Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Opportunity to Get Equity Right: Redevelopment in East County

Below is a letter that Terrill North, (my Board Chair at IMPACT Silver Spring) and I sent to a bunch of folks who have input and sway over major opportunities to shape the future of Montgomery County.  The letter encourages decision makers (and our larger community) to take advantage of a monumental moment to address the issue of equity as it relates to large scale redevelopment that is being slated for the eastern part of Montgomery County, Maryland.

I applaud each of them for the hard work and negotiating to get the plan passed for one of the signature projects-- The White Oak Science Center.  The work continues as we now redouble our efforts to make sure that the largest group possible can "profit" from the economic momentum that will soon be set into motion.

Dear Mr. County Executive,  Mr. Council President, and Madam Councilmember Branson,

We are writing you this letter on behalf of the members of the IMPACT Network.  We are also copying other members the Council, County Government and private sector stakeholders.

As you know, it is not typical that we weigh in on specific political and/or policy issues; rather we build culturally-rich, neighborhood-based networks that support people in crisis, build economic momentum, and invite new civic participation -- particularly among Montgomery County residents who are struggling and most isolated.  We are compelled in this moment by the once-in-a generation opportunity before us -- the redevelopment of East County.

Each redevelopment plan and project has its own significance and impact on the life of particular communities; however it is our contention that the current plan for the White Oak Science Gateway stands as one of the most compelling social equity and economic justice opportunities of our time. The redevelopment of East County – from Long Branch to Burtonsville, is just the kind of scalable opportunity that could create catalytic economic momentum that changes lives and transforms our entire region. However, history and experience suggest that this kind of positive change will only happen if we, as a larger community, choose to act with a renewed level of courage, progressive will, and moral imagination. We believe that we have the capacity to make this kind of impact—now.

There are precedents.  For example, County leadership modeled these virtues in 2009 during the advent of the most recent economic downturn as you marshaled resources to develop the Neighbors Campaign (now known as the Neighborhood Opportunity Network).   The County Executive, County Council, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), faith leaders, along with foundation and other non-profit partners, rallied with us to make social service support more accessible to families in need.  As a result, thousands of otherwise isolated families received supportive services to help mitigate the impact of the social and economic crisis.  Given this precedent (and others), it stands to reason that the same kind of urgency, will, and creativity can converge again in this moment so that redevelopment in East County directly benefits the folks who have been isolated and most disconnected from this kind of economic opportunity.

Development of this magnitude, if targeted correctly, could not only change the physical character of the area, it could also make a lasting impact on persistent and perplexing gaps in health, academic performance, employment, income, wealth, and general well-being.  It is not an overstatement to suggest that this may indeed be the moment to finally and holistically address the inequities that have long plagued the residents and stakeholders of East County.  No doubt you are well aware of these issues and their root causes. There is no need to recount them in detail here, except to say that our entire County is negatively impacted as long as these inequities exist.  

As you make your final deliberations, we implore you to give as much attention as necessary to concrete efforts that ensure equity for everyone in our communities.  To be clear, the equity we are speaking of is measured in terms of targeted housing, jobs, income generation, wealth creation, and educational opportunities that are accessible to folks living specifically in East County. To be sure, there are many pre-existing examples from around the country and world that model this possibility.  As the project evolves, we’d be happy to share them with you.  Until then, rest assured that IMPACT Silver Spring and the larger IMPACT Network look forward to supporting efforts that better ensure direct benefit to existing residents and emerging entrepreneurs near redevelopment zones.

Justice, equity, hope and vision are waiting for our best response.  So too are the people of East County—perhaps even our entire County.


Ronnie Galvin  
Executive Director

Terrill North
Board Chair