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Community Investment Intro

What is a community?  Most of us think of our own community in terms of:

  • Where we live – our hometown or neighborhood
  • Who our neighbors are
  • Where we work
  • Where we shop and go to market
  • Where our children go to school – play – where their friends are
  • Where we worship

American communities are constantly evolving along with the concept of “what” a community is, and should be.  (One out of eight Americans, a researcher recently noted, live in some kind of exclusionary community – in a one-family home behind a gate, in a cooperatively-owned apartment building, in a condo community with shared facilities.)

Most communities were established and expanded without a master plan – they “grew” up around economic opportunities or geographic accidents that were favorably (on a river plain with rich soil conditions).  Here and there, planned communities did emerge from the 1870s on (inspired by English “new towns”) – examples are Garden City (late 1800s) and Levittown (post WW-II), New York.

Early American communities evolved around natural resources (ores, woodlands, ocean bounty), geographic features (river banks, seaports), ancient Native American trading paths, transportation infrastructure, and other factors. (In the American Midwest, many new towns were developed along railroad lines to serve farmers settling in the area.  Towns were market centers established at set intervals.)

Investment in these frontier communities usually consisted of the cash and sweat equity of the farmer, tradesman, merchant, landowners, bankers, and other local interests. 

The Industrial Revolution in the USA spawned many new communities with the primary investment coming from corporations – steel mills, water-powered factories in New England, timber products-centered settlements near forests, and so on.

Thanks to waves of immigration, the sparsely-settled 13 states along the Atlantic coast (with 5 million population at the start of the nation after the American Revolution) became 125 million by the early years of the 20th Century.  The little fort and trading center on the nation’s frontier grew into bustling Detroit – technology center of the nation in the 1920s – in less than a century.  The automobile industry accounted for most of the economic investment in Motor City.  (For quick, well-done look at Detroit as economic center, see:

Many Florida cities grew up literally overnight during the immediate years after World War I – in 1924-25, The Miami Herald was the largest publisher of classified ads (most real estate focus) in the nation!  Two hurricanes (1926-1927) ended that boom – followed by the Stock Market Crash of October 1929 and disappearance of funding for community development in Florida and elsewhere.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, “New Deal” programs focused on keeping communities alive; over the following decades the federal and state governments became prime financiers of community development and economic viability.  Today, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finances a wide range of programs for single- and multi-family housing. 

The coming of the automobile, suburban (commuter) rail lines, interstate highways, airlines, and other transportation infrastructure and services changed the dynamics of community settlement and expansion in the early years of the 20th Century.

The economic interests of community-building became more transport-centered – roadbuilders, automobile manufacturing and marketing interests, railroads with land grants or interest in settling new areas.

In place of traditional urban (city center) and rural developments as the two primary settlement patterns an important third choice emerged:  sub-urban regions (our suburbs today).  Flying over the east coast of the United States in the 1920s one would see at night clusters of lighted areas and large swaths of dark (rural) regions.  Today one sees almost unbroken chains of lights covering hundreds of square miles around a city center such as New York or Chicago.

And so – what of community development, re-development, investment and other aspects of building healthy and economically viable centers for homes, places of business, recreation and other aspects of American life in the 21st Century

Community investment is an important aspect of corporate citizenship – corporate social responsibility.  Healthy companies are expected to invest in their local communities.  When an industrial plant closes, a community may begin to die – think of Flint, Michigan.  What are a corporation’s responsiblities to its “hometowns?”  This question is widely debated – and there are no set or easy answers to many of the questions.

In Accountability-Central the editors will present questions, answers and a continuing dialogue on community investment.

Separately, if you have a deep interest in the issues related to community investment (and the accountabilities attendant to these issues and concerns) you will be interested in a new resource available to you.

The editors of Governance & Accountability Institute have partnered with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), a national organization with 600 local members (many of them in turn are state-based coalitions) to manage the Community Investment Network (sm), a Web-accessed resource for community and civic leaders, business interests, public sector leaders, advocates for human rights and fair lending, lenders and bankers, and others.

Click here to visit the resource:

Note:  Registration for use is at no cost or obligation.

The editors will be presenting many more views and perspectives on all sides of the CSR question in this Web resource.  We invite your news and views!

# # #

-- From the Editors at AccountabilityCentral.

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