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Parks & Comprehensive Community Development

Riverfront Park, Providence, RI (Instituteccd.org)

Neal Peirce writes about the Chicago-based Institute on Comprehensive Community Development, a new effort to consider the many issues of community development beyond traditional housing initiatives. TPL has done some research into this matter, trying to find ways for housing and parks issue to connect more, and we’re happy to see this news. Peirce describes the broader agenda, quoting LISC president Michael Rubinger:

“No amount of new affordable housing…..will suffice for a family whose parents can’t find work, or send their kids to a quality school, or walk safely down their streets without encountering gangs and drugs, or find any hint of a grocery store, health care provider or decent recreational space.”

The answer, Rubinger argued, is a concept called “comprehensive community development.” The essence is full-bore attention to all of a challenged neighborhood’s problems. It’s an approach pioneered in the South Bronx by super-CDC-leader Anita Miller, with key support from the Surdna Foundation, in the early 1990s. More recently, it’s been expanded by LISC and supported significantly by the MacArthur Foundation, first in Chicago neighborhoods and more recently in 20 other cities across the country.

The expanded agenda means attention to jobs, schools, and public safety by working with local government, faith-based groups, foundations and other grassroots groups. It includes deliberate steps to recruit full-service supermarkets into neglected areas, overcoming the “food desert” phenomenon while providing jobs and access to fresh foods. It means, as the South Bronx experience suggested, attracting doctors’ offices for primary care, promoting parenting groups and child care, security patrols, physical planning, recreation space, employment training for youth, and organizing firms for a business improvement district.

Within the arena of parks and recreation, this can mean a number of things. It can be more initiatives such as TPL’s New York City playground program, which just opened its latest rehabbed schoolyard in the Bronx, changing an ugly eyesore into a community asset, or the Newark park in which TPL worked with LISC to build a new playing field. It can be creating new parks in distressed communities, such as the Riverfront Park from Providence, RI described on the Institute’s new website. It can be organizations such as the Urban Ecology Center, which has worked with LISC in Milwaukee to revitalize parks and bring kids from low-income families in contact with nature in their own neighborhood.

There of course will be challenges in getting people to work together, but the effort shows how groups are thinking differently and more completely. And it can only be helped if park and recreation advocates think of themselves also as part of community development, t0o.

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