Boston LISC Staff blog

Energy Efficiency Olympians

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This morning I was driving to the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Appreciative Inquiry Summit hosted by the energy efficiency program administrators at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and heard a story on the radio about an amazing teen in Needham who is a hopeful for the U.S. Olympic team.  Her coach noted that her drive makes her an excellent athlete.  She can be happy with a performance, but she is never content.  She's always striving to improve.


At the Summit her story reminded me of Massachusetts' long history with energy efficiency.  We're happy that we're rated first in the country for energy efficiency by the ACEEE, but we're not settling for it.  We're the Olympians of Energy Efficiency.  The Summit in Foxborough brought together a variety of sectors - people with diverse perspectives and varying expertise in the field - and I can't wait to see how the program administrators use the results to create innovative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges and advance the conversations to continuously inform their programs and advance collaboration among sectors.



Green and Healthy in New York!

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Last week I went to New York to serve on a panel to discuss green and healthy property management and operations for affordable housing. We had a great group of about 40 people from various nonprofits that own affordable and/or supportive housing in NYC, property managers, and city agencies. We discussed benchmarking – the joys and the challenges, the great payback on water retrofits, and keeping mice out of buildings to keep residents healthier. It was great to meet so many people interested in implementing green and healthy practices in their property management!


The discussion was a part of the Managing Lean and Green series hosted by the Pratt Center for Community Development and sponsored by a group of organizations: The Supportive Housing Network of New York, Pratt Center for Community Development, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Enterprise Community Partners.


To see a summary of the panel discussion and to download slide shows by the panelists, visit the series website.


Robert Sampson's Great American City

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Robert Sampson, author of Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Effect Neighborhood Effect will be speaking about his book this coming Monday April 30th at 4PM at the Belfer Center at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government  in Cambridge. A distinguished panel which includes both Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and Professor Ed Glaeser who writes frequently on urban issues and is the author of the recent book, Triumph of the City, will respond to Professor Sampson's remarks. 


Sampson's book is an important one for people concerned with neighborhoods and how to improve both the places and the lives of people who live in urban neighborhoods.  I am currently reading the book and though I have not yet finished it, I thought it was worth writing about it today because of the upcoming public lecture. 


The book is a rich combination of very detailed research over a long period of time on Chicago neighborhoods informed by a deeply informed perspective on theories of urban development and poverty which allows Sampson to draw some important conclusions.

Here are a few of the key conclusions: 


1. Place matters and needs to be taken into consideration as a cause separate from individual choices in thinking about poverty.
2. The " collective efficacy" of a place matters and is to some degree independent of the socio- economic status of a place- in other words building a strong "platform" in a poor neighborhood matters and can have a positive impact on the place and on the people that live there.
3. Sampson believes that strategies that emphasize individual choice ( vouchers for housing, vouchers for schools ) as a way to move poor people out of a place will not in themselves solve poverty and that to a significant degree even when blighted neighborhoods are razed the same structure are reproduced elsewhere.


Here are some passages from the concluding chapter:
"Consistent with the individualist American, the dominant policy approach to reducing inequality by place starts with the premise of promoting individual choice.  This dominance is highlighted symbolically and concretely in the voucher movement, one that advocates vouchers as a way to move individuals away from whatever bad school or bad community that inequality has wrought.  But more than just move individuals away, an allied policy is to eradicate the damaged community left behind."……..
"Motivated by the findings of this book and building on my argument...., a different  approach is to intervene holistically at the scale of neighborhoods, communities and cities themselves.  Rather than simply move people out of target ted communities, the idea is to renew what is already there while simultaneously investing in communities on the edge of critical need but not yet deemed policy-relevant. ……..
" I have no wish to argue against increasing individual opportunities,…. rather….I wish to make a positive case by emphasizing a point brought to life in this book: communities can serve as a unit not just of social science theory and method, but of holistic policy intervention that prioritizes the interconnected social fabric. …..(emphasis added)
"In short, I want to make the dual case for community-level intervention instead of individual-level escape hatches and a government policy focus on the interlocking social infrastructures  in the neighborhoods of American cities.
Sampson also makes a compelling case for the importance of focusing on interventions that deal with violence as being critical and deserving of focus:
" I believe that we need to first pay special attention to integrating violence interventions with other efforts to rebuild communities at risk.  although "things go together", safety is a fundamental condition for humans to flourish and, as a result violence is a leading indicator of a community's viability over the long run."

This post only scratches the surface of this important book.  It is truly "thick description"  to use a term from anthropology, of Chicago's neighborhoods with many important conclusions for policy makers and community developers. 




Valuable Research on the Community Impact of Federal Foreclosure Response

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Erin Graves, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, has published a valuable article in The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's New England Community Developments newsletter assessing the impact of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) in Boston's neighborhoods  NSP has provided money to the City of Boston to fund the acquisition and rehabilitation of foreclosed properties in the where foreclosures have had the greatest impact.   Erin went to the neighborhoods where the City of Boston had spent NSP dollars on acquiring and rehabilitating foreclosed property and knocked on doors with a set of questions about the impact of foreclosures and other indicators about the community. 

 What she learned was that that in many cases there were larger threats to neighborhood stability than foreclosed properties.  Crime and anti-social activity were seen as more of a threat than foreclosures particularly gun violence.  

 Graves found that many residents do have confidence both in city government and the Boston Police Department but also in local community organizations although some expressed a sense of abandonment by institutions. 


She makes some recommendations based on her research:

1) Policy should foster safe neighborhood environments not simply affordable housing.

2) Policy should focus on promoting community safety and reducing gun violence.

3) Policy should support neighborhood organizations and support strengthening their connection to city government.

This short research report is very rich and it's conclusions are very consistent with some of the themes of an important new book on urban neighborhoods by Harvard sociologist  Robert J. Sampson called The Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect., but since I have not finished reading Sampson's book, I will save that for another post.


Boston LISC Blog: Data Day 2012

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On January 27th staff members and affiliates of Boston LISC attended Data Day 2012:  Using Data to Drive Community Change.  Thanks to co-sponsorship by MAPC, The Boston Indicators Project, and Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs hundreds of people interested in data, from novice beginners to seasoned academics and researchers attended the free event and multiple workshops with topics ranging from data mapping and the U.S. Census to using data to tell your story and using data to engage youth in their neighborhoods.

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