Creating Economically Thriving Communities

Communities of Opportunity (COO) has a stated focus on improving outcomes in health, housing, economic opportunity, and community connections – all interrelated pieces of inclusive and flourishing communities. However, systems, policies and institutional practices have long shaped inequities in the health and well-being of our communities. Housing and land use policies, public investments in education and human services, and employment practices are just some of the vehicles in which bias and racism has influenced where we live, what jobs we have, and how long we live. The historic and ongoing impacts of structural racism and disparate public investments in King County have led to racial and regional inequities in household income and wealth, and differences in access to healthy, safe, economically thriving neighborhoods.

A child wearing a grey outfit runs holding and lifting up a white kite behind him amidst a series of white awnings set up in an outdoor area where others are congregating.
Photo © 2018 by Danielle Elliott. All rights reserved.

So what does a thriving community look like? We know that “health” is not just the absence of disease, but the presence of well-being; and that “housing” cannot mean solely the presence of physical buildings but access to safe, affordable, and supportive places to live, grow and thrive. Similarly, for COO, economic opportunity means more than just the presence of jobs, but economically thriving communities that are inclusive of youth and elders, supportive of small and local businesses, and centered on generative values and infrastructure, rather than extractive and exploitive practices and systems.

COO partners are among those leading the region towards a more just and person-centered economic ecosystem through a range of approaches, including: community stewardship of buildings and land; mutual aid; apprenticeships and workforce development opportunities providing quality jobs; community-driven economic development models; and supportive infrastructure for small businesses and local economic systems. Across King County, community leaders are re-envisioning economic systems to center the well-being of people (and, relatedly, the well-being of our environment) for true community thriving. The below highlights just some of the work being done to positively change our systems, policies, and environments to put people first:

  • Casa Latina is improving economic conditions for domestic workers by changing the policies that affect their working conditions, and focusing on the implementation of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.
  • The Crescent Collaborative is pursuing a multi-pronged, community-driven anti-displacement strategy that unites and elevates communities’ voices for: affordable housing; economic opportunity for small businesses; and, increases community capacity to engage in equitable community development.
  • The CREST peer-learning circle is sharing and supporting community-led projects and new visions for the community stewardship of land; and, building knowledge and community with others interested in community-driven development.
  • Got Green is building community power for policies that support a future of decarbonization (by 2030) and address historic injustices, while ensuring that green jobs, healthy food, and climate-resilient conditions reach low-income communities and communities of color.
  • The New Economy Washington project of Front & Centered and the People’s Economy Lab is building infrastructure and supporting leaders for a more just, sustainable and democratic economy. This includes the Frontline Community Fellowship program designed to support entrepreneurs from communities of color who are integrating the principles and practice of a “Just Transition” in projects that demonstrate core principles of democracy and self-determination, environmental sustainability and equity, and create shared economic well-being for communities.
  • The Rainier Beach Action Coalition is developing a Food Innovation Center (FIC) to address displacement in the Rainier Valley, using food as a means of celebrating the unique diversity of the area and creating opportunities for both residents and local stakeholders.
  • UTOPIA-WA has developed and is supporting a leadership cohort of queer and trans Pacific Islanders (QTPI) working for the health, safety, well-being, empowerment, and economic stability of QTPI and are advocating for essential safety protections for those whose lives and livelihoods are being severely jeopardized by the COVID-19 crisis.
A Black man, wearing a black jacket, looks at a post it note on a sheet of paper taped to a red wall alongside several other sheets of paper; out of focus individuals sit at tables in the background.
Photo by Sharon Chang at the Equitable Development Summit in 2019.

The work of COO partners is diverse and cuts across the traditional issue and sector-based silos that contribute to inequities in health, housing, and economic opportunity. Through the COO Learning Community, we are sharing opportunities to learn from community and systems partners — across sectors, projects and activities — to build the relationships, vision and momentum necessary for thriving and inclusive communities. Upcoming are three such Learning Community opportunities partnering with Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative, National Development Council (NDC), and the People’s Economy Lab. Presenters in these workshops will share knowledge from community development experts, and community-based strategies for an equitable and regenerative economy rooted in community experiences. For more information and to register, follow the links below:

Workshop Summary: In the first workshop we will explore and understand the history of our current economic system and what is contributing to an extractive economy, and using the Just Transition framework, explore community-based strategies to build an economy and economic practices that are transformative, equitable, and regenerative. We will learn how we transition to and practice systems of production, consumption, and distribution that are cooperative, democratic, and resilient to our current economic forces of exploitation rooted in white supremacy and colonialism. We will ground participants in a basic understanding of the economy and how we are all actors with the ability to reshape it and hear examples of ways both national and local community economic leaders are innovating and building new economic models and structures that center the needs and experiences of people and place in the community.

Each month, we will be alternating deep dives on specific topics with drop-in sessions where participants can ask questions and discuss their projects with peers and community development experts.

Workshop Summary: Utilizing the Just Transition framework, People’s Economy Lab will share the Greater Seattle Ecosystem Map created by trusted community economic leaders and dive deeper into exploring ecologies of interventions, projects, relationships, and opportunities to create equitable pathways toward a shared vision. The session will include breakout sessions to explore with peers the various elements of “building the new” economic structures — what are the new models that we need to build? What relationships are needed? And how does this apply to our respective work?

The Learning Community will also be supporting several more virtual events, trainings and workshops featuring leaders working on local policies and projects for economically thriving communities, as well as models and strategies being developed in other regions. Topics will include:

  • Just Recovery Policy as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic – Summer 2021
  • Workshop on Anti-Displacement, how do you do it? Featuring success stories from community-based organizations in King County – Summer 2021
  • Community Development Capital Campaign 101 – Summer 2021
  • Worker Cooperatives – Summer 2021
  • Community Investment Trusts – Fall 2021
  • Plus, group trainings from partners Craft3 and NDC in the Summer and Fall on:
    • Business Financing Solutions and Real Estate Solutions to Commercial Affordability (Craft3)
    • Real Estate “201” and Asset Management (NDC)

To be informed when these and other future workshops, learning opportunities and resources come online, check our website or sign-up to receive email updates. The COO Learning Community is supporting critical connections, capacity building, shared learning opportunities, and the creation of new tools and models that are necessary to actualize the economically thriving, healthy and inclusive communities we envision. Interested in partnering with us in this work? Reach out to the COO Learning Community lead, Kalayaan Domingo.

Communities of Opportunity Learning Community logo with COO in variations of orange with hub and spoke graphics within the text lettering.
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