|ADVANCING ASSET-BASED COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT|
A case study of how CBI uses asset-based community development is illustrated in our work with the Cincinnati neighborhood of Northside and its efforts to create a land-use plan that celebrates the communitys strengths and provides a long-range vision for its future. CBI director Liz Blume used fundamental principles of asset-based community planning to help the neighborhood take stock of itself. In the process, residents came up with priorities and a vision that everyone in their diverse neighborhood could share.
Read more about the Northside story in the Practice section below and enjoy the slide show of some of the maps and images that resulted from the Northside process. Also, learn more about the theory of asset-based planning in the Principle section. We'd love to hear your feedback on it.
At the same time, the neighborhood developed a reputation as an urban village where everyone was accepted: black and white, gay and straight, old and young. Northsides grand old homes attracted rehabbers while its more modest housing remained affordable. The neighborhoods business district attracted a mix of merchants, from hip restaurants and record stores to storefront churches, an old-fashioned pharmacy and a grocery store for African immigrants.
When the City of Cincinnati overhauled its zoning code for the first time in more than 40 years, Northside residents and business owners saw an opportunity to evaluate their neighborhood from the bottom up. They set out to create a land-use plan that included not only recommendations for zoning and development, but also a vision for preserving and enhancing their quality of life.
"What we were trying to do is develop a plan for our grandchildren, working holistically and charting a course for the next generation," says Tim Jeckering, an architect who served as president of the Northside Community Council during the development of the land-use plan.
Northside approached the Community Building Institute in 2003 for help creating the plan. The neighborhood had a team of professionals who had already committed to working on the plan: architects, urban planners, a real-estate broker, a design student. They knocked on doors, handed out surveys and held a series of community meetings and planning sessions. The level of interest surprised and encouraged Todd Kinskey, a professional planner and Northside resident who served on the steering committee.
"It was very exciting as a professional planner to see neighbors rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in deciding what the future of their neighborhood should be," Kinskey says. "The more people you can involve and the more people you get to accept a plan you empower the neighborhood to feel like theyre part of shaping the future of the community."
CBI associate director Liz Blume facilitated meetings where residents pored over maps, formulated goals and weighed compromises in their differing visions. Blume, a professional planner, advised them of legal and planning issues and challenged them on some assumptions, but in the end the decisions were all the work of neighborhood residents.
"At times I'd say, professionally this is the advice I'd give you, but ultimately it's your choice," she says. "You have to bring your background and expertise to the table, but you also have to remember youre only one voice at the table."
As members continued their work, some surprises emerged. While the neighborhood is densely populated and thoroughly urban, it is surrounded by greenspace: parks, nature preserves, Mt. Airy Forest and Spring Grove Cemetery . Connecting and preserving that green space was a shared priority of most of the people who participated in the process. Housing and commercial development emerged as two important priorities.
Participants also focused on the cultural and human needs of the community, and they emphasized improving the quality of life by focusing on education, youth, safety and crime. It wasn't a typical land-use plan, but it reflected to a remarkable degree the people who lived and worked there.
"Once we said, what assets do you want to build on, (residents) said, 'It's a very tolerant neighborhood, its very diverse, we want to maintain and improve the quality of life,' "Blume says. "It starts with assets, and while that sounds like such a simple thing, its a fundamentally different way of looking at the process."
Asset-based community planning approaches the process from a different angle. It promotes development that is driven by the community rather than by outside agencies. This emphasizes the community's existing physical assets and the passion of its residents rather than simply constructing buildings and fixing problems.
Asset-based community planning while centered around physical development takes its lead from the broader principles of asset-based community development that have been championed by John "Jody" Kretzmann and John L. McKnight of the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute at Northwestern University.
"You start with the assets you want people to think about. It sounds very fluffy, but it's exactly the opposite of how most communities go about planning," says Liz Blume, associate director of CBI and a professional planner. Blume helped residents of Cincinnati 's Northside neighborhood create an innovative land-use plan.
"Most of the time you sit down and say, what is the problem with this community and what do we want to do better here?" Blume says. "But the places that seem to work are the places that succeed in focusing on assets rather than on deficits."
Asset-based community planning challenges community planners and developers to:
Start with the community's assets. Instead of compiling a long list of problems to be solved and buildings to be fixed, this strategy starts by creating an inventory of the physical strengths of the community along with residents and workers' talents and the community associations and institutions that put them into action.
Are there many skilled craftsmen living in the community? Is there a church with a strong youth group? How about schools, libraries, parks and hospitals? Nearly every individual and institution has a gift to contribute to the community. A comprehensive community plan will be more effective and sustainable if it builds on those strengths for the future rather than try to attack individual problems as they arise.
This doesn't mean that communities don't need help from the outside. It does mean, however, that outside help will be much more effective once the skills of the community's members are mobilized to participate in development.
Engage the community to set its own agenda. An asset-based planning process requires that local residents, associations and institutions be the ones to set the priorities and create the agenda for the community to follow. This often means time-consuming work of reaching out to as many people as possible, through surveys, public meetings, and knocking on doors. It's much easier to rely on outside experts, or the handful of locals who show up at every meeting, but success means including as many community members as possible.
There is a place for professionals in this process, but it's important for them to remember that ultimately the decisions are up to the residents. Whenever possible, outside experts should function as facilitators, helping to draw out the priorities of community members and raise issues for them to consider, rather than telling them what to do. Agencies can best help by following the communitys agenda after community members create it
Relationships are the key. Building and nourishing relationships is at the core of asset-based community planning. To succeed, a development initiative requires the involvement of as many stakeholders as possible. The relationships that stem from citizens' groups, businesses, congregations and other associations are the best way to invite a growing circle of people to participate.
The leaders of these groups play a particularly crucial role and must be at the center of community initiatives rather than just helping the experts. They can engage the members of the groups they lead and can invite others to be active participants in the development process.
Asset-based community planning is one of the approaches central to the work of the Community Building Institute. For more information about asset-based community development go to "Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets" by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight.