What is Building the Engine?
Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit (BECDD) is a citywide collaborative process that will strengthen all of Detroit’s neighborhoods by creating a well-coordinated, effective and equitable system for community development work in our city.
How it Began
In Detroit, while some great community development work has been done since the mid-1980s, there is no system in place to ensure that every neighborhood is served by a competent, well-resourced and sustainable community development organization.
Building on the work that Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) spearheaded from 2008–2010, three partner institutions (CDAD, Lawrence Technological University and Michigan Nonprofit Association) launched BECDD in Spring of 2016. Initial funders included the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Kresge Foundation and Bank of America.
In the first year (2016), 98 stakeholder organization participated with the goal of understanding the challenges to creating a community development system in Detroit. The following two years focused on gathering research and developing definitive strategies. Today, over 200 stakeholder organizations are engaged. Our next phase (2019–2020) involves testing these strategies as we continue to build the system.
Why do we need this system?
Most of Detroit’s neighborhoods are fragile. Fundamental change is needed to create the social and civic systems necessary for all of Detroit’s neighborhoods to thrive. In virtually all of the other great U.S. cities, community development systems are in place to support neighborhoods. In Detroit, the past few years, there has been some progress in some neighborhoods, but more work is needed for all neighborhoods in Detroit to realize their potential.
Why is the Building the Engine process different and impactful?
- Broad and deep involvement. Over 200 local organizations are participating and that number is growing. We are involving virtually every organization with a stake in Detroit neighborhoods.
- Collaboration from the ground up. Organizations on the ground are just as critical as the government, foundation leaders and technical experts. Our aim is to build trust and collaboration among all stakeholders, combining the wisdom and experience of local community leaders with respected expertise and national research.
- Possibilities for every neighborhood. Our work is intended to build a support system for neighborhoods all over the city, so that local leaders have the opportunity to bring community development work into any neighborhood that wants it.
Learnings from other U.S. cities
We researched five U.S. cities with mature community development systems, pinpointing the drivers critical to their success. A few common themes emerged from all of the cities:
- A common narrative on the importance of community development, held across all stakeholder groups, is crucial.
- A strong intermediary system including CDC trade associations, capacity-building and financial intermediaries and others is directly related to the strength of local CDCs and their influence on strong community-development policy.
- City government must play a key role in the system and must recognize the importance of strong CDCs working on the ground.
- Resident engagement in local neighborhood planning assures long-term success.
- Flexible and long-term funding and project capital ensures success in neighborhoods.
- Systems greatly benefit from state and local tax-credit programs, which can generate significant corporate funding for core operating support for community development.
- State certification can provide an enormous boost to legitimacy and sustainability.
- An institutionalized commitment to community organizing creates long-term impact.
- Community control of property creates equitable partnerships with city government.
- Embedding community development principles across local government decision-making contributes to durability.
- Strategic deployment of local, state and federal funds is critical to sustaining a system.
- Skill-building and training opportunities should be coordinated, expand beyond leadership development and be responsive to local demands.
- Adopting a common goal and measurable targets focuses investments and strengthens cross-sector commitments.