“ Most communities have the inherent capacity to provide what they need- in other words to be prosperous. Prosperity is the belief that we can make do, find a way, and provide for ourselves. Not all that we want, or all that is possible, but enough. Prosperity is associated with the decision that we can produce a handmade life” — John McKnight (The Abundant Community)
SBCC (Strength Based Community Change) is engaged in a community revitalization initiative in Wilmington, called “The Avalon Project”. The goal was to support local businesses and partner with them by providing a free exterior redesign that showcases the businesses unique identity, reflects the neighborhood context, makes them more inviting to local customers, and increases visibility & profits. To date SBCC has worked with 4 local businesses: Uni America (an insurance company), South Bay Coast Realty Agency (a real estate company), Teriyaki Grill (a restaurant), & Synesthesia Boutique (a fashion clothing store).
SBCC worked in partnership with these businesses consulting with them to design attractive storefront improvements. Only local artist were hired, painters and first generation laborers who had lost their jobs and have been impacted by the pandemic. The local workforce was part of the entire planning process collaborating with the business owner in completing each design and providing low-cost solutions that have the potential for high-impact and long term change. The goal was to utilize local talent, local assets to insure that the money spent to implement the projects stayed in the local community and contributed to the health and prosperity of the local economy.
“Our capacity to be prosperous is increased by the existence of the supportive purchasing habits of a community. We know that strong neighborhoods are ones with a functioning locally owned business district” — John McKnight (An Abundant Community)
The results of the Avalon Beatification Project confirmed the value of supporting local business. The businesses SBCC worked with reported an increase in local resident purchasing products and a concurrent increase in revenue. They also reported an increase in civic pride associated with the new improved look. The business owners were enthusiastic about working with local artist and local contractors who felt understood the community and what would appeal to potential local costumers.
“We have people walking in thinking we are a new business.” — Jason Shim (Teriyaki Table)
Supporting the creation of a local economy which keeps money within the local community and creates a sense of ownership and local control is more than an economic strategy, its a community building strategy. A focus on the local economy creates a neighborhood economy with core values that affect the quality of life in the community. A neighborhood economy reflects the belief that individual, and community well-being are connected to the interdependence of neighbors when each person believes that their own success personally and economically is dependent on the success of their neighbors.
In many neighborhoods the lack of a decent income is a major limiting force on the power of residents to engage in meaningful community building. Another significant barrier is the consolidation of resources and decision making authority into the hands of the elected officials or county department who are not connected or accountable to the voices of neighborhood residents.
The common institutional response to neighborhoods whose people don't have enough money for necessities is to provide them with social services.
Often, the dollars appropriated for these services are so great that if the same dollars were allocated to supplement the incomes of low-income people, no resident would live in poverty. This pattern is illustrated by the fact that a U.S. study showed between 1960 and 1985 the federal and state cash assistance programs amounted to $32.3 billion while service and commodities programs received $99.7 billion.
In 2008 the same pattern prevailed. The major family welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), only allocated 40% of its funding for cash and direct benefits meeting basic needs while allocating the rest for services. And because most of the professionals who provided the services do not live in low income neighborhoods the service dollars were drained from poor neighborhoods to support middle class economies elsewhere. If we had taken the billions for social services designed to “fix” poor people and used them to invest in the local neighborhood economy which ensured their participation, we would not need to “fix” anyone.
The great threat and fallacy of the Systems & Policy elite is that institutional wisdom trumps community wisdom. Every neighborhood is different, every neighborhood has a unique culture, unique traditions and local leadership. System & Policy Change is change from the top down not the bottom up.
This is exactly what SBCC is doing with the Avalon Beautification Project, investing in the local economy, developing the local workforce, & providing resources and jobs. The investment in local business and local workers is a community building strategy that must be driven by the people who live in the neighborhood.
The intent of SBCC was to partner with local businesses to invest in the Avalon Business corridor and remain true to the culture of Wilmington while increasing traffic and profitability. Each business owner had very specific ideas regarding how to capture their identity aligned to the character of the neighborhood. Because each business had an individual preference regarding how their image would be presented this revitalization work was not scalable nor should it be. SBCC’s goal was to be effective in capturing the story each business wanted to tell. The unique character and relevance of each business mandated that we respect their individuality.
Avalon’s Revitalization Project will be continued one business at a time and in the process revitalize the neighborhood economy. SBCC does not advocate systems and policy change, in fact SBCC believes that residents and neighbors, non-systems people are competent to create a thriving local economy and neighborhood policies that support individual, child and family well being.