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Institutional/Neighborhood Collaboration Is Key to Cleveland’s Revitalization

Greater University Circle Initiative can serve as model for balanced community development

The Greater University Circle Initiative, a partnership between the Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, the City of Cleveland, and other community partners, has sought to utilize the economic and community power of Cleveland’s anchor institutions to promote neighborhood revitalization and growth. The ten-year project has greatly increased connectivity between these institutions and the neighborhoods in which they reside, while also helping to drive community revival and neighborhood investment at the same time that these institutions continue to grow and thrive.

A new report by Cleveland State University’s Center for Community Planning and Development assesses the specific components that have made this initiative so successful, while also presenting best practices that can be transferred to other urban communities throughout the U.S. The report was published in partnership with the Democracy Collaborative as part of its Community Wealth Innovators Series, which works with leading practitioners in the field to document the inspiring new models and critical lessons learned in on-the-ground efforts to build more inclusive and equitable local economies.

“Historically, there has been a culture of mistrust between the large anchor institutions, such as universities and hospitals, and the residents of surrounding neighborhoods.  The institutions may be located in the neighborhoods, but in the past, they have largely operated apart from the neighborhoods,” notes Walter Wright, program manager for economic inclusion in CSU’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs and co-author of the report. “The University Circle Initiative was created as a method for breaking down these walls, figuratively and literally, and creating opportunities for institutions and the neighborhood to work together for mutual benefit.”

The report, which was also authored by Kathryn Hexter, director of the Center for Community Planning and Development and Nick Downer, a graduate assistant at the Center, highlights the Greater University Circle Initiative as a powerful example of how multiple anchor institutions can come together to multiply their collective impact. Ted Howard, president of The Democracy Collaborative, has termed this the “anchor mission: the conscious and strategic application of an institution’s long-term, place-based economic power to better the community, and in particular low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.”

The report cites several key factors in the success of the initiative including the creation of a formal communication infrastructure to promote neighborhood needs with the anchor institutions and positive efforts by the institutions back to the community. Case Western, University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic also worked with the city to designate real estate development funds for use in neighborhood improvements. This effort greatly enhanced private investment and drove additional funding for neighborhood revitalization.

Furthermore, the anchor institutions worked with neighborhood leaders to reform their hiring practices to better target members of the local community. The Initiative, with the assistance of CSU, also created a formal goal setting and measurement system for analyzing hiring practices and ensuring the institutions were meeting their predetermined goals both for local residents and overall diversity.

The report highlights the significant improvement in neighborhood perception of the anchor institutions, while also illustrating how neighborhood investment drove additional institutional growth over time.

“This effort clearly shows that collaborative, sustained work by anchor institutions, community organizations and local government can have significant economic and community impact,” adds Hexter.

Read the report.