystems and sustaining a large middle class in the United States in the 21st century.

Neither markets nor government can actually manage common resources. No institution is accountable to nature or future generations, in the market or in the state. Private corporations a accountable to shareholders, government may “say” they are accountable to nature, but they are not. At best government is accountable to voters, at worst, to donors. There is a massive agency problem.

There are “valves” to the economy that need to be cranked down to slow growth in the economy. Where are they, and who can turn them down? The answer listed in neither government or the market, but in commonly owned institutions.

Common institutions must share income equally. The question is why share current income equally. Some environmental groups say to spend it on clean energy, not to give results of a carbon tax back to the people because they will just spend it, etc – this is a non-trivial question. If we implement a carbon tax, everything will cost more, so money will come from our pockets. If the income is not shared equally, then how would it be shared? One person-one share is a simple political solution. It also creates a virtual feedback loop, and it aligns current and future generations. If you charge people who are overusing nature, and you distribute the income universally, then future generations get a stable income system but the current generation gets more current income. This also creates a universal ownership society around the environment, creating a virtuous feedback loop. It is in everyones self-interest to charge more for nature and to protect future generations.

If America wants a large middle class in the 21st century, the only way to do it is to supplement labor income with non-labor income.

Jobs alone will not sustain a large middle class because of globalization, automation, and de-unionization.


The origin of the common wealth model dates back to Thomas Paine’s essay “Agrarian Justice.”. There are two kinds of property, private and natural (common). Natural property is a gift to all of us, a birthright, and should be distributed equally. It can be monetized. It doesn’t just mean the physical thing itself, but can be monetized through an institutional framework. Paine proposed a national fund to collect rent (in this case land) and pay universal benefits, one person one share. A national fund is not income redistribution, not charity.. It is Pre-distribution, it is property income from property to which we all have a right.

The Alaska Permanent fund is a new version of this. All governors in Alaska are supportive of the Alaska permanent fund (for obvious reasons…). Profits from oil are paid out in dividends but also invested in an endowment to ensure benefits even after the oil is gone.


we the people own the gas and oil in America…Land and water are he domain of we the people. ~ Bill O’Reilly

Belief in common ownership cuts across democrat and republican divides. There are also tax-based approaches to non-income middle class income, including the earned income tax credit. But these don’t solve the agency problem because it is under congressional control. Taxes are taking from one person to give to another, and is not visible or tangible.


People tend not to notice tax cuts, but a dividend is more visible and tangible.

Institutions endure, but policies come and go. We need a new institution that is a new version of social insurance – like ecological insurance, an institutional way to make the 21st century transition to a sustainable new economy happen. It creates a link between the earth and the middle class. Reducing the disturbance of the earth is linked to distribution of universal non-labor income.

James Boyce

Future of the Commons: The Environment as Common Heritage and Common Property


The principle of common ownership is not just a nice idea, it is a reality being lived around the world. Many societies include a constitutional right to a clean and safe environment, such as the Commonwealth of Massachuestts, Republic of South Africa. This can be juxtaposed to the idea that environmental quality is a commodity or a privilege allocated on the basis of purchasing or political power. The principle of a right to a clean environment is represented in the new environmentalism – protecting nature for people, not from people. It moves beyond sacred groves and sacrifice groves. New environmentalism seeks to defend the zones where people live, work, and play, which were formerly sacrifice zones. This is exemplified in the Environmental Justice movement in the US.

In order to protect the environment means moving from open access to common property. Any attempt to solves problems of open access resources requires the creation of some type of property rights. Examples include regulatory standards, which are asserting a public right to control the environment (polluter pays abatement). Price-based regulation involves extending property rights one step forward (polluter pays abatement, and also pays for the right to pollute). When we move to pricing carbon, a big question is who will get the money. Those who consume more carbon will pay more. A cap-and-dividend policy is a way to enact equal and common ownership of the atmosphere.


The cultivated commons: agricultural biodiversity. Much of the commons on which we depend is really the result of human interaction with the environment in a way that has improved the ability of the environment to sustain life. When we talk about protecting the environment, we are talking about protecting all the good things people have done throughout history with the environment. Biodiversity is maintained by small farmers, mostly in the places of origin of modern crops (such as corn, potatoes, and rice). This biodiversity is a heritage from 400 generations of farmers, and it needs to be protected from enclosure, and to reward the people who maintain that biodiversity for the common good.



With carbon tax, what happens if there is a cap-and-dividend policy within the United State but different prices in China, India, etc? Climate is an international model.

The sky trust is an appealing model throughout the world. Given the difficulties of an international system, there can be systems at smaller levels that can spill over. This policy is not just about global climate change, but also about implementing common ownership.

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#nei2012 Business Innovation and Power in a New Economy

Business Innovation and Power in a New Economy
David Levine, Nathan Gilbert, and Jeffery Hollender

With a small dedicated group, we started with introductions.


Founded Seventh Generation 25 years ago, then left two years ago. The unfinished journey of 7th Generation – the company lived in a paradigm of “less bad products” not “good products.” At the end of the day, the venture investors controlled the fate of the business, not the employees. The company grew too quickly because of personal obsession, with 70% and 50% growths. That type of growth is not sustainable. One of the negatives of fast growth is that you leave people behind. You cannot train people that quickly, so you import talent at higher and higher levels. 7th Generation focused on helping a segment of society already being helped more than most – healthy, wealthy, and well-educated people. Lastly, it was nice to be an exception to the rules, but that was not enough because the rules stay the same. Actually, the rules got worse and worse for the types of businesses we are trying to create. What is the alternative? CommonWise and MIT have been working to create something similar to the Evergreen project in the Bronx with some significant differences, with the mission to maximize the potential for business to create a just, equitable, and regenerative future. The first principle is participatory planning – the local community creating the design for their future. This requires building trust – that he was not just another suit. The next piece is identifying the existing assets in the community. While communities may be poor in the sense that they have low incomes, that does not mean they have no assets. But they may not be able to identify and use those assets productively. It is a mistake to not build on the Pre-existing assets that are there. The education and learning process is critical – how does the local economy actually work? People generally do not understand the notion of the leaky bucket, and how they can live in a way that keeps assets within their community. One of the most exciting parts of what we are doing is raising the consciousness around this concept. A critical part of this is the anchor strategy combined with other aspects. It is not just about creating new businesses – what about converting existing businesses when the owner wants to struggle. Or working with struggling with businesses. The most well-known part of the strategy is using the purchasing power of the anchor institutions to start new, regeneratively, cooperatively owned businesses. We need to work to have a political process that fights against stripping assets away from these communities, this is struggling to be a systemic or holistic approach to building community wealth – not picking a compartment of the problem and trying to tackle that compartment. If we don’t tackle the systemic problem then fixing one aspect of it may just lead to new problems. This project is in its early stage, and we are lucky to be able to learn from projects like in Cleveland.

David – American Sustainable Business Council

ASBC grew out of a policy document on business principles for a sustainable, just economy. The new economy takes many different forms. The way policies get made in this country, policies creating social or environmental benefits are called “bad for business” – but for who’s business? There is a lot of effort to “green” companies, making them more responsible and sustainable, from small to large corporations. The problem is that at the moment none of that had any political power. ASBC is created to drive policy to support sustainability.


ASBC includes individual businesses and business organizations, building an infrastructure across the country about aggregating the power of chambers of commerce, local organizations, etc – within those places is local power. Branding is used to create identity. Where are the points of intersection? Building the new economy is not just about creating the models, but changing the dialogue and addressing power. Showing up with businesses is “different.” ASBC has advocated for policy, including Crowd Funding.


Consumers want healthy, safer products and transparency. Business voices change conversations. There are businesses in every sector working for a New Economy, which is about a connection from many issues – chemical policy reform, financial reform, campaign finance, tax havens, climate and energy policy, new corporate former access to capital, sustainable agriculture, building local economies. Even the most conservative or unknowing politicians are willing to listen when 150,000 businesses are represented. ASBC is represented in lobbying and media representation of sustainable businesses.

Nathan – B Lab

The mission is to harness the power of businesses to solve environmental and social problems. The B Corporation is like a certification for the entire corporation, rather than just one product. The community of B Corps have grown to more than 500 companies, and you can see their scores and impact on the website. This is about building community, more than using the assessment to build performance over time. Working with ASBC, this is about policy advocacy to create a new form called the Benefit Corporation. It is in the business to create general public benefit, and they are accountable to a third party that will evaluate their adherence to this goal. In the current corporate form, the business owners are accountable for maximizing shareholder profits. Businesses themselves want this corporate form. By tapping into associations like ASBC, we are able to tap into legislature to support legislation for this new form. The third initiative is a rating system that will drive more capital to “good businesses.” This is a global rating system working with investment funds and investor. The goal is to create a global community of social entrepreneurs, while also increasing the ability of business’s to attract investors globally and locally. The B Corp has been passed in 8 state, and the goal is all 50, along with other policies supporting B Corps to accelerate the movement (I.e. procurement rules, tax benefits). Many B Corps also follow other ownership forms, like Co-ops.

B Corps still maintain their corporate structure as an LLC, Sole Proprietorship, etc – it just requires that they add statements to their governing documents about stakeholders. The Benefit Corporation is the proposed new legal form. See: and Benefit Corp

Question: have they collected financial indicators to show B Corps are just as or more successful?

Answer: not yet..right now the focus is on impact and practices, but some of those indicators, me job creation, are built in.

We get asked all the time “how many jobs does ‘this’ represent?”

The ASBC is built with a loose network, resilient structure so it can rebuild if it is destroyed.

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#nei2012 Gar Alperovitz. Our Time in History: The Possibility of Fundamental System Change

Summary of the last plenary of the conference – Gar Alperovitz and Alisa Gravitz, Our Time in History: The Possibility of Fundamental System Change

Introductions by Neva Goodwin.

Gar Alperovitz

We are beginning to get a sense that, just possibly, this is an historical occasion. Movements have moments, when they come together somehow, and people sense, just possibly, something shifted. This meeting, by change, by design, by hope, by inspiration, by knowledge, is possibly that moment. It is a time we will say, decades from now, I was there when it started. Just possibly we are laying the foundations for the next great transformation of a vast society, this may be the Pre-history when we lay the foundations of what make it possible for us to move “beyond”. That is a “heavy rap.” That existential question is at the heart if what we are talking about.

Secondly, we do not have any economic problem whatsoever in the United States. We have a massive political, institutional problem on how to manage the wealthiest economy there has every been. It is our problem as citizens who have not learned to manage the economy. There is $192,000 for every family of four, if divided equally. Over the last century, there was a 6 – 7 fold increased in wealth. If we cut the work week to 20 hours, we could still produce almost $100k for every family of four. This is our problem.

The period we have gone through until the mid 70s and 80s was the period when most people believed that the way forward was something like a pendulum or cyclical program. It would swing back and forth but would advance. We thought that things like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act would continue. But now we will not continue on that same tract, on that system. By and large that system allowed the institution of the large corporation to dominate the economy, balanced by politics (liberalism). At the heart of that system, we know, was the labor movement. That was the muscular institution without which you could not elect liberal congressmen or pass liberal legislation. That institution gave enough power to regulate, tax, and reform to a substantial degree. But the labor movement is dying before our eyes in the US. At its peak, 35% of Americans were unioinizex – not it is around 9%-11% and declining. Powers, like collecting dues, are being taken away. This is an institutional power base at the core of a whole regime of programs, and the structure is dying. Times will get worse before they get better. At the core of decline is an institutional problem, including many complex aspects such as racism.

what does that mean?

Obviously, we need to build a new movement, working with each other, reaching across boundaries. W need to build new institutions that can give power and muscle institutionally to our movement, we shall not overcome.

We have lived with two models of change. One is the pendulum swings – that one is decaying. The other model was system collapse and revolution. The second model, in this particular system in our time in history, is also unlikely. The government floor under the economy has increased, and eventually even the most conservatives become Keynesians and use the government to keep the economy from collapse. We tend to “remember the future” and this is a system that neither reforms or collapses in traditional terms. It is stalemated in the political power balances, and stagnating economically. Stalemate, stagnation, and decay – what an odd moment in history.

A paradoxical dynamic is that people wake up and say things like “something is really wrong”. They begin to say there is a profound problem, and we need to think there is something wrong. Climate change is only one part of it – unemployment is also critical. That moment when pele think something is wrong is a critical moment in history. Momentum and power matter more than ideas – except for sometimes, like when people know something is wrong and they want answers that make sense. This period is one where rethinking is possible. Being open to something new, looking at new projects, experiments, and ideas are all possible. An ongoing period of this kind allows us to learn and develop the new way forward where a collapse would not. A period of time where we can develop new things to become institutional, power, preliminaries of the next thing that we build.

The Cleveland model is one example produced through stagnation, stalemate, and decay. Oh has experienced this even earlier than the rest of the country, with the closing of steel mills. The steel workers and religious coalition said they should take over the steel mill and run it themselves. They created a plan, supported by the Carter administration, with a model that would have worked. They were promised a $100 million loan to do it, but they knew that might not come to fruition. They knew they needed to build the idea up even if they lost their battle. The national corporations and steel union went to Washington and fought against them, and the Ohio steelworkers did not get their money. But, in the state of Ohio, you will find more worker-owned companies than elsewhere, with a center at Kent State university to support this model. Nothing else was working, so people had to innovate or it would go down. The Cleveland model is built on a group of large scale worker owned corporations linked by revolving funds loans and a community non-profit, supported by the institutions left to us as the decay goes on, such as hospitals and community colleges. The model is not simply worker ownership, it is a community building strategy. The goal is also for companies to be green as possible. It has grown out of an evolutionary model and structure. It is being implanted in many cities now. A failure in a period of stagnation where nothing else is working, but that is innovated, can become a wealth-building model. Now the steel union is promoting worker ownership and co-ops. Other unions are changing their model to build institutions as well.

Models are beginning to evolve to build institutions as well as cultures and ideas. Our time in history is the time of the Pre-history, if we are self-conscious of who we are and what we are doing, Ideas matter sometimes, including ideas about who we think we are. Imagine yourself not as an activist, researcher, community builder, but as someone who is building history – an historical actor. My Heros in a different realm are the civil rights workers in mississippi in the 30-40s, when it was tough. They laid the foundations for a movement whose time came later.

There is a legacy to build on of institutions that allow us to displace power. For instance, in Cleveland, major corporations want something around $100-$200k to come in, and then they often leave. The mayor is in a difficult position because of the need for jobs. If these resources are voted to alternatives, and the political base is powerful, the corporations can be displaced. There are 130million Americans involved in credit unions and other co-ops. A credit union is a 1 person 1 vote bank. Why not use the power of credit union assets to build community – no one goes to the credit union board meetings, but people can come to the meetings and take over the credit union. People are building a structure to use these assets. Building up power allows you to displace institutions that have come before. Let’s build institutions that go in the way we want to go and give us the power to slowly displace corporations, build a better future with culture, ideas, and real on the ground institutions. Examples of institutional structure include around oil, health care, banking…when the health care system tilts, that will be a big piece moving in our direction.

We know there will be more banking crises, and when they go down they will be propped up probably the next time around. The big fish will eat the little fish, and we will be back to where we are. If the government is paying for it, then why not make the banking system public? W have not addressed the issue of scale. We like the little stuff and community stuff. We need to address what we think about scale. There are lots of good small businesses, and some good large businesses. What is their role in the next system? The problem is that businesses must grow, because otherwise they will be cut down by Wall Street. Ally business people will not stop the growth system. You cannot control the location of large corporations. Cities are being thrown away when corporations leave, because people follow them. That movement is very wasteful. You cannot do sustainability planning in unstable cities. What do you do about the “big guys”? You cannot control them with the old ones. They may need to be taken over, looking to some models from around the world and the New Deal.

That is our problem. We need to think in the next system, as we evolve toward it, what do we do about large corporations? There are good guys and allies, but they must grow.

Younger people are beginning to shed the stuff the grey hairs in the audience grew up with. They are not held back by the beliefs that there is no alternative to corporate capitalism. We are creative, localist, centralized odd birds and we create unique evolutionary reconstruction that is authentically American. We have a shot at building the basis of our next system. Possibly because of the paradox in our system we have the possibility of moving past models in Europe. We have the disability of a process building over time to lay down the institutional and cultural foundations that overcomes in our time in history.

There is a problem. The price is decades of your life. If you want to play “transform the system” those are the chips you have to throw on the table.


Spines to Gar.

What are the conditions for a just and sustainable society? There was a study group by Gar in DC on this topic. What are the conditions that would help make the change possible? Alisa brought her sister to the study circle about justice, and her sister was quiet the whole time. Later she said “I never thought about my conditions of change in my theory of change,” although she had been making change her whole life. It is important to understand that different people have different way of thinking about and doing these things.


Because modern economic systems a built on growth, there is an important difficulty. Economic actors must grow. We all know the dangers of exponential growth – that is what cancer is. When it comes to energy, fisheries, industrial agriculture – these resources cannot grow. There will be an economic cycle with oil because peak oil per capita has already happened. Every time the economy heats up there will be a “smack down” with oil prices, perhaps every 3 to 5 years. The economy must grow, and the economy cannot grow.


It does take a movement. We are not starting a New Economy movement, but we are accelerating the movement. We have to think very intentionally about movements. What are the transformative or meta-strategies for change so we can collaborate because we need many strategies and many gifts. There are many simultaneous roles that are needed.

1. Hospice the old destructive system…and thank people for their service. Many industries, like the coal industry, are winding down. We need to thank the coal miners for their service, give them a pension, and not replace those jobs.

2. Create and scale the new, living systems happening simultaneously around the world.

3. Build lifelines from the old to the new – find places for the new generation in the new systems.

4. Tell the new stories. The individual things going on 20 and 30 years ago are connected in different communities. We don’t have sustainable food projects, we have sustainable food systems. If we continue on the path we are on with solar, we can have 50% world solar energy by 2042. W have to tell these stories.

5. Nurture consciousness change and collaborative leadership.

Remember: The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.

A challenge: how do we help people think about systems when we are wired to think linearly and about the presence, not the future? She shared the story of a woman who adopted a child in her 40s, and who said she understood the fierce love of a parent. She knew what she needed to do for her health, to prepare for the future, but she still was not doing it. What does that say about our ability to address climate change? If a trusted physician tells you that you have a serious disease, but you can improve your chances for quality and quantity of life, only about 12% will make the changes. There is something elemental and primal going on, and we need to figure out how to deal with this. As we are designing systems and collaborations, we need to think about these issues,

A source of hope: Systems can change very rapidly. The generation of people being born, if they can avoid eating the GMOs, HFCU, BPA, etc, may have a chance to live 150 years. There is a possibility that where we are sitting now in this time…fast change happens when there is a confluence of technology with communication (see “the 3rd Industrial Revolution”). Example of company in Oakland providing solar panels for free…

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#nei2012 Dudley Street Initiative

Tony Hernandez from Dudley Street Initiative, president of Land Trust Board

Jason Welb

Mission: empower Dudley resident to organize, plan for, create and control a vibrant, diverse high quality neighborhood in collaboration with community partners.

Clip from documentary called Holding Ground.

Images of garbage, trash, vacant lots. Houses were being abandoned, and being burned down for insurance money, leading to more vacant lots. The Riley Foundation worked as a small foundation to focus funding on the Roxbury area in Boston, but the original meeting did not have enough input from residents. In a series of meetings, the governance structure was redone to include a majority of residents. Seats were allotted by ethnic group and also to local agencies and housing. Some short campaigns were organized in order to gain quick returns. Vacant lots came up over and over, including issues of garbage dumping. It was difficult to get all the groups involved. Radio shows in other languages were used to mobilize. One month after pledging to clean up the lots, the city provided equipment to clean the lots. There were also demonstrations to keep companies from illegally dumping their garbage. Those successes were a signal of hope. Boston Redevelopment Authority had a concept plan for redevelopment, and there were fears that poor people would be pushed out in order to make way for gentrification. There was a push to include residents in the planning process at the city level. Residents wanted to improve the neighborhood on their own terms, so they hired urban planners who would listen to residents. Eventually the city adopted the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative plan. They also worked to improve other opportunities, including involvement of youth. Young people need to be cultivated. New housing was built on the site of vacant lots, encouraging people to move back home and buy homes. the project succeeds because of the confidence that was built in community members.


It is an every day challenge to continue to build confidence among residents. There was deinvesting and red lining in the community leading to about 20% of sites vacant, along with many brownfields.

There is a real fear of gentrification, being very close to down town. There is a site called the “Dudley Triangle” of 60 acres, 50% Of which is vacant.


The grand vision is a vibrant urban village. Part of this is a strong belief in involving youth as active participants in their community.

There are many processes for collective decision-making within a diverse community. One technique is using sticky notes for visioning, with the goal of consensus.

Two dual goals came up in surveys of quality affordable housing and open space. This led to the creation of Dudley Neighbors, Inc. Community Land Trust.


The community land trust was developed so that DNI could stay separate from the land development. Now, 30 acres are held in trust with a goal of development without displacement. Principals:

Community control over land use
Development without displacement
Permanent housing affordability
Community and family stability
Community and family wealth creation

DNI was able to use powers such as Eminent Domain as a stick to bring owners to the table. The main focus is protection of the land to generate family and community assets. The land is leased to home owners who own the housing, and they are able to get a low mortgage payment. DNI works to connect home owners with opportunities throughout the community. They have also been able to up the requirements for employing residents, people of color, and women in procurement. DSNI has a Board of Directors that is elected ever 2 years, and it has control over the Community Land Trust.


Presented a virtual tour of the neighborhood using SketchUp, demonstrating what has been built through DSNI.


Now, this was inspiring! Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative rocks!

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#nei2012 Building Local Economies

Afternoon plenary:

BALLE: Building Local Economies


The fastest growing network of 30,000+ local entrepreneurs, local business alliances, and local economy funders in North America. Together we are building local economies, city by city, town by town, business by business.

We made a lot of rules along the way that channeled wealth into the hands of a few, and kept us from feeling the results of our own choices. Solving the problem requires thousands of small scale local actions to overcome this. Once a system becomes corrupted, it is difficult to impossible to overcome the corruption. The best way to fix the problem is to create a safe space outside of the dominant system in which something new can grow up. Shell oil has two “most plausible” outcomes – The Scramble, and New Blueprints where local actions would lead to new ideas. They envisioned no plausible scenario where the leaders of the world came together to solve the problems. The two options are to hold on to fundamentalism, or to adopt new ideas and live life as an experiment, trying to imagine and envision health sustainable communities.

BALLE is a network of local businesses – farmers, builders, sustainable power, independent retailers, and local economy funders. There need to be coordinated strategies through philanthropy and investment to build the economy from the ground up.


When there are more local businesses, there is more wealth for more people, more decision-making and accountability, and more purpose in our lives. A higher diversity of locally owned businesses results in higher incomes and jobs. The best unit for decision-making is 5 to 7 people, and businesses of 20 or fewer people networking with other businesses have the best outcomes for communities. As they get larger, corporations develop committees and more voices are dropped out the process. Decision-making is best made by the people who are close to it. Local businesses are more likely to give to local non profits because they know that kid, that block, etc. When people know their purpose in life, it leads them to be happier and healthier. The best thing to do is not to find a job that is “in demand” and will make money.

Ownership matters. Small doesn’t mean small impact. When big has led to violence, then it is a problem. BALLE is supporting business models that are based on preserving the good things about ownership, even when they are large, such as through networks.

Place matters. At the place level, you can encounter the scenarios that allow you to know, understand, and care about what is happening. It is also the place where you can take action. The local places is where the restauranteur says they will use local turnips and bacon, which leads to overcoming challenge and innovation. Many businesses have built their business around the idea that place matters. Tee-shirts, for example, can be made where cotton is grown.

Opportunity matters. In the US, there are 6 black-owned grocery stores throughout the country.. There are no friends and family business-owners to help young black entrepreneurs. We need to adjust how we treat each other.

Nature matters. All wealth comes from nature. Living Building Institute is an example of an organization going beyond LEEDS.

We measure what matters. Maryland is using a genuine progress indicator.

Relationships matter – they matter the most. This is how things change. We make change because of relationships with other people. When something new is emerging, the studies show that the best thing you can do to accelerate that emergence is to identify innovators, connect them to each other, to resource them, and to illuminate their stories so others can see the path they walk upon. It is also time to tap into different kinds of knowing, not just the kind in books.

David Orr

We must challenge conventional thinking of economics, take ideas from the classroom to main street. Oberlin, OH is a town with 28% poverty, 53% of public school students getting free and reduced lunch. The goals are to improve use of renewable energy, local foods, smart growth, new urbanism, and local ownership. How do you succeed from an economy dominated by big oil, agribusiness, and large corporations – remote tyranny.

There is an ecological design and technical revolution. We can grow the economy powered on sunshine and grow food sustainably, but there is a lack of leadership making this into a reality.

In Oberlin, the shops that sell beer, pizza, and coffee are doing well, but others are not. Lots of people know lots of things, but there has not been a systematic approach to revitalization. There is a zero-discarded building on Oberlin campus, which is being used as an example to redevelop a block in downtown as an economic driver and anchor for downtown. The goal for Oberlin is also to get to Carbon neutrality by 2025. The electric supply will be 90% carbon-free by next year. The third goal is to grow 70% of food locally. Most local farms are growing corn and soybeans for animal feed. Fourth, the are working on education so that young people are learning the skills they need for 21st century living.


There are four additional committees. The goal of the project is to break out of these silos, with each component reinforcing the larger pattern. There is environmental sustainability, economic renewal, education, etc, and there needs to be a blurring of these boundaries.

Quotes Donella Meadows essay on Leverage Points. Leverage points are where you intervene in a system. The most effective thing we do is to change world views and the way people think.

Academics are often viewed as boring people. Can we begin to widen the dialogue? Can we re-package the dialogue on sustainability to include the arts, humanities, and sciences in a way that is exciting and engaging. They are reveling an “arts block,” starting with an old hotel. So far Oberlin has invested $53 million in rebuilding the local economy and local businesses.


The goals for the next few years are some construction, a lot of organization, and some business development. Full-spectrum sustainability means that different people will have different opinions on what it means.

What do we do? Change needs to happen at the federal level with a national strategic narrative, through specific policies (such as transportation, smart-growth, and energy), and at the grass roots through sustainable communities, especially networked communities. The challenge is at the local level, but it needs to aggregate to something bigger at the top. We have to do both.

Will Raap

Vermont has been preparing a safe place outside the dominant system to explore. Vermont has the largest per capita small business ownership in the country. Vermonters believe that We are The People. There are town meetings that guide the democratic process, and a citizen legislature where people are not career politicians. Through town meetings, 65 towns ratified the idea of overturning Citizens United Supreme Court decision. We have power when we agree that ownership matters.

Opportunity matters as well. In Vermont there is a combination of Yankee independence and progressive thinking, especially in business models. After an analysis of how to improve the living wage for Vermonters, it was decide that plugging the leaks of value flowing out of the state, there have been big projects using systems analysis (using ReAmp) to change the systems related to food and energy. (see notes from yesterday). Vermont has the highest per capita consumption of local food. Can we double the amount of local food produced in Vermont? Can we have a 50 year plan to develop the New England foodshed so that 80% of local calories come from within this foodshed.

The Energy Action Network follows a similar but different approach working with experts within the energy system, with a goal of 80% of energy coming from renewable sources.

Measure what matters. This is key, and some work has been done on this in Vermont through the Gund Institute pushing the government to use a genuine happiness indicator in the state.

Place and nature matter. Capital must flow to the opportunity to enhance the working landscape. This invests in place and nature, creating jobs with a healthy relationship to place and nature. This process requires an engagement of backbone organizations that understand the process and are able to engage with the tenants of BALLE to continually move the process forward.

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#nei2012 Building Urban Local Economies from the Ground up

WOW this one was fast!

Building Urban Local Economies from the Ground Up
Mary Rowe, David Boyle, and Anne Tate

Anne from RISD

Urban Eden: how do we build resilient, sustainable, beautiful cities? Building a Partnership with Nature for the 21st Century.

There are many things we know how to do, but are not yet doing. Historically, Americans tend to think of nature as wilderness – an “other” thing, there are three concepts – the wilderness, the city, and middle landscapes (sometimes called pastoral). The ideal is cultivated, inhabited, manupulative, productive, and managed. What has been created is wasteful, resource-intensie, low density suburban sprawl.

What comes after the end of nature? There is still no paradigm for what we have when the “wild” nature is gone. There needs to be a more grown up way of thinking about nature that acknowledges how we have changed nature.


“we need to live in cities if we are going to save nature.” — why?

There is a need to shift goals from the highest and best use ($$), one-time value extraction, and private property value. The new goals should be about unique value of a particular place, long term productive capacity, and community value.

In water, there needs to be a shift from protect the material of the city from water, rain, snow, and floods; protecting individuals from water; minimizing the impact of the weather. Nw goals are how to harvest the rain, helping people adapting to weather and keep doing their activities, and celebrate its qualities, ecological, sensory, and theatrical.

There are also goals shifting in food, movement, energy and power, and design goals. With food, the old goals are maximizing supplier’s profit, minimizing the consumer’s inconvenience, and securing year round access.

Wow this presentation was fast! I will try to access the PowerPoint to add to this post.

She finishes with a vision of what the city could be like from her new book.

David Boyle – from NEF

Building Urban local economies from the ground up.

There is a campaign called “Ghost Town Britain” from 2003-2004 – things start to go down slowly in terms of losing small institutions, but then there is a tipping point and all of a sudden changes go much quicker. Likewise, richer communities seem to all look the same because of corporate interests driving economic activity, sometimes called “cloned towns.”

Three points:

– assets are more than monetary
– small scale can be productive
– green cities have a different shape

There is a leaky bucket of monetary assets, and an open question is how to keep money in the community for longer. The assets are often in communities already, but they need to be circulated and used for more efficient projects.

William Cobbet is quoted as a British radical who noted the productivity of small scale growers. The sentiment was echoed in Country Life in 1917.

These points relate to the importance of local pride – the ability of individuals to make things happen, and the value of local distinctiveness.

Green cities have a different shape. Cities in Britain are incredibly dense cities, and there needs to be creative adaptation of cities to improve sustainability.

Mary Rowe from Municipal Art Society of New York

Building Local Urban Economies from the Ground Up

“Cities” and “jobs” barely appear in the program for this organization. This society is fundamentally anti-urban, and “the answer is in cities.”. If we do not start to meet the bulk of the population where they are, then it will not become a serious conversation. Language we use about city is always about “fixing” the cities. Cities are inherently “fabulous” – they are where innovation occur. She was influenced by Jane Jacobs.

enabling self-organization

New Orleans is an example of a city organically rebuilding itself after disaster. Feedback loops are how self-organization happens – fixing leaky buckets is about collecting the feedback loops. People demonstrated resilience and established beacons of home. There are hubs with tight links, which are then linked by loose links.

Some examples of networked economy to use resources efficiently and tighten up excess capacity – United States of Craigslist, AirBnB, loose cubes, Picture the Homeless and analyzing vacant space, Metcalf foundation

notes from questions:

“the tendency is to start with training, but then there are no jobs. So start with the jobs that can be made available instead” – example of Evergreen co-ops in Cleveland

The problem may not be at there is no entrepreneurial spirit, but that the social networks are not bringing the potential entrepreneurs together – see Biz Fizz

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#nei2012 Reclaiming the Commons

Reclaiming the CommonsL creating community agency and ownership of public space

Cynthia from Project for Public Spaces

How do we use shared places to add value to the public realm, but there is no one really in charge of the public space. When we talk about the commons we have a notion of a square, etc, but there are other examples like Broadway and Times Square. Streets and roads are the biggest public space we have. In New York we have worked on turning lanes of traffic into public space. In Times Square, the sidewalks were narrow. There was no place for people to stop, and workers were unhappy. We worked on fantasizing about how to change this, and worked to make changes in Dept of Transportation too. It had been a bottom-up top-down to make improvements in public space – Project for Public Space is her organization.

Turn everything upside down to get it right side up – what is it we need to turn upsides own:

– the way we design cities
– the role of the community – they are usually involved way too late, and asked to respond to solving a problem they did not create.

We start by looking at a place and defining the stakeholders, then we evaluate what is working and what is not working. Community engagement changes the role of the “professionals” to be facilitators, resources, and implemented, but community members are the leaders.

What is a great places? They have uses and activities, and are self-programming. They are inviting spaces where people can do whatever they want to do in the space.


These aspects of the community can be connected by the civic commons, community gathering spaces, and parks. The connections helps to create sustainable communities of the future. For example, in Richmond British Columbia, the Library and Hospital were able to connect to help reach Cantonese-speaking elderly people who are at high risk for diabetes, because the people were taking Calligraphy classes at the Library. There is a lot of economic wealth tied up in these institutions, and we need to pull if forward.

We like to create places where you can be there 18 hours a day, year round. They are linked to other spaces, and are accessible. They are not surrounded by lanes of fast-moving traffic. These conditions create socialibilty. But, you also have to have a core group who want to come together and reclaim the space.


Creating a great space requires many partners, including sometimes unlikely partners. People are often skeptical, until things work. You must be on the ground, working with people, to design things. Things need to be grouped together so that they can share resources visually, physically, and programmatically. Money is not the issue – you have to build the vision first, and then look for funding.

You are never finished – once the space is designed, maintenance and management are ongoing,

What is Placemaking

Developing public spaces that attract people and build community by bringing people together in an open, welcoming place. Architecture impacts the way people are able to come together in public space. There are concentric circles – place, destinations, region/city/town/neighborhood. Every city needs 10 destination, and each destination needs 10 things to do.


PPS has many examples of how this “Power of 10” works in different settings, such as main street and community gardens and farmers markets. In larger “districts” public space attracts people who then use other spaces.

How do we do this with no money and no resources, with diminishing public investment? How do we support entrepreneurs and create sustainable, local development? Example: farm festival in Detroit, build around the business Peaches and Greens. People had the opportunity to give ideas about how to make the block better in a neighborhood with gangs and many problem. There were free events all day with kids, things to do all day, bike clinics, basketball, etc. the most expensive thing was a jumpy castle. There was no police presence, though they knew the event was there. Gang members were able to participate in the project as well. Starting with the place, they worked on design, supported by a community development corporation. Another example is Gabriel’s Warf in London, where backs of warehouses were painted and filled with artists and entrepreneurs at low rent. Dekalb market in Brooklyn uses shipping containers to create space for artists and entrepreneurs. There have been pop-up parks in Brooklyn and San Francisco, also closing streets on weekends for play – this is reclaiming the commons, using what we have, especially streets and roads.


London orchard project – Carina

This project has engaged with 5000 Londoners to plant 36 orchards and distribute 4 tonnes of fruit. The mission is to “develop a skilled community of Londoners to plant, care for, and harvest fruit trees, connecting urban communities and increasing access to fruit.”

One of the strengths of the project is to see the potential for stewardship of the land and public land where there was one. There is some public land that is not a commons because there is no active ownership of the space. The goal is to transform these underused spaces into a focus of the community and a useful space. Additionally there are about 200 neglected and abandoned orchards throughout London. Urban orchards improve the quality of the urban environment, provide food, and create a rich location for public activity. Community gardens can be difficult because they involve restricting access, and there is a question of who is taking care of the land.


Orchards can be the first step towards creating urban foraging environments or “food forests”.

Stewardship requires a community to take care of the land. There is an issue of “who is the community?” in urban environments with high turnover. The community is not just the environmental activists but also the children, the parents, and everyone else. The organization is loose, supporting local groups who want to design local orchards. Each community group has 5 people who are trained on how to look after the orchards, and then there is a planting day which is a festival involving as many as possible. Each orchard has a orchard management plan, and e city has agreed to not change access to the orchard sites. Orchards are also a way to reclaim lost traditions, to learn lost skills, the creation of new mythologies, and celebrate local distinctiveness. There is also a movement to harvest unused fruit and ensure it is distributed to people who will eat it, and they are doing an audit of where fruit trees do exist in London. Growing apples in London also created opportunities for sharing fruit on a local level, and the apples “have a story.”

Alexa from – On the Commons

“Commoning the Commons- community ownership and citizenship in public spaces.”

The current critical moment includes ecological and economic crises, radical dispossession, anti-democratic forces, and a weakened citizenship. It is not clear what will emerge from the current cruises, but we need to confront the reality that we live in a world patterned by individual, private, market interests. We need to engage in creative disruptions in thinking to change the pattern of how we approach decision-making. We need a better concept of “ours.” If we cannot own something, then we can belong to and with it in a rich, living experience. We need real avenues to enact on that.

The Commons – one definition

The commons is an essential form of wealth that we inherit APR create together , and which must be shared in a sustainable and equitable way.

We need to be able to “see” the wealth that is a commons wealth. If we cannot see that, will be able to see dispossession and imagine paths out of that.


The behavior in a commons is interdependent. Historically commons are rooted in societies where well-being is interconnected. We are responsible to the commons and also need to have some standing for governance of the commons. Much of their work is built on the work Eleanor Ostrom, who distinguished between Open-Access resources and the Commons. The sense of Agency in the commons is critical.

Two Projects

Reclaiming vacant lots in Brooklyn

They mapped all the vacant lots in Brooklyn – there are 596 acres of publicly owned vacant lots in Brooklyn. The project is to “common” the commons by improving access to vacant lots.


The process of “commoning” – Believe it is ours, create ownership, engage in stewardship, establish the right to governance.

The Great Lakes

The governance of the Great Lakes is failing to protect the water and people who live on it. The project is to build a Great Lakes Commons movement to change the foundation of decision making about the Great Lakes, including water citizenship, a new commons charter, legal recognitions indigenous leadership, and catalytic leads hip across sector/community/discipline. This is an attempt to take the commons from the neighborhood to a much larger scale.

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