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Rebuilding Civic Spaces: Going Small To Get Big Results

A $40 million investment is being split between four cities—Memphis, Chicago, Akron, and Detroit—with the hopes of making big impacts for the community by revitalizing and/or repurposing exiting civic spaces.
September 15, 2016, 7am PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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A new initiative, "Reimagining the Civic Commons," is hoping to revitalize neighborhoods and diverse communities by investing in improvements in the less glamorous civic institutions that are commonly found in neighborhoods around the country—the rec centers, playgrounds, libraries and community centers. The JPB Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation are investing $40 million (after a match for the $20 million provided by local sources) into diverse projects in four select cities—Memphis, Chicago, Akron, and Detroit.

Kriston Capps of CityLab reports that the initiative will test a theory that improving these highly localized civic projects will benefit people of all backgrounds in the community, not just one or two subsets.

Libraries and rec centers don’t spend as much money or hire as many people as, say, universities or hospitals. So parks and old school buildings don’t fall into the same category of anchor institution, [Carol Coletta, senior fellow with the Kresge Foundation's American Cities Practice] explains. Nowhere close. But the advantage to more modest civic assets, the thinking goes, is that they’re everywhere. That means that cities can improve specific assets with the hopes of revitalizing communities that span economic classes.

The three-year initiative will be judged on the outcomes for the neighborhood, including improvement in the reputation and socio-economic diversity of the neighborhood, environmental sustainability (i.e., neighborhood walkability, increased tree canopy, etc.), and a new found political support for similar civic projects in the community.

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Published on Thursday, September 8, 2016 in CityLab
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