By Stephanie Gidigbi
A game-changing conversation has begun around the way community development is organized on a national scale and it includes the voices of environmentalists and those most affected – the people in local neighborhoods who must live with the consequences of that development.
This assessment comes from leaders in environmentalism, philanthropy, community development, non-profit organizations, local government, and community activism – all of whom are coming together at collaborative tables to spur revitalization that puts social equity at the forefront.
In fact, we are at a pivotal point. For decades, investment in communities has prioritized profit-making over people. But that is changing with new commitments to not only sustainability but equity – to go beyond rhetoric in support of those who have long been shut out to build healthier, more resilient neighborhoods.
The way Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, put it: “We have a moment in which the power of interweaving movement-building is profound.”
Rapson, part of a panel on climate at the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge’s recent national launch, said the SPARCC effort encompasses how decisions are made across “one broad problem-solving table,” adding, “I can’t look at these models and not think they are the future of our community. We really have a moment – we must move across these movement-building opportunities.”
Rapson echoed the idea that environmentalism – honored globally on Earth Day – is a natural partner to community development.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in fact, told the panel she hoped never to have to justify participation by environmentalists in efforts at making sure all members of communities thrive as a result of development.
“Environmental rights are human rights and they always have been,” she told those in attendance at the launch. “The heart and the soul of our mission is around the pursuit of justice, around the pursuit of equitable rights for all,” she said, adding that SPARCC is “filling the basic core of the mission that we were created to pursue.”
Nathaniel Smith, founder and chief equity officer for the Partnership for Southern Equity, cited civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s “network of mutuality” idea that everyone is bound together and that if one element does poorly, all do poorly. “What’s good for the planet is good for everybody,” he said.
Smith lamented that development across America has “happened to people and not with people,” leaving out communities of color, though such communities are disproportionately negatively affected by climate change.
He noted that without these authentic voices “who have fought this fight in America for the past 400 years” and who have lived without social and financial investments and support, the country will not be able to improve all communities in the face of harsh climate effects.
He said SPARCC creates an opportunity to minimize community development in urban areas in which fiscal policy and resources that “have been leveraged off of the backs of poor folks who have been used to create new markets that are now pushing them out. “
Rapson said the nation’s worst development and infrastructure problems can’t be solved without an environmental lens. “It won’t endure,” he said. “It can’t be sustained.” The effects on social equity, health and the environment “are inextricably interwoven.”
Indeed, for transformational change to occur, we must make equitable investment for the people and the planet, so we all thrive.
Watch the full webcast here.
SPARCC is an initiative of Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding support from the Ford Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the California Endowment.
It is investing in and amplifying local efforts underway in six communities nationwide to ensure that major new infrastructure investments lead to equitable, sustainable and healthy opportunities for everyone.
Stephanie Gidigbi is the SPARCC Policy, Capacity, and Systems Change Director and Senior Advisor for Urban Solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council.