LISC Lessons | City of Ideas

Posted 03/20/2013 by Paul S. Grogan

Thirty years ago, even the most sympathetic observers of community development would find it hard to believe that what was a group of neighborhood organizations without resources or traditional expertise could actually accomplish anything significant – especially in an era when our cities were losing people and jobs to the suburbs, federal investment was shrinking and there was a profound pessimism over the future of urban America.

I’m proud to note the Boston Foundation’s role making it happen. In 1982, Geno Ballotti, Director of what was then the Permanent Charity Fund for Boston, met with LISC founding president Michael Sviridoff and Program Officer Michael Rubinger and pledged matching funds from the Boston Foundation if LISC started a local chapter in Boston. That became the LISC strategy - to match funding, establish funding pools and involve foundations, government, financial institutions and community groups in a powerful, resilient partnership that can make change possible.

Fast forward three decades, and Boston is a more thriving, vibrant place – in no small part because of residents who decided to stay and fight for better days, and largely because of LISC and community development corporations, the CDCs, who created an environment where we could all work together to improve our neighborhoods and strengthen our cities.

But the story of LISC has a second lesson that we as a nation could heed as we enter another age of pessimism today – not pessimism about our cities, but about our society at large. Tony Proscio and I outline it in our book, Comeback Cities. It’s a piece of folk wisdom called ‘the paradox of little victories’. Every small project, every piece of housing built  or community garden planted may not seem like much on its own, but those small victories add up to sweeping change. Slowly, those little wins build into a force that turn a cycle of decline into a contagion of revitalization – and nowhere is that more evident than in Boston.

Thirty years ago, the problem of urban decline seemed insurmountable. Today, we face numerous issues that seem just as intractable – poverty, inequality, a lack of opportunity, and more. Perhaps we can look at LISC and community development, and its legacy of accomplishments achieved against overwhelming odds, and steel ourselves to take on the unfinished business of making America the just society of opportunity it needs to be.

 Paul Grogan served as President and Chief Executive Officer of LISC from 1986 to 1998.

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