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Further The Work

One Small Example: Place-Based Planning

May 7, 2010

Dear Rebecca,

As many of us are discovering, Richmond is of increasing interest to funders, service providers, and municipal and government leaders; and with recent announcements of substantial federal grants to support regional initiatives, the possibility of expanding resources for Richmond is appearing on the horizon.

Given these factors, at Further The Work we believe that now - right now - represents an important and invaluable opportunity for us to ask ourselves how we can do things better, in large part by doing them differently.

For the past year or two, we at Further The Work have been advocating what we call "intentionally aligned, multisector, place-based planning and implementation." In other words: building the village. And we're not alone; the federal government's increasing focus on place-based, integrated planning is powerfully demonstrated in the Choice Neighborhoods (housing-focused) and Promise Neighborhoods (schools-focused) initiatives, the latter of which debuted this week.

We are delighted by the dawning possibility of such a systematic approach to supporting effective place-based programs, which engage three fundamental elements:

  1. Girl writingThe use of deep and intentional efforts through well-managed, intentional, and goal-specific multisector partnerships;

  2. The development of robust web-based data systems to support shared, accessible, cross-sector data collection and analysis, which in turn can be used to isolate system gaps and redundancies, identify needs and resources, inform implementation, foster integrated solutions, and evaluate processes and outcomes (OK, this is a dream, but we're allowed to dream);

  3. The collaborative planning of various funders and funding sources - public and private, large and small - which actively seek to gather and share information, review outcomes and approaches, recognize possible alignments and co-funding opportunities, and intentionally support grantees' capacity to collaborate with and plan with one another and other sectors.

Imagining Place-Based Planning and Implementation

To take one small example: A multisector collaboration might involve a city's planning department talking about street lighting and bike paths with school leaders, who are listening to children and talking to parents, who are discussing after-school programs with nonprofit service providers, which are talking to funders, which are talking to community-based police officers and neighborhood advocates, who are talking to municipal leaders, who are working across all levels of government to develop a plan to create neighborhoods in which all children are safe, healthy, and ready to learn.

Maybe all of them would align around a small, specific initiative: let's say, a collective plan to develop a "healthy highway" in Richmond's Iron Triangle neighborhood, perhaps spanning four blocks from Peres School at 5th and Pennsylvania to Pogo Park's Elm Playlot at 8th and Elm. Maybe the model would look something like this:

  • Improvements in the built environment between the school and the park (bike lanes, safe sidewalks and street lighting; no scary dogs, blighted buildings controlled by drug dealers, or cars blocking the sidewalks)...

  • Would allow children to walk or bike safely from the school to the park (physical health, neighborhood revitalization, increased community safety and community cohesion)...

  • Where they could engage in physical play (good health) and...

  • Participate in scheduled park-based programming that (among other things) reflects and reinforces the school's academic focus and philosophic approaches (academic improvement, conflict resolution, and determination)...

  • Which would be provided by familiar, well trained, and compensated local residents (community cohesion, workforce development), and...

  • Where the children would enjoy healthy after-school snacks of fruits and vegetables provided by local vendors (physical health, economic development, and supportive municipal vendor ordinances)...

  • While basking in the informal support provided by neighbors who come to sit on the benches and watch over the children (community revitalization through intergenerational, interethnic, and interfamily relationships)...

  • And where everybody could get basic health screenings (vision, dental, hearing, obesity prevention) provided by both public and private health agents (improved health, reduced health costs)...

  • After which the children - now physically tired, beneficially fed, emotionally nurtured, and intellectually stimulated - could walk home (along safe sidewalks) to their households, to be met by parents who've been able to relax for just a minute while their children were at the park (increased family support, reduction in physical indicators of adult stress, reductions in referrals to child protective services)...

  • All during which, data are being collected to inform, improve, and share the ways in which this "healthy highway" community and its members are improving life: Measures of academic performance, health condition, physical activity level, awareness of healthy eating and healthy behaviors, local crime statistics, rates of child protective service interventions, rates of school suspension and truancy, levels of adult/parent depression and family violence, levels of neighborhood satisfaction and perceived safety, and so on.

That's Further The Work's vision of what might exist in the distance between Peres School and Pogo Park's Elm Playlot.

Sure, it's just four short blocks, in a battle-scarred city. But if you look a little closer, you can see it clear as day:

Richmond is a place just brimming with people who are just brimming with promise.

So let's fulfill that potential by working together, across all sectors and venues,
to thoughtfully design and build true Promise Neighborhoods, right here in Richmond.

We welcome your thoughts; join the conversation on our forum, Further Thoughts, here.

Best to all,
Rebecca's signature
Rebecca Brown, MA, CFA, CFRE
President, Further The Work

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