The Key to Making Economic Development More Equitable Is Making It More Democratic

Article/Op-Ed in the Nation
Flickr / Michael Layefsky
April 26, 2016

K. Sabeel Rahman wrote for the Nation about how Oakland and other cities are experimenting with efforts to make local residents active participants in the development process: 

At the watery edge of Sunset Park, a working-class neighborhood of Chinese, Latino, and Indian immigrants in Brooklyn, lies the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, a vast plot of warehouses and docks managed by New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The terminal is part of an ambitious plan to generate new industrial jobs, innovation, and economic development serving local residents and the city more broadly. The plan, which has been a top priority for the administrations of both Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, involves efforts to invest in infrastructure and create incentives for new manufacturing businesses while creating new parks for local community members.
But in early 2015, a brewing dispute over the management of the project threatened to derail it. City Council member Carlos Menchaca, who represents Sunset Park, raised concerns about EDC’s role in managing the land and project, blaming the agency for insufficiently involving the local community in shaping the vision for Sunset Park’s future. This 11th-hour snag led to an unusually public war of words between Menchaca and the EDC. After months of further negotiations, the administration agreed to create a planning-and-jobs task force to engage community members, in addition to reinvesting 5 percent of the site’s revenue into a community fund and improvements to the nearby Bush Terminal Park.
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Civic Engagement and Organizing