Developing Solidarity: Transformative Community Economic Development and the New Lynn Coalition

After having suffered decades of deindustrialization and disinvestment due to due to both municipal policies and much larger economic trends, Lynn, MA is facing a massive new development opportunity along its waterfront, with the potential to bring residential and commercial investment and hundreds of new jobs. Yet for a working class city with an increasingly large and diverse immigrant population, developments like this present both opportunities and threats. Will the new housing be affordable for existing residents, or will it primarily attract new, wealthier ones? Will the new jobs be living wage and/or union jobs that can help resolve Lynn’s unemployment crisis and reduce poverty?

Recognizing both the wealth-building opportunities of this development, as well as its potential for displacement and exacerbation of inequalities, New Lynn Coalition (NLC) has been organizing a campaign to ensure that this development benefits “New Lynn” rather than creating “Two Lynns.” A coalition of unions, community, and faith organizations, New Lynn works to advance a progressive agenda for working-class, low income and immigrant communities.  In addition to pushing for a voice in setting the terms of a Community Benefits Agreement, NLC has engaged in transformative community development initiatives and solidarity economy projects. As a result of NLC’s efforts, the developer of the Lower Washington housing project is contributing $100,000 to a night school job training and adult ed program NLC created at the city’s vocational high school. NLC piloted Freedom Machine, a machinists worker coop, which while it ultimately closed due to insufficient funding, was part of New Lynn’s larger transformative economic vision.

Over the past five years of UEP’s Practical Visionaries Workshop, students and community partners have been exploring the potential and possibilities for low-income communities of color in the Boston area to drive economic development. The question is part of a larger discussion led by Right to the City and others about how grassroots development can contribute to a larger transformative power-building strategy and vision for a just economic system. But how do we assess whether a local community development initiative has the potential to advance larger strategies and visions for transformation?

In his 2012 Tufts UEP thesis, “Developing Solidarity,” Jonathon Feinberg offers New Lynn as a case study for exploring larger questions of transformative community economic development. By engaging concurrently community organizing, community development, and transformative community enterprise, NLC fits well at the intersection of what Stacy Cordeiro of the Boston Center for Community Ownership defines as three “spheres” of community organizing, community development, and transformative enterprise. In his research, Feinberg adapts Cordeiro’s Three Spheres Model to frame the potential for NLC’s efforts to contribute to transformative community economic development.

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Rather than applying this framework rigidly or with quantifiable measures, he argues that a more useful analytical approach uses the spheres as a guide for exploring the transformative possibilities of these projects, and a tool for these organizations to self-reflect on how their efforts can be more strategically integrated and understood. He also applies ideas from literature on Solidarity Economy, which he summarizes as “alternative values-based approach to what economy means, how it functions, and our relationship to it, that is based in a more holistic and humanistic understanding of what constitutes economic activity (36).”

He finds particular value in Erik Olin Wright’s analytical framework of a ‘socialist compass,’ which is “an atlas toward a more just, radical egalitarian democratic future”[1]. In this spirit, Feinberg invites us to consider that “perhaps transformative community economic development is a means of following the socialist compass by creating institutions and processes beholden to community solidarity values, thereby transforming our relationships with economy, governance and decision-making” (95).

Feinberg’s full thesis can be found through the Tufts UEP website.

For more information on the New Lynn Coalition, go to www.newlynn.org.

 

[1] Wright, Erik Olin. Envisioning real utopias. Vol. 98. London: Verso, 2010.

 

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