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Democratized Economic Development

Democratizing economic growth is essential to the success of our city. We can only achieve economic prosperity through inclusivity, equity and broad participation in shaping economic policies and opportunities. Sustainable economic development cannot be achieved through top-down approaches but through actively engaging communities, individuals and diverse stakeholders. By empowering people to have a say in economic matters, democratized economic development can create a more just and resilient economy that serves the needs and aspirations of everyone. This work is hard but transformative. 

Examples of Democratized Economic Development

Evergreen Cooperatives (Cleveland, OH):

Launched in 2008 by a working group of Cleveland-based institutions (including the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and the municipal government), the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative is working to create living-wage jobs in six low-income neighborhoods, with a median household income below $18,500, in an area known as Greater University Circle.

 

The initiative was designed to create an economic breakthrough in Cleveland. Rather than a trickle-down strategy, it focuses on economic inclusion and building a local economy from the ground up. Rather than offering public subsidy to induce corporations to bring what are often low-wage jobs into the city, the Evergreen strategy calls for catalyzing new businesses, owned by their employees. Rather than concentrate on workforce training for employment opportunities that are largely unavailable to low-skill and low-income workers, the Evergreen Initiative first creates the jobs, and then recruits and trains local residents to fill them.

 

Community Land Trusts (CLTS)

CLTs are nonprofit organizations that acquire and hold land for the benefit of the community, ensuring that it remains affordable and accessible for housing, agriculture or other community needs.

One prominent instance is the Champlain Housing Trust (CHT) in Burlington, Vermont. CHT is one of the largest community land trusts in the country. It acquires and preserves affordable housing units while giving residents an active role in decision-making. The trust enables low- and moderate-income families to become homeowners while keeping the land in community ownership, preventing speculative real estate practices that can lead to gentrification and displacement.

Participatory Budgeting

Another example of democratized economic development is the concept of participatory budgeting. Participatory budgeting involves allowing community members to directly influence the allocation of a portion of public funds or budgets, typically at the local government level. This approach promotes transparency, civic engagement, and local decision-making.

 

In a participatory budgeting process, residents come together to identify their community's needs and priorities, propose projects or initiatives and then vote on how a portion of the budget should be allocated to fund these projects. It gives citizens a direct say in how their tax dollars are spent and fosters a sense of ownership and accountability in local governance.

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