Rethinking Place Governance to Advance Equitable Development

The Boston Foundation's first Place Leadership Network process offers lessons in how to build place-based coalitions to advance the cause of equity.

December 14, 2020, 6:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Quincy Market

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

The Boston Foundation is responding to the unequal economic, environmental, and cultural impacts of development in Boston by spearheading a new investments in "place governance," rather than the typical approach of placemaking interventions, through its Place Leadership Network program.

Philip Barash, a design fellow with the Boston Foundation, explains the Place Leadership Network program in a guest blog post for the Brookings Institution. The Foundation launched the Place Leadership Network in May 2019, announcing an application process to participate in the peer-learning initiative that eventually yielded eight teams.

"Participants would be compensated for their yearlong commitment and be eligible for unrestricted funding at the end of the year to support community-led placemaking and place-keeping agendas," explains Barash. Many of the selected teams represent organizations serving communities of color, are led by people of color, and work with small budgets. An article by Sandra Larson for Next City in July 2019 detailed the first cohort of the PLN program.

Barash includes a lot of detail about the curriculum of the nine-month PLN process, including how the curriculum changed as a result of the pandemic. The results were powerful, according to Barash, and point the direction for future efforts: "PLN demonstrated that community leaders can fully, confidently, and justly shape the futures of their shared places. Through the months, we kept hearing a similar refrain from the cohort: If Boston has any hope of altering development dynamics to center community interest and spatial justice, we need to continue shifting the power balance."

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