Throughout much of recent history, local economic development has been conceptualized primarily as a two-party exchange between government and the private sector. This thinking has led to the disproportionate empowerment of capital and simultaneous disenfranchisement of broad swaths of American society who are unable to shape the trajectories of their local economies.
That is to say, prominent economic development models often treat people and communities as ancillary to the process.
But a new paradigm has emerged from the grassroots level of American cities that seeks to leverage the inherent power of citizens in a way that allows for sustainable gains in quality of life.
Referred to as Community Wealth Building, the model is detailed in a new report from the nonprofit Democracy Collaborative.
In the organization’s words: “Cities themselves have unthinkingly contributed to their own disempowerment in their focus on the ‘job count,’ which puts business in the lead, even when the jobs created are of low quality. This balance of power begins to shift, however, when others come to the table demanding accountability, good jobs, and community benefits. The potentially momentous advance of community wealth building is that it brings this ‘third player’— the combined, collaborative force of anchor institutions, citizen groups, philanthropy, nonprofits, and locally owned businesses—to the table. Much of this work began by pushing back against business, yet today these players are focusing forward, proactively shaping the direction of local economic development.”
While Community Wealth Building is very much a work in progress, its potential for increased civic engagement is enormous.
Read more about the movement here.