[This post is from CEDAM Policy Intern Brandon Bourdganis]

Back in April, I went to New Orleans, Louisiana to attend the American Planning Association’s 2010 National Planning Conference.  This three-day conference explored how urban planning can be used to ensure the development and sustainability of great communities and neighborhoods.  Focusing my sessions on community economic development, I attended panels addressing how communities and neighborhoods can become rich and thriving places.  While the conference often focused on New Orleans as a case study, I found many parallels with Michigan’s dilemmas, strategies, and triumphs in community economic development.

Secretary Donovan’s Keynote Address

Secretary Shaun Donovan of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) presented the keynote address.  Focusing on HUD’s investment in New Orleans, he discussed the significance of HUD in rebuilding New Orleans and the region following the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  Donovan spoke about the importance of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) in creating affordable housing and the role Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 (NSP2) will have on stabilizing communities and fighting foreclosure.  These programs are also vital in redeveloping Michigan’s neighborhoods.  Having received the largest single NSP2 grant and continuing to work with LIHTC, our state, like New Orleans, continues to rely on these valuable HUD programs to continue to build strong communities.

“Partnering for Successful Neighborhood Redevelopment”

The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority and two New Orleans community development corporations (CDCs), Lakeview Civic Improvement Association (LCIA) and Broadmoor Development Corporation (BDC), demonstrated a successful partnership in redeveloping vacant and blighted properties after the hurricanes.  Acknowledging that both CDCs knew their communities better than any outside planner, they used this knowledge and their social capital to actively engage their community members to implement a grassroots neighborhood plan, which represented the beliefs, needs and energy with the community.  Similar to the Community Development Advocates of Detroit’s (CDAD) “Neighborhood Revitalization Strategic Framework,” which looks to redevelop the city based on the assets within specific communities.  CDAD, LCIA, and BDC are working with their cities and outside agencies to revitalize their communities from a grassroots level while capturing the energy, personality and desires of neighborhoods.

“Planning for Arts and Entertainment”

Focusing on “place-making” strategies, this session looked at how communities can incorporate art, cultural and entertainment into their community structure to increase a sense of place.  While the idea of art and entertainment is conceived differently depending on the community, the incorporation of statues, museums, theaters, or other mediums of art help to strengthen the sociability and creativity within a neighborhood and community.  James Peters from Responsible Housing Institute of San Diego discussed how community members must work together to create safe and vibrant areas for people to socialize and how the incorporation of arts and entertainment can contribute to creating these environments. Also, these forms of art and entertainment create new economies and cultures, such a nightlife or haut-couture culture and economy.  In implementing these ideas, the community must have a vision, plan for the future and have trust in their work. Members of the panel all agreed that with the incorporation of art and entertainment, social capital between residents is increased, safety is improved, and new economies and cultures emerge which ensure diversity and social strength.

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