The neighborhood community is the necessary building block for much-needed change in reducing violence, realizing climate mitigation and adaptation, and investing in urban renewal.
In this moment of urban and police violence, we need to reflect upon what has been our approach to the violence problem. Patrick Sharkey masterfully sums it up, “The strategies that have been used to confront the dual problems of urban poverty and violent crime have also brought great costs. Since the late 1960s, the dominant approach to dealing with the challenges of urban poverty and violent crime has been to disinvest in low-income communities and to invest in the police and the criminal justice system—a strategy of abandonment and punishment. This approach has contributed to the crime drop but it has also led to widespread injustice, abuse, and anger. A diverse set of political groups from the left and the right has now come together to end this long-standing model of urban policy. They have moved discussions of criminal justice policy away from the goal of punishment, and toward the goal of justice. But there has been no movement away from abandonment and toward investment”1.
A new approach of anti-violence programs based on collaboration with the community has emerged. Four successful US models include the Comprehensive Strategy (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Los Angeles Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD), Boston Ceasefire, and the Chicago Cure Violence2.
The Comprehensive Strategy of the OJJDP is based on the integration of key community groups and agencies around community policing with formal and informal social controls and accountability measures. It is balanced with outreach and access to services for gang-involved youth and their families, in addition to programs of education, training, and employment3.
The Los Angeles GRYD currently provides gang intervention and prevention services in 23 GRYD zones throughout the city along with community engagement programming. At a glance, the results include 185 violent gang crimes prevented in 2014-15, 701,000 visits to the safe night light (SNL) events, an 83% reduction in the risk of participants joining gangs, and an increase in enrollment in intervention and prevention services. “The SNL creates safe environments during the peak times for gang-related violence. This is accomplished by providing free meals, extended programming, and sports leagues, along with safe space for recreation, community engagement, employment opportunities, and linkages to local resources”4.
Results of the Boston Operation Ceasefire include a 63% reduction in youth homicide. Operation Ceasefire has evolved into the National Network for Sage Communities with the Group Violence Intervention, which has been deployed in dozens of cities, including Los Angeles, Providence, Chicago, and Nashville, over almost 20 years5.
Turning to climate change, mitigation and adaptation require the active involvement of communities for most initiatives. Climate improvements are “glocal” and cannot succeed without local. One of the most beneficial activities entails increasing the amount of urban green space. Residents report feeling better near green spaces and there are numerous health benefits6. The urban transportation system is to be redesigned and provide more walking, bicycling, higher-quality public transport and electric (or hydrogen) powered transportation. Energy efficiency requires local audits of private and public buildings with the corresponding improvements based largely on the local workforce. This may be completely financed and realized by energy service companies. Local production and consumption are emphasized, as exemplified by "zero-mile" organic food. In Europe, local energy communities have been liberalized allowing for the production and trading of energy, usually electricity, among interested community parties. Interest is growing in the US. The emerging consumer philosophy of the four R’s, reduced consumption, repair, reuse, and recycle is possible only if the corresponding local services flourish. The idealistic and esthetic dimensions of community change are essential. Climate mitigation and adaptation are not just a duty, they are an opportunity to redesign our urban spaces the way we want them. Our best urban planners and architects should be involved in this transformation.
Some of America's best eco-neighborhoods include Asheville, North Carolina. West Asheville; Austin, Texas. South Congress; Bozeman, Montana. Downtown area; Brooklyn, New York City, Park Slope; Chicago, Illinois, Andersonville; Denver, Colorado, Highland; Indianapolis, Indiana Fall Creek Place; Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mount Airy; and Seattle, Ballard7. The Smart Cities program advises six steps of community planning for fighting climate change: build in the right places; get connected (within our neighborhoods and metro regions); plan for convenience; build green; incorporate living nature; and save the countryside8.
Financing community climate improvement is a challenge and an opportunity. The municipal bond market, responsible for about half of infrastructure developments in the US to date, will hopefully continue to play an important role, allowing private investments in local public projects. However, as Roger Baneman of the Natural Resources Defense Council reports modification is necessary to fully compete and attract significant resources. Municipal bonds should become taxable bonds (at least for green infrastructure), modeled after the successful, but expired, Build America Bonds. Municipalities would be allowed to issue taxable bonds and receive a direct payment from the federal government equal to the difference between the taxable and tax-exempt bond rates. In the case of Build America Bonds the difference was 35 percent of the taxable rate, which was paid to the municipalities. These new municipal bonds could then compete in the general taxable bond market potentially attracting very important tax-exempt investors such as pension funds, private foundations, and university endowments9. Congress seems to be warming to the idea. Last year a taxable municipal bond, the Qualified Infrastructure Bond, was proposed as part of the Moving Forward Act that passed the House but unfortunately was not enacted.
It appears that pension funds have been unduly restrained from considering climate warming as investment risk and thus climate mitigation and adaptation as an important response to this risk. During the last days of the Trump Administration, the U.S. Department of Labor finalized a rule clarifying that pension fund managers must put retirees' financial interests first when allocating investments, rather than other concerns such as climate change. The final rule does not include references to so-called "ESG investing" or selecting stocks for environmental, social, or governance reasons. It focuses on pecuniary factors, which the department says have a “material” effect on the risk and return of an investment. It is reported that “in its rulemaking, the Labor Department noted many ESG-themed funds have overweighted technology and under-weighted energy stocks, suggesting their outperformance could be “merely correlated with broader economic trends unrelated to a specific ESG factor”10. These recent rulings ignore the fact that climate change is widely regarded to be a systematic risk, also by the financial community, and thus should be considered among the risk factors impacting retirees’ pecuniary interests. On March 10th this year, the new Department of Labor stated that it will not enforce these recent final rules (85 Fed. Reg. 72846 (November 13, 2020, and 85 Fed. Reg. 81658 (December 16, 2020), and it intends to revisit the rules11.
The matter is of enormous importance for the future of investments in climate mitigation and adaptation as the capital managed by pension funds was 19 trillion dollars in 2019, an amount equivalent to 88 percent of the US GDP! It will be fascinating to see how the Biden Administration takes advantage of these financial opportunities, also in the interests of those in favor of mobilizing more private finance, limiting public spending.
One matter is certain, Mother Nature will be forcing us to re-direct our investment strategies over the next decades, hopefully arriving at low (if not zero) net emissions by 2050. There is another long-term investment that warrants our attention: durable urban renewal. Again, Patrick Sharkey is clear on this, “By durable policy, I mean interventions, investments, policies, and programs that are designed to be sustained over time, to reach multiple generations of family members, and to be implemented at a scale that makes it possible to transform the lives of families and their communities. The call for durable urban policy is a reaction to a historical pattern in which promising investments in urban neighborhoods have come and gone, implemented for short time frames with resources inadequate to generate transformative change. And yet urban poverty tends to persist over long periods and to be passed on across generations. Multigenerational urban poverty cannot be addressed with point-in-time interventions or influxes of funding that fade away after a few years. If public policy is going to address urban inequality, that policy must be durable”12.
Such sustainable changes have historically occurred in the East Lake Golf Club area of Atlanta. Tom Cousins, a philanthropist, established an impressive plan for the transformation of the degraded and abandoned East Lake area, seeking out partnerships with the mayor, the housing authority, and community leaders. His East Lake Foundation managed and realized the transformation over the next two decades. The original clubhouse and golf course were rebuilt, the residents voted to tear down the existing public housing and built 500 units of mixed-income housing. Charter schools were established, in addition to a YMCA, two early childhood education centers, a major grocery store, two banks, and other retail businesses and schools. Violent crime rates dropped significantly. The example illustrates that community transformation can occur if it is planned and executed by an effective, well-resourced organization led by persons with a long-term commitment to the community and all of its residents. Shirley Franklin and others have built a national organization, Purpose Built Communities, which has the objective to take the example of East Lake to scale. The organization is working with twenty-five communities around the country. The model focuses on mixed-income housing, education from cradle to college, community wellness that entails jobs, health, and safety. What is unique is the establishment of a single organization for designing, implementing, and overseeing the community transformation over decades13.
There are other similar renewals such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts that has been successful in forming a land trust that designed and built apartments for community residents. The trust also built community gardens and greenhouses that provided jobs with young gardeners selling their produce to the urban farmers’ market. Community centers were added and gradually the residents took ownership of the streets with a drop in the crime rate14.
What is the relation among these programs of anti-violence, climate improvement, and durable urban renewal? Would we want a new area of urban renewal to be energy inefficient, with old transportation systems, few green areas, relying on fossil fuels? Would we want high levels of violence to persist? These three transformations are interconnected and should be integrated. To realize these essential developments, we also require private capital, particularly from pension funds given their size and interests. This could be made possible by a Labor Department new ruling concerning risk of climate change regarding pension funds and the creation of taxable municipal bonds that is being proposed. Private and public capital must share the enormous financial needs of climate improvement, urban development, and anti-violence programs. Let’s not miss these opportunities and the occasion to advance private finance.
1 Sharkey, Patrick, 2017, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence (pp. 181-182). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
2 Decker, Scott, 2018, Arizona State University, Conference Community Based Anti-Violence Strategies, April 11-12.
3 National Gang Center, Comprehensive Gang Model: Core Strategies .
4 Los Angeles, Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
5 Wikipedia, Operation Ceasefire.
6 Twohig-Bennett, C., Jones A. 2018, “The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes”, Environmental Research, Volume 166, Pages 628-637.
7 Romer, Karen, 2021, Green Neighborhoods: America's Top 10 Best Eco-Neighborhoods Mother Earth Living.
8 Benfield, Kaid, 2017, Six Ways that Thoughtful Community Planning can Help Fight Climate Change, SmartCitiesDive.
9 Baneman, Roger, 2021, How to Make Two Vital Tax Even Better (Part II), March 30, Natural Resources Defense Council, Experts.
10 DiNapoli, Jessica, and Kerber, Ross, 2020, Labor Department finalizes U.S. rule curbing sustainable investing by pension funds, Reboot-Live, Reuters, October 30.
11 U.S. Department of Labor, 2021, U.S. Department Of Labor Statement Regarding Enforcement Of Its Final Rules On Esg Investments And Proxy Voting By Employee Benefit PlansEmployee Benefits Security Administration, March 10, 2021.
12. Sharkey, Patrick. 2017, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence (p. 183). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
13 Purpose Built Communities, 2021, Purpose Built Communities was established in 2009 after the successful revitalization of the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta.
14 Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, 2021, “Our Story”,