Equitable Investment for People and the Planet

A game-changing conversation has begun around the way community development is organized on a national scale and it includes the voices of environmentalists and those most affected – the people in local neighborhoods who must live with the consequences of that development.

This assessment comes from leaders in environmentalism, philanthropy, community development, non-profit organizations, local government, and community activism – all of whom are coming together at collaborative tables to spur revitalization that puts social equity at the forefront.

In fact, we are at a pivotal point.  For decades, investment in communities has prioritized profit-making over people. But that is changing with new commitments to not only sustainability but equity – to go beyond rhetoric in support of those who have long been shut out to build healthier, more resilient neighborhoods.

The way Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, put it: “We have a moment in which the power of interweaving movement-building is profound.”

Rapson, part of a panel on climate at the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge’s recent national launch, said the SPARCC effort encompasses how decisions are made across “one broad problem-solving table,” adding, “I can’t look at these models and not think they are the future of our community. We really have a moment – we must move across these movement-building opportunities.”

Rapson echoed the idea that environmentalism – honored globally on Earth Day – is a natural partner to community development.

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in fact, told the panel she hoped never to have to justify participation by environmentalists in efforts at making sure all members of communities thrive as a result of development.


“Environmental rights are human rights and they always have been,” she told those in attendance at the launch. “The heart and the soul of our mission is around the pursuit of justice, around the pursuit of equitable rights for all,” she said, adding that SPARCC is “filling the basic core of the mission that we were created to pursue.”

Nathaniel Smith, founder and chief equity officer for the Partnership for Southern Equity, cited civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s “network of mutuality” idea that everyone is bound together and that if one element does poorly, all do poorly. “What’s good for the planet is good for everybody,” he said.

Smith lamented that development across America has “happened to people and not with people,” leaving out communities of color, though such communities are disproportionately negatively affected by climate change.

He noted that without these authentic voices “who have fought this fight in America for the past 400 years” and who have lived without social and financial investments and support, the country will not be able…

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