Distressed urban neighborhoods face challenges on multiple fronts, but most efforts to confront these problems work in isolation of one another. The New Communities Program (NCP) is an exception, helping selected Chicago neighborhoods develop partnerships to address challenges involving employment, education, housing, and safety in a comprehensive, coordinated fashion. In each community, a local intermediary brings together organizations to plan and then to implement varied improvement projects. A 10-year, $47 million MacArthur Foundation initiative developed and managed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Chicago (LISC/Chicago), NCP emphasizes this relational approach by building collaborations as a “platform” for broad and sustained improvement, even as local conditions change.
MDRC leads the NCP evaluation with collaborators at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, Metro Chicago Information Center, and Wayne State University. This interim report focuses on NCP’s rollout and early implementation years, examining community conditions, how local groups worked together, and projects completed through 2008. The report shows that NCP has successfully managed planning and implementation of many different projects to help address varied local problems. Its findings include the following:
- Community conditions. NCP was implemented in neighborhoods facing varying degrees of economic disinvestment and population change. Quality-of-life trends were consistently improving in NCP neighborhoods during the early years of planning and implementation (2003-2005), showing greater local investments and generally falling crime rates. However, by 2006-2007, some NCP neighborhoods were seeing increases in foreclosures, and NCP’s designers began to adjust their strategies to contend with the growing economic downturn.
- Initiative management. As the managing intermediary, LISC/Chicago successfully facilitated grants to organizations, offered technical assistance, mediated community conflict, and enforced accountability among partners.
- Implementation. Local intermediaries successfully developed quality-of-life plans and implemented about 750 projects in multiple domains: education, workforce development, housing, and social services. Most of these projects were small — around $25,000 to $50,000 — but some were able to leverage additional resources, especially in the area of housing and commercial real estate development.
- Collaboration. NCP helped community organizations form more trusting relationships and work together more successfully. However, improvements in relationships mostly occurred within neighborhoods, not between neighborhoods or with City Hall, raising questions about the long-term sustainability of local action.
Future reports will examine NCP’s adaptation to the changing economic climate and its longer-term role in supporting neighborhood improvements and will compare trends in NCP neighborhoods with those in similar neighborhoods that the foundation and LISC/Chicago did not target.