During the Spring 2015 semester, Ted Howard, the Executive Director of the Democracy Collaborative, joined one of the online evening classes at the Bard MBA in Sustainability. The last thing that I expected that night was for this lecture to dramatically alter the course of the next year of my life.
It was 7:00pm. I’d just come home from working all day and in all honesty, I was ready to zone out. As the lecture went on, however, I found myself enthralled, taking notes and writing down questions. As my roommates walked by and overheard some of the conversation, they sat down on the couch next to me to listen in.
So, what was the lecture about?
In 2012, the Ohio Department of Public Health reported that the average life expectancy for an African American male in some parts of Cleveland was 64 years old, whereas average life expectancy for white men who lived in the suburbs of the city were 88.5 years. The Democracy Collaborative, an organization founded to address these inequalities by using innovative strategies to build community within neighborhoods, undertook an initiative to change those numbers.
In the face of such statistics, how can an individual or an organization create real change? The answer: by alleviating poverty rates through employment opportunities.
The Cleveland-based group partnered with area hospitals and universities to analyze spending patterns and identify ways in which the institutions could source some of their products and services locally.
The study revealed a number of opportunities. For example, all area hospitals were shipping their laundry outside of the city to be washed. They established an industrial, LEED-certified laundromat and created a number of jobs that paid a living wage.
The group then identified that the majority of lettuce purchased by hospitals and colleges was shipped in from across the country. They opened a greenhouse to grow those products locally.
Together, the laundromat, the greenhouse and several other businesses that cater to hospitals and colleges in the city of Cleveland are known as the Evergreen Cooperatives.
By building businesses that are local and cater to local economic engines, the Evergreen Cooperatives creates stability not only for the individuals who are employed, but also for the larger economy as a whole.
Over the course of the lecture, I couldn’t help but wonder, could this model work in the city of Poughkeepsie?
Though smaller in size, our city, our economy and our statistics are not too different than those in Cleveland.
30% of commercial spaces on Main Street are vacant. Overall, the Hudson Valley News Network estimates that there is over one million square feet of vacant office space within the city. 30% of city residents have lived below the poverty line in the last year. In a city of 30,000, that means that 9,000 individuals live below the poverty line.
In light of the examples from Cleveland, when faced with the statistics above, the question that we need to be asking is this –
How can we spark collaboration between the city government, county government, city school districts, four colleges and plethora of small businesses and non-for-profit organizations that call Poughkeepsie home?
The Poughkeepsie Community Wealth-Building Summit is our answer to that question. This is our opportunity to start the conversation – to look at how cities such as Cleveland have successfully created employment opportunities by engaging area anchor institutions, to brainstorm with employees of local organizations on ways to increase their involvement, to encourage everyone in the room to view the statistics not as a barrier to success, but as an opportunity to build upon it.
Check out the agenda for the summit here.
Interested in attending? E-mail us at [email protected]