“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I think I’ve attended all the annual conferences of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] since 1992. This year’s theme was again “Creating a Just Economy” — an appropriate and timely admonition. FDR’s test surely is not being pursued in the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency.
After my countless trips to DC, I finally made time to visit the memorials for Dr. King, FDR and Jefferson. A very reflective hike on which I found particularly relevant quotes at each stop – none using the word “huge.”
The above FDR quote was etched by a sculpture of Americans forgotten in the Great Depression. Not sure those Americans who suffered the injustice of our most recent Great Recession haven’t already been not only forgotten but abandoned by the White House and Congress despite their votes.
But “creating a just economy” is not just a matter of federal policy or tax reform. A just economy is threatened locally by every decision in our communities to forsake those who have too little affordable housing and insufficient employment to raise a family. Equitable development is imperative for a just economy.
Given the challenges confronting Chicago’s Uptown community, where I now work as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA, I volunteered to moderate the workshop at this year’s NCRC conference, entitled Equitable Development in Gentrifying Communities. The four panelists shared similar stories from Portland, OR; Roxbury, MA; New York City; and Washington, DC.
Empower DC’s mission is to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life. The presentation by its Executive Director, Parisa Norouzi, included a historical ICA surprise for me. The historic Ivy City community is re-establishing a strong Civic Association around several issues including the restoration of the Alexander Crummell School. Named for abolitionist, educator and clergyman Rev. Doctor Alexander Crummell whose life’s mission was the uplift of Black people, it was the first public school for African Americans in DC when it opened in 1911.
Ivy City was chosen in 1976 as a site for one of the Human Development Projects initiated by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) along with other such initiatives across all 24 global time zones that became known as the “Band of 24.” Two ICA organizers moved into the Ivy City community who, following ICA’s participation model, assisted the community with developing and carrying out a four year Human Development plan. From 1976-1980, ICA and neighborhood residents created the Ivy City Preschool and the Ivy City Corporation (ICCO), which promoted commerce in the community. All activities were centered at the Crummell School, which had been closed in the ‘70s, and were documented in the Ivy City Voice, a newsletter which was published during that time.
More recently, the school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and listed as one of DC’s Most Endangered Places by the DC Preservation League in 2013. Residents of Ivy City have long been on record asking that the school be turned into a multi-use center to serve youth and elders. They have endured years of testifying at hearings, participating in city planning meetings, and mobilizing community participation. They experienced many broken promises, and even had to file a lawsuit to block attempts to turn Crummell into a bus parking lot.
Last year, Empower DC worked with Ivy City residents and partners to submit a proposal that would turn the historic Crummell School and 1 acre of the site into a Community Land Trust, keeping the grounds open for community recreational use (with a playground/splash park, basketball court, walking trail, and garden) and opening the school as a nonprofit Community Center with a mix of programming to meet the needs of youth, adults and seniors. The school building would become a community square surrounded by new affordable housing. Unfortunately, local government is forsaking Ivy City’s community dream and choosing another high-end development striving to be DC’s newest “hot” real estate.
When President Trump tells us in seven days how “huge” his accomplishments have been in his first 100 days, let’s ponder the “huge” decisions being made in Planning Departments and Mayors’ Offices across our country to not provide enough [housing & jobs] for those who have too little. Many politicians are failing the equitable development test. Our civic duty is to grade accordingly.