Published 3 years ago.
About a 7 minute read.
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Here, Purpose Built Communities president Carol Naughton discusses how sustainability and designing for resiliency can help to end intergenerational poverty, strengthen economically diverse communities and aid in neighborhood revitalization.
The nonprofit Purpose Built Communities
is working to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in the United
States, by helping local leaders across the country transform struggling
neighborhoods by bringing together the vital components for holistic community
revitalization. Those critical elements include: high quality mixed-income
housing, a neighborhood serving a cradle-to-college education pipeline, and
comprehensive community wellness resources. This cross-sectoral work is led and
coordinated by a single-purpose nonprofit or “community quarterback”
organization. Since its founding in 2009, Purpose Built Communities has expanded
to include more than 25 neighborhoods across the US.
We spoke with Carol Naughton, president and interim CEO of Purpose Built
Communities, to learn more about how sustainability and designing for resiliency
can help create pathways out of poverty, strengthen economically diverse
communities and aid in neighborhood revitalization.
CN: Purpose Built Communities takes a place-based approach in neighborhoods.
This allows for the advantage of addressing issues where people actually live
their lives. The urban attributes that we all aspire to create and nurture in
our cities — walkability, access to green
cultural vitality — are all experienced by people largely through the
neighborhoods they inhabit. The quality of people’s lives is directly a
consequence of the quality of the neighborhood environment within which they
live. While this may seem obvious, it is surprising how many public policies are
adopted at the local, state and federal levels that do not consider neighborhood
impacts at all.
Many of the neighborhoods we support, our Network Members, integrate
sustainability into their redevelopment efforts. For example, working with
developers to pursue LEED® Neighborhood Development certification and
seeking Affordable Green Neighborhoods
through the US Green Building Council. Residential units are built to
Energy Star standards and seek Enterprise Green Communities
certification. These efforts offer long-term benefit to residents in the form of
lower utility bills and less costly maintenance. Residents who have grown up in
unhealthy homes suffer from asthma and other health conditions at higher rates,
so attention to indoor air
in schools and homes is essential to leveling the playing field. And
prioritizing sustainability also has an intangible benefit of giving
neighborhoods points of distinction that help change perceptions and support the
growth of neighborhood pride.
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CN: When you think sustainability, you also think resilience. People who
live in the neighborhoods in which we work are very resilient. The neighborhoods
implementing the Purpose Built model are combatting deeply rooted prejudices
and a history of
that segregated these communities. Take housing, for example. Homeownership
still proves to be a major factor in wealth building for average Americans.
Even though housing discrimination has been outlawed for 50 years, studies show
that the US Black homeownership rate is not really any higher than when the
Fair Housing Act initially passed in 1968. In fact, the racial gap between
white and Black homeowners today is significant. According to the US Census
Bureau, the current
homeownership rate among white Americans is 75 percent, while the Black
homeownership rate stands at 45 percent. In comparison, 42
percent of Black
households owned their homes back in 1970 — two years after housing
discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin was outlawed.
We believe that everybody deserves affordable, high-quality housing; which is
why each of these neighborhoods is working with community partners to
rehabilitate existing homes and construct new mixed-income housing options.
Many of the places where we work are plagued with neglected infrastructure,
insufficient community resources — from a lack of community centers to limited
internet access — and the results of generations of uncoordinated planning.
Communities that are designed with resilience at their core — be it in the form
of parks and green
that address more severe and more frequent flooding as our climate changes, or
with flexible community spaces that can serve a variety of purposes for
gathering — are essential.
CN: We’ve known for some time that neighborhood is the most reliable
predictor of a child’s academic and economic future; but it’s also a stunningly
accurate predictor of health outcomes — an issue that is tied to our economic
security as a nation and overall quality of life.
A model that looks at the neighborhood as a whole — its housing, education and
community wellness; and a community quarterback to help align the many partners
involved in these efforts — can shift the tide. The interconnectedness of all
these things working together to support the entire neighborhood is critically
CN: The pandemic
is shining a light on the importance of place-based leadership. The
organizations that are part of the Purpose Built Communities network have
developed deep and authentic relationships with neighbors and other community
stakeholders. Many have taken on efforts to provide and coordinate essential
relief services such as food distribution and income support. They are able to
do this work because of the long-term commitment they have made to their
Our Network Members are well-positioned to lead through this crisis because of
an ongoing focus on building trust and elevating community leaders. Together,
they know the strengths and vulnerabilities of their neighbors and communities.
Strong relationships and mutual respect are allowing place-based leadership to
respond nimbly to the specific and dynamic needs of their community.
A few of the many strong examples of how Network Members are continuing their
work to end generational poverty within the context of this public health
The virus and resulting shutdown created immediate, severe and often complete
loss of income for 75 percent of the employed residents of Grove Park, who work
in the service industry. Many residents were at imminent risk of being displaced
from their homes in 30-60 days. Network Member Grove Park
worked with partners to quickly seed and fund a COVID-19 Emergency
which has raised $145,000 and counting to provide emergency rent and utility
assistance for residents who have experienced loss of income or employment due
Grove Park Foundation also saw many members of their community taking to social
media with questions about the CARES Act stimulus check: Where did the money
come from? Will I have to pay it back next year? I haven’t received my stimulus
check, what steps do I need to take to get it? The Foundation created a new
social media series led by their senior director of economic development
(#TalkWithTarnace) to answer questions and alleviate the stress of confusion.
When COVID-19 hit, Connect Community knew they could mobilize talented
neighborhood sewists to generate income for residents while helping protect
public health. Connect Community launched the Sewn Goods
Collaborative with partners
Houston Community College, Houston Furniture Bank and several
small-batch manufacturers, nonprofits and local sewists to offer high-quality,
reusable cloth masks to public health workers, employees at essential businesses
and residents. This coordinated response lifted the capacity of the local
sewists and improved their incomes, created thousands of cloth masks needed by
health workers and neighbors, and created new social capital in the neighborhood
— the kind that builds community resiliency.
This article is one in a series of articles recognizing 10 diverse
organizations intently focused on products and initiatives that support the
wellbeing of people and the planet, as part of Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability™
read more about the other organizations recognized by Shaw for their
efforts, visit the landing page for this blog
Published Sep 9, 2020 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Troy Virgo is director of sustainability for global flooring manufacturer and supplier Shaw Industries Inc., headquartered in Dalton, Georgia, USA. Troy helps drive sustainability efforts across Shaw, with an emphasis on material chemistry and the creation of safe and healthy products. Troy also leads Shaw’s external engagements and partnerships on key sustainability topics in the residential retail, single family, and multifamily business channels.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.