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Press Release: New report from the Democracy Collaborative highlights city governments embracing policies and programs to build community wealth


Takoma Park, Maryland — November 9th, 2015 In an era of persistent urban inequality and chronic unemployment, new alternatives to the traditional economic development strategies that have failed to bring broad and evenly distributed prosperity to America’s cities are clearly needed. The Democracy Collaborative’s new report, Cities Building Community Wealth, responds to this challenge by highlighting best practices in inclusive innovation from twenty cities across the country, and offering a unified vision of the underlying new paradigm of community-focused economic development.

The authors of the report, Democracy Collaborative Senior Fellow and Executive Vice President Marjorie Kelly and Sarah McKinley, Democracy Collaborative Manager of Community Development Programs, name this emerging approach “community wealth building,” which they define as: “a systems approach to economic development that creates an inclusive, sustainable economy built on locally rooted and broadly held ownership.” Community wealth building “calls for developing place-based assets of many kinds, working collaboratively, tapping large sources of demand, and fostering economic institutions and ecosystems of support for enterprises rooted in community. The aim is to create a new system that enables inclusive enterprises and communities to thrive and helps families increase economic security.”

The report builds from promising developments and key innovations on the ground in cities across the country. For example, a coalition of economic justice advocates in New York City worked with city council leaders in a campaign that resulted in the city allocating millions to develop worker cooperatives in underserved neighborhoods: $1.2 million for 2014-2015 and $2.1 million for 2015-2016. This coalition also helped pass a new law requiring the City’s economic development arm to track the level of municipal contracts awarded to such cooperatives.

In Portland, Oregon, officials from the Portland Development Commission worked with community partners in low-income areas to launch a Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative, in which six districts were created in areas with high concentrations of people of color and high poverty, allocating $1 million to each district to help implement participatory visions for improving local commercial areas to foster economic opportunity and neighborhood vitality. Meanwhile, in Burlington, Vermont, the city government provided key support for the creation of the nation’s largest urban community land trust, which ensures a supply of permanently affordable housing. And in Richmond, Virginia, the city has created an Office of Community Wealth Building to provide a unified home for integrating and advancing such transformative approaches to community economic development.

Drawing from examples like these, the authors identify seven key drivers underlying these new strategies:


Mobilization and use of underutilized local assets for the benefit of all residents


Promotion of broad-based, local ownership, rooted in cooperation and community


Focus on living wage jobs providing economic security for all families


Development of buy-local strategies to keep money circulating locally


Connection of training to real jobs, focusing on barriers to employment


Cooperation between stakeholders—nonprofits, philanthropy, and anchor institutions


Creation of institutions and support ecosystems to build a new normal for the economy

The Democracy Collaborative hopes this report will help amplify and strengthen the work of the local officials who are developing innovative paths forward for America’s cities in a time of great challenges, but also incredible possibility for a shift to a more equitable and sustainable economy. As Shawn Escoffery, Director of the Surdna Foundation’s Strong Local Economies Program, writes in his preface to the report: “What would happen if economic developers, city managers, mayors, and other caretakers of local economies thought differently? How might local economies be different, if these city economic development leaders discarded the complex algorithms they use in deal making, if they stopped focusing on abstract inputs and outputs, and instead focused on people and community?”

About Cities Building Community Wealth:

The Democracy Collaborative’s report, produced with the support of the Surdna Foundation, will be available on 11/9 as a free PDF download here.

The report includes profiles of innovative municipal policies in:

Austin, TX

Cleveland, OH

Madison, WI

New York, NY

Portland, OR

Boston, MA

Denver, CO

Minneapolis, MN

Oakland, CA

Richmond, VA

Burlington, VT

Kansas City, MO

Newark, NJ

Philadelphia, PA

Rochester, NY

Chicago, IL

Keene, NH

New Orleans, LA

Pittsburgh, PA

Seattle, WA

 About The Democracy Collaborative:

The Democracy Collaborative is a national non-profit research and consulting institution dedicated to developing new ways to build community wealth and stronger local economies, including through transformative partnerships with city governments and other municipal stakeholders. For more information, visit:


John Duda, Communications Director, The Democracy Collaborative
Phone: (202) 559-1473 x102
Twitter: @democracycollab

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