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Six ways to measure community change

Researchers from the evaluation group MDRC are pursuing six "lines of inquiry" to determine if and how NCP is working. These are complex questions that can’t be answered in a short article like this one, but to give a flavor of the work, here are the six questions along with some observations (by LISC, not the researchers) on what’s happening in the neighborhoods.

Did NCP build the capacity of the neighborhood intermediary?

Photo: Saint Turner

 

At NCP’s launch, two-year old Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. was dipping its toes in the world of community development. Initial planning meetings lacked broad representation and executive director Carlos Nelson had more enthusiasm than development experience. Today? The organization has grown from a one-person, $95,000-a-year operation to six staff, a $753,000 budget and a heavy schedule of community-building events including a library arts fest, financial workshops, block cleanups and the 79th Street Renaissance Festival (shown). It also has strong communications via a print newsletter and a frequently updated web site (www.gagdc.org).

Have institutional networks evolved and grown?

Humboldt Park had strong institutions in 2003, but the collaboration was limited between the neighborhood’s east and west sides and around issues like health and education. Through NCP planning and thoughtful distribution of grants to local organizations, lead agency Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation nurtured a network that has made substantial progress implementing the quality-of-life plan on both sides of the park. Businesses, health organizations, arts and youth groups, even biking and gardening efforts have all been active – and working together.

Have strategic investments led to visible improvements?

Photo: Ford & Associates Architects

 

Nowhere is physical change more evident than in the Quad Communities, where the city and federal governments are investing millions to rebuild public housing as mixed-income communities. The CHA plans came before the lead agency Quad Communities Development Corporation was founded, but the neighborhood is taking full advantage of the CHA catalyst. The focal point is Cottage Grove Avenue. Along a two-mile stretch are two rejuvenating schools, artsy banners created by local youth, the friendly CleanSlate beautification teams, new public investments, new businesses and, soon, major retail and housing developments including Shops and Lofts at 47th, below. Much can be traced back to NCP investments.

Has NCP changed stakeholder motivations, perceptions and behavior?

Englewood has been through many planning efforts, often without results, but the lengthy NCP process in 2005, involving 650 people, was like nothing that came before. It ignited hope and brought people together around a common vision. But making change in that neighborhood remains a serious challenge. When illness and staff changes at Teamwork Englewood slowed implementation, the "Village Circle of Advisors" (created during the planning process) pushed the Teamwork Englewood board (and LISC) to move the community’s plan forward. And so it is.

How do neighborhood trajectories intersect with NCP efforts?

By design, NCP neighborhoods are very different: some struggling to revive a weak economy while others try to rein in gentrification. In Logan Square, multi-layered strategies are helping to maintain housing affordability and provide stability for lower-income, mostly Latino residents. In contrast, East Garfield and Englewood seek to jump-start revival by building local networks and creating capacity to promote development.

Can NCP efforts be linked to improved conditions?

This is the million-dollar question, because unlike simpler evaluations, there is no "counterfactual" against which to compare the NCP neighborhoods. MDRC will use interviews, data and observations over time to make this judgment, and is likely to find stronger evidence in some neighborhoods than others. In the meantime, LISC’s "scribe team" will continue to write about what’s happening as it happens on this web site to provide at least some evidence that, yes indeed, NCP is making a difference.

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