Chicago, Scotland take a community wealth building approach to economic development – The Hill

With American Rescue Plan (ARP) dollars flowing to municipalities, local governments have the chance to invest these dollars for a more just, equitable, and sustainable future, using practical models now emerging. From Chicago to Sydney (Australia) and from Scotland to Northern Ireland, communities are investing in “community wealth building” to rebuild economies in ways that result in greater resiliency and equitable outcomes.  

In September 2021, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that Chicago would invest $15 million of its ARP funds in a pilot community wealth building (CWB) fund. In this city where 60 percent of residents are Black and brown, the work is being led by the Office of Equity & Racial Justice (OERJ). Last month, the OERJ launched its new CWB initiative, which “promotes the local, democratic, and shared ownership and control of community assets.” Specifically, Chicago is investing in four key institutional models—worker cooperatives, limited equity housing cooperatives, community land trusts, and community investment vehicles—to achieve its goals of community empowerment, neighborhood stabilization, dignified work, and narrowing the wealth gap.   

Community wealth building (CWB) is an economic development strategy that transforms local economies based on communities having direct ownership and control of their assets. It takes democratic community institutions and practices proven to work, such as community land trusts, worker cooperatives, and public banks, and supercharges their power by connecting and scaling them through policy development, institutional design, and ecosystems of support. It changes people’s lives by giving them control of the economic future of their communities.     

One place to see CWB more fully developed is in Scotland. There, the North Ayrshire Council was the first local authority to embrace this transformative economic development strategy—and today, five other local authorities are piloting CWB. Soon, with support from the Scottish government and the new Minister of Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth Building, all 32 local councils across the country will develop CWB plans. This is a significant step for CWB, first articulated in 2005 by The Democracy Collaborative. North Ayrshire’s strategy is built on years of hard work with support from the UK-based Centre for Local Economic Strategies and consultation with The Democracy Collaborative and other experts in the field.   

The North Ayrshire Council set out clear objectives in each of the five pillars of CWB—inclusive and democratic enterprise, locally rooted finance, fair work, just use of land and property, and progressive procurement. Ten council staff devoted to the CWB strategy work closely with a CWB Commission of key local stakeholders. Since it released its five-year CWB plan in 2020, the council has taken significant strides as it brings a CWB lens to its decision making, including: 

An Anchor Institution Charter: CWB is a placed-based strategy that engages place-based institutions in building …….