(Photo by Renee Schacht)
In late October, I found myself in Cincinnati with a small but mighty contingent of civic change agents who are taking the lead, investing in and positively impacting their communities.
Brought together by People’s Liberty, an innovative philanthropic lab in Cincinnati, the convening called People Investing in Place (PIIP 2.0) was a continuation of their 2015 iteration called People Investing In People (PIIP), which included funders from around the country. This time around, practitioners from Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City and Pittsburgh gathered to share their projects, stories and lessons learned.
From Eve Picker, who created Small Change, a Pittsburgh-based crowdfunding platform that is the nation’s first funding portal allowing everyday people to invest in real estate projects that change cities and neighborhoods for the better, and Sonya Maya, president and CEO of Develop Detroit, a real estate and housing development company revitalizing Detroit’s distinct neighborhoods, to Marika Shioiri-Clark and Graham Veysey, a husband and wife team who are leading the charge in reviving long-overlooked buildings in Cleveland’s Hingetown neighborhood, these progressive community redevelopment methods are neither simple nor easy, but they are making a difference.
Equally impressive to their various innovative approaches to strengthening communities is that the projects and initiatives are personally and individually driven. They may be working with their respective city government and/or receiving support from local and national foundations, but their ideas stem from their personal passion and commitment to revitalizing their cities. They are civic problem solvers and urban innovators leading the charge to tackle systemic problems.
Throughout the entirety of PIIP 2.0, I could not help but think that many of these initiatives happening elsewhere would be great for Philadelphia. I am certain People’s Liberty was thinking similar thoughts, which is why they invited these brilliant minds to Cincinnati. It was also revealed over the course of the convening that many of these change-agents were “boomerangers,” individuals who moved away from where they were born and/or raised — whether it be Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis or New York City —only to return to that city years later.
While I do not fit into this category, having been born in Wisconsin and moved to Philadelphia via New York City to start a nonprofit called Tiny WPA with my boyfriend and now husband Alex Gilliam — I do fall into the other group I observed at PIIP 2.0: of the 15 practitioners present, there were two married couples along with two others, including myself, who work with their significant others. While I am not sure what conclusions, if any, to draw from these observations, it made me pause and reflect.
There are plenty of people who are committed to investing in places. This is not new (for example, neighborhood civic associations, community development corporations, parent-teacher associations). And there are plenty of places that need attention and investment. It is ultimately clear that we need more funders like People’s Liberty to support as well as help catalyze and connect people who want to make a difference in the places they live. Sure, some individuals will succeed regardless of whether they garner larger support, but the need for a new culture of citizenship and like-minded organizations to help rapidly accelerate this development could not be more pressing.-30-
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