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Local Revitalization

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2010 National Summit on a People-Centred Economy

Issue Paper #3: Local Revitalization

Draft – February 1, 2010 by Mike Toye, Canadian CED Network

Territorial Revitalization: Summary
The social economy is a vital part of multi-sectoral strategies to improve local conditions. When those conditions are examined through a territorial lens, many communities use Community Economic Development (CED) to implement their own solutions to economic problems – solutions that build long-term community capacity and foster the integration of economic, social and environmental objectives. CED recognizes that sustainable development requires an integrated approach to complex community problems, and encourages people to take charge of their future through systematic renewal that is conceived and directed locally. Strategic CED priorities include structural economic change, local ownership of resources, social development, environmental stewardship, labour market development, and access to capital. The social economy is a powerful means to address these priorities.

Table of Contents
1. Current State of the Field
2. The Key Players
3. Top Questions or Issues
4. Propositions

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1. Current State of the Field

A territorial approach to the social economy, referred to as community economic development (CED), is a growing reality. It can be defined as a process by which communities initiate and implement their own solutions to economic problems in order to build long-term community capacity and foster the integration of economic, social and environmental objectives. CED favours a holistic approach to economic development: it is committed to both business development and employability; job creation and the social integration of excluded people; economic activity as well as housing and local services. It also differs from traditional approaches to economic development in that it solicits civil society’s participation in such matters as local governance and the implementation of development tools to serve the community.

Traditional public investment has faced limitations in its ability to decrease community marginalization. Macroeconomic measures to enhance productivity and competitiveness have had little effect on the economics and status of poverty-stricken neighbourhoods, lagging regions and disadvantaged populations.

However, some communities have found a way to successfully combat decline and create vibrant, healthy communities. They have done so through CED – a multi-purpose social and economic strategy for systematic renewal, conceived and directed locally. By taking a CED approach to development, these communities are making Canada stronger as they transform themselves into attractive places to live and work that are full of opportunity.

We know today that the revitalization of marginalized communities is a complex challenge requiring coordinated and constantly evolving responses. Long-term labour market detachment, persistent poverty and homelessness demand collaborative efforts from both community leaders as well as provincial and federal departments. We have seen that, working together, these stakeholders can create the kind of innovative solutions that make a real difference in Canadian communities. For individuals that face multiple barriers to labour market participation and for communities struggling with limited economic opportunities, harnessing the entrepreneurial and problem-solving capacities of local leaders and citizens is the most effective approach to achieve sustained improvements.

Key to creating an environment that can foster community-level innovation is reform of the myriad governmental policies and programs that too often create barriers rather than serving as stepping-stones to social and economic participation. Initiatives strengthening horizontal collaboration across departments and agencies within one level of government, as well as steps to foster vertical cooperation among different levels of government are needed to remove disincentives and facilitate coordinated local action. For example, more flexible funding to employment development organizations at the community level that promote holistic and outcome-based development for marginalized unemployed individuals, enhancing their ability to enter and remain in the labour force, would greatly enhance local organizations’ ability to respond to the unique needs of their populations.

The critical role of communities is becoming central to our understanding of effective social and economic development. A growing body of new research and policy knowledge is shedding light on complex social challenges such as long-term labour market detachment, persistent poverty and homelessness. This research is grounded in three fundamental observations:

  1. Because complex and interconnected problems are beyond the reach of any single actor to solve, they require holistic interventions that build on local assets and address multiple root causes.

  2. The impacts of globalization vary significantly from place to place. In large urban centres, already vulnerable people such as recent immigrants or lone parent families are trapped in rundown neighbourhoods with few connections to the mainstream. In smaller, more remote locations, the same issues of exclusion often threaten the viability of the entire community as the local economic base is depleted.

  3. Traditional policy responses – typically centralized and top-down – that ignore local voices and devalue community and municipal assets will not build the high quality places that are the foundation for the prosperity of nations in a global age. Nor will they be capable of the robust policy learning necessary to tackle complex problems. A “local lens” is needed to assess the spatial impacts of national policies and maximize their benefits.

The place-based, community-driven policy strategies that are required in this new framework bring together governments and communities in a different relationship, beyond the traditional categories of centralization and decentralization, toward improved horizontal and vertical collaboration for multi-level, joined-up decision making focused on strategic outcomes that cross individual mandates but align priorities. These policy strategies also harness local knowledge, leveraging networks and assets for problem solving and longer-term thinking about preventative, upstream investments to deal with root causes as well as promoting overall well-being.

Social economy enterprises emerge from communities that are mobilized to promote development. Public policy supporting local communities to create networks, strategic planning processes and collective projects is a primary component of social entrepreneurship. An example of such policy is the tripartite support for community economic development corporations in most urban centres in Québec and in some other major Canadian cities. These non-profit, citizen-based development organizations, called community economic development corporations, have been the birthplace for some of the most original and successful social economy initiatives in Québec. Similar initiatives have developed over the years in several Canadian cities. Private sector partners have been mobilized to collaborate in these initiatives.

For communities to be successful in territorial revitalization strategies that are based on a CED approach, six essential principles must be recognized in policy and program design:

  1. CED is not a short-term affair, and it has suffered from the expectations of private and public funders that funding results would be visible in one or two years. While some milestones can be documented as attained annually, CED is primarily a matter of much longer-term effort. If communities have suffered from decades of disinvestment and decline, then recovery and new patterns for a healthy economy cannot be expected in a couple of years. A prime policy principle derives from this fact: funding programs must embody multi-year commitments.

  2. CED rests upon the foundation of local knowledge of varying local conditions and requires local control and flexibility in decision-making in order to take advantage of that foundation. Governmental and other support all too often ignores local variations in the problems addressed and imposes common and often inapplicable conditions as a part of their funding decisions. A key element of policy for CED programming must be the devolution of substantive and operational decisions to local CED organizations, such as allowing them to set their own social and economic priorities and designing the trade-offs that make sense locally. Such devolution does not mean unrestricted support, but it does mean that locally adjusted standards and milestones should be mutually arrived at and mutually agreed upon by finance sources and the local group, rather than set as a priori program requirements for groups to access the financing. Manitoba’s Neighbourhoods Alive! Program is a useful benchmark for program design with this vision.

  3. Effective CED strategies involve the melding of both social and economic goals and techniques in a multi-purpose design, such that multiple goals are concurrently pursued as an integrated whole. But CED organizations are often caught in conflicting expectations of federal programs designed only for a single objective. For example, the so-called stovepipe perspective in each program of a federal agency or among agencies presses local groups into overly specialised activities and does not fit the key CED feature of multiplicity of integrated initiatives. Similarly, provincial and private sector support all too often proceeds on the same track, concentrating on only one of all the necessary initiatives a community must take. But any single initiative needs to be enhanced and expanded by a multi-purpose strategy that addresses the health of a community in a holistic manner. A prime policy principle, therefore, has to establish consistent expectations across all finance sources so that each community can integrate its activities and funds from different government agencies, programs, and other sources.

  4. Leveraging funds can help make innovative projects happen. Many innovative communities have demonstrated remarkable ingenuity in melding and joining dollars from a variety of sources. If a source does not insist on an over-specialized program, CED organizations can successfully argue for supplemental or complementary funds from other sources. This experience leads to another prime policy principle—namely, reliance upon leverage. When CED organizations have garnered in-kind or dollar support from any source and for any community initiative, dollars from other sources should be readily available on a matching or super-matching basis.

  5. CED must be community-led. Each CED strategy derives its strength and its ideas from resources in its own community base, but that base is impotent without the organizing and strategizing capacity of a multipurpose community group or network of collaborating community groups that address the full range of local social and economic problems. Funding policy has to be founded upon active and independent CED organizations that are not conceived as agents for outside-designed programs but as partners in the investment process for enhanced communities. Thus CED cannot be a government program. Provincial and federal initiatives can only offer resources to a community that is creating its own tools for its own improvement. By the same token, not even the most farsighted foundation or even local government can on their own carry out community economic development; however, they can offer their support to community organizations that in their own design mobilize themselves to field a comprehensive program.

  6. Finally, senior governments are far too influential in their activities to proceed as if each is independently concerned with one or another economic or social problem. Their seeming lack of knowledge or even concern about how their policies impact on each other is a grievous handicap for localities struggling to field a consistent and effective effort. The federal and provincial governments must put more time and effort into the coordination of their policies and programs if CED is to achieve its full effect.

2. The Key Players

The following organizations have territorially-based local members who are active either directly in CED or in specific sectors or with populations that would benefit from being part of a CED strategy. Given the diversity and scope of territorially-mandated local organizations across the country, this list is admittedly very limited, but it should serve to offer an initial sampling of the range of key players in Canada:

3. Top Questions or Issues

The major challenges facing organizations pursuing CED strategies are:

  1. Long-Term Support: Multi-year funding commitments are required to begin the process of renewal in marginalized communities. Initial investments in asset mapping, community consultations and planning can be followed by strategic projects that lay the foundation for longer-term development, but sustained community efforts are greatly hampered without long-term support.

  2. Flexibility: Recognizing that the social and economic challenges facing a community are complex adaptive systems, the responses to those challenges must be multi-sectoral and constantly evolving to respond to changing conditions and emerging opportunities. Unfortunately, government funding to address these concerns tends to be fragmented between numerous levels of government and departments, as well as output focused, rather than targeted to strategic outcomes. Community organizations need the flexibility to be able to adapt activities and objectives to emerging conditions as part of a holistic approach.

  3. Data and Analysis Capacity: In order to track and analyze progress, detailed local data as well as the capacity to analyze and understand it is necessary. Access to locally-specific data, such as that provided by the Newfoundland and Labrador Community Accounts ([WWW] allows communities to prioritize their efforts, informs program design and even permits community conditions to be tracked over time. Combined with the local capacity to analyze the data and mobilize the community around it, these data systems are powerful catalysts for local action that is evidence-based and constantly learning.

  4. Capacity Building: investments in social capital and physical infrastructure contribute to the local governance networks and the ability of communities to mobilize and address these issues.

Many of these issues as well as useful solutions are well described in recent reports by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s Task force on Community Investments and the Blue Ribbon Panel on Grant and Contribution Programs.

Some of the areas in which CED initiatives are having tremendous success include

4. Propositions

Strategic CED priorities include structural economic change, local ownership of resources, social development, environmental stewardship, labour market development, and access to capital. In order for local organizations to lead that agenda at the community level, the six principles outlined above must be recognized in policy and program design. But two overriding preliminary recommendations would serve as a foundation for further subsequent development.

Recommendation 1: Territorial Policies that Offer Long-Term Support to Community-Based Development Initiatives

Recommendation 2: Provide Flexible Support for Community Economic Development Organizations and Community Capacity Building



Neil Bradford, Canadian Social Policy in the 2000s: Bringing Place In, CPRN Research Report, 2008, [WWW]

Canadian Community Economic Development Network, A Communities Agenda, 2008, [WWW]

Canadian Community Economic Development Network, CED Funding and Delivery in Canada, 2003, [WWW]

Canadian Community Economic Development Network, Investing in our Communities: A Proposed Policy Agenda for CCEDNet, National Policy Forum Background Paper for Policy Discussions, 2001.

Chantier de l’économie sociale in collaboration with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network and Alliance de recherche universités-communautés en économie sociale, Social Economy and Community Economic Development in Canada: Next Steps for Public Policy, Issues Paper, 2005, [WWW]

Jim Diers, From the Ground Up, Community’s Role in Addressing Street-Level Social Issues, Canada West Foundation, 2008, [WWW]Diers.pdf

Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, A Healthy, Productive Canada: A Determinant of Health Approach, Final Report of the Senate Subcommittee on Population Health, 2009, [WWW]

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