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Poverty and Place: “What Works” (and the technology that doesn’t)

By Stephanie South, Program Associate, AASCU

IMG_0015Although I believe deeply in the community that can be found via public transit, I generally associate Union Station in Washington, DC as a place for commuters and taxi cabs. However, on December 4, my favorite train station surprised me as it played host to an entirely different community and a conversation about what can be done to improve neighborhoods across the country.

Presented by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund, and the Citi Foundation, Investing in What Works for America’s Communities brought the nation’s top community and economic development experts, analysts, financiers, researchers, philanthropists, and public policymakers to the Columbus Club at Union Station to share lessons they’ve learned about what the sectors can do to build and sustain communities that prosper.

There were many things to be taken away from this event, but the most prominent is perhaps a contradiction to what I said in a recent blog post.

According to Angela Blanchard, president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers, Inc., place will always matter.


Because as human beings, we need connectedness and closeness—the things you get from place.

“There is no app for that,” said Blanchard during a panel called, “Ideas that Work.” “You cannot get a hug from a device.”

In addition to Blanchard’s insight about place, some of her colleagues had equally important and insightful points during their respective panels, mainly concerning the necessity of taking a regional approach to community problems.

Peter Edelman, co-director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, & Public Policy at Georgetown University, agreed with Blanchard’s prioritization of place—poverty is indeed connected to it. Edelman is an advocate of the theory that local problems need local solutions; he said that local civic leadership is needed within neighborhoods because you can’t make change from downtown. However, he also believes that because community problems are largely economic, you have to look beyond the “four corners” of the neighborhood; jobs are in the region.

To read more of the ideas showcased, I suggest checking out the event party favor—a book entitled, Investing in What Works for America’s Communities: Essays on People, Place, & Purpose (2012).

You may find that I was wrong and Blanchard is right—maybe there is not an app for everything these days.

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