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How to Revive Low-Income Neighborhoods

Tap the power of local commons-based institutions like hospitals and colleges

Anchor institutions--hospitals, colleges, and other institutions deeply rooted in their communities--are a form of  commons that is viewed as crucial to revitalizing low-income neighborhoods.  Besides being major employers and big customers for local businesses, they have an intrinsic stake in making sure their neighborhoods thrive.  Your local hospital, for instance, is not going to pack up its beds and move to Mexico.

Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston and Syracuse have all devised successful srategies to harness the economic power of these anchors to create more good jobs, business opportunities and community improvement projects that benefit low-income neighbors. An ambitious effort is underway in Minneapolis-St. Paul to link seven colleges campuses and nine medical facilities along the 11-mile route of a new light rail line in a broad effort to boost the surrounding communities.

An initiative in Cleveland aims to help local residents become owners of new businesses that serve a cluster of hospitals, universities and cultural institutions on the city's struggling East Side, including the famed Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University.  The Cleveland Foundation teamed up with Ted Howard of the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland to launch the Evergreen Cooperatives: 1) Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, an environmentally conscious employee-owned firm with a contract to clean linens and scrubs for local hospitals; 2) Green City Grower Cooperatives, an employee-owned 3.25 acre greenhouse that produces greens year-round for hospitals and the university; and 3) Evergreen Energy Solutions, where worker-owners install photovoltaic panels and make weatherization improvements for anchor institutions and local residents.   

Adapted from 27 Bright Ideas We Should Steal From the Rest of the World, a report on best practices by Jay Walljasper published by the McKnight Foundation of Minnesota.