Community Control Over Development: A Conceptual Framework

In our first Practical Visionaries Workshop in 2011, one project team explored community control over development as a key means of realizing a justainable city. Below, we summarize 3 key strategies for community control: 1) government policy, 2) direct negotiation with landowners and developers, and 3) endogenous development and ownership. In addition to this framework, our report also provides historical context on Boston, reflections from interviews with key community leaders and researchers, an analysis of the Grove Hall Mecca Mall project from the perspective of community benefits and control, and methodologies for analyzing community control. PVW Group 1 Final Report.

The report was authored by former UEP students Ian Adelman and Emily Earle, Soledad Boyd of Community Labor United, Lisette Le of Right to the City, Mark Liu of Chinese Progressive Association, and Penn Loh.

Practical Visionaries 2011: Mark Liu, Lisette Le, Emily Earle, and Ian Adelman
Practical Visionaries 2011: Mark Liu, Lisette Le, Emily Earle, and Ian Adelman

The conceptual framework below outlines the various ways that communities can exert bottom-up control and influence over development of land and economic development. We have put this together to help frame the various community strategies that have been undertaken in Boston and elsewhere in the US over the last 4+ decades. Our hope is to compile and assess these various strategies, both to understand their theory (how are they supposed to work) and their practice (how successfully have they been implemented). We believe this is a valuable exercise because grassroots movements have learned and achieved quite a bit over the decades (particularly in Boston), but it is difficult to access and interact with this collective experience and knowledge in one place. We hope this framework can be a useful tool for various movement-oriented entities in Boston as they develop longer-term strategies for community control and building a justainable city.

Strategy 1: Community Control through Government

Strategies that pursue community control through government policies at the federal, state, and local levels.

1. Responsible Development Standards

These include mostly municipal ordinances (but could also be state laws) that mandate various types of affordable housing, jobs and job training, transportation, and environmental standards and mitigation benefits in the process of developing land. Aside from zoning, these policies don’t consider what development happens, only what needs to be done in conjunction with a development proposal. What exists is often the result of past grassroots struggles opposing harmful development and trying to assert more direct forms of community control. Existing policies are often incomplete (they may only cover large and/or public land development), ineffectively or partially implemented or enforced, and/or insufficient to ensure community standards are met.

  • Zoning [Article 50 Roxbury]
  • Local hiring ordinances [Boston Resident Jobs Policy 1983, 1985]
  • Living wage [Boston Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance 1998]
  • Inclusionary zoning for affordable housing [Inclusionary Development Policy]
  • Linkage funds for affordable housing and job training [Boston Neighborhood Housing Trust, Neighborhood Jobs Trust]
  • Transportation access plans [Article 80]
  • Green Building standards [Article 37 and 80]

2. Planning and Project Review

These strategies address who participates in proactive planning and review of specific development projects. In Massachusetts (as in many other states), there is no law binding local governments to follow their master or comprehensive plans (or to even have plans). There have also been numerous forms of public participation in development planning and oversight, with varying levels of effectiveness.

  • Master Plans [Roxbury, Chinatown]
  • Environmental review [MEPA, NEPA]
  • Community and Public Health Impact Statements
  • Community oversight [Neighborhood Councils, Impact Advisory Groups, Roxbury Master Plan Oversight Committee]
  • Project Reviews [Article 80]

3. Control Over Public Capital/Subsidy

Communities can also intervene at the level of the public subsidies that go to development. These subsidies exist at the federal, state and city levels. There can be regulations that require certain types of benefits as well as opportunities for public review and input.

  • Federal $$ (HUD Section 3)
  • State
  • City

Strategy 2: Community Control through Direct Negotiation Landowners/Developers)

Strategies to exert direct influence over developers on specific sites and projects. Often, landowners, developers, and investors are seen as coming from outside of the community to make a profit on developing land. These developments also have negative community impacts. These negotiations produce agreements and commitments to enable projects to move forward by providing mitigation of impacts through various community benefits. Community benefits agreements (CBAs) are not necessarily ends in of themselves, but rather tactics as part of strategies towards stronger policies for responsible development and building movements for community control and “right to the city”. [See Partnership for Working Families website for more on CBAs.]

1. Community Benefit Agreements between community and developer

2. Community Benefit Agreements between developer and City

3. Non-legal Agreements

Strategy 3: Community Control through Endogenous Development and Direct Ownership

Strategies for various forms of community ownership of development assets, including land, housing, businesses. There have been waves of effort to establish these direct forms of control, most recently in the wake of the social movements of the 1960s-70s. In the last ~20 years, these strategies have become less prominent, as neoliberal free market ideology has become more dominant and large-scale state socialism has collapsed. However, models of limited success have persisted and been created even in the last 20+ years. There is a resurgence of these strategies through solidarity and community economy concepts, as well as regional cooperative networks such as those found in Spain and Italy.

1. Community Land Trusts [DSNI]

2. Cooperatively Owned Housing [a number of Boston examples: IBA, ADP]

3. Cooperatively Owned Businesses [Equal Exchange, South End Press]

4. Buying cooperatives [food coops, MassEnergy, Coop Power, REI]

5. Local landowners and business owners

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Distinguished Senior Lecturer and Director of Master of Public Policy and Community Practice, Tufts University Department of Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning

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