This exasperation was expressed to us by one of our neighbors, who, like over a half million other people in Atlanta, live in a food desert – a place where low-income families lack access to healthy and affordable food.
Some respond to food deserts by distributing free food. Focused Community Strategies (FCS) however, responded by building a grocery store – turning a food desert into a food oasis!
FCS did this because 40 years of urban community development has taught us a lot about creating wealth in communities experiencing poverty.
There are three common and ineffective approaches to addressing poverty: one, by giving away material goods; two, by working only with individuals or their families; three, with a single-cause approach (jobs, education, etc).
FCS has learned that the poverty needle is moved when we start focusing on whole neighborhoods, not just the felt needs of individuals. For the last thirteen years, we have been working with the residents of historic South Atlanta, a neighborhood of 520 homes just south of downtown. Our model for neighborhood transformation centers on three areas of impact:
- Economic Development – This means thinking about jobs and affordable access to the things that makes neighborhoods thrive, like our grocery store! It means looking at the assets and barriers that exist and finding holistic ways to address challenges. It means partnering with business owners, entrepreneurs and others with the know-how for creating wealth and opportunity.
- Community Development – We don’t focus on what is broken. We think about the abundant assets here. We look for leaders and partner with them. We do a lot of listening. We attend neighborhood association meetings. We advocate for our schools. Much of the power needed to transform a community is already within that community.
- Mixed-Income Housing – We create access to quality, affordable housing, we work toward home ownership and we find ways to make our community a mixed-income neighborhood. Just as most neighborhoods became distressed when families with resources moved out, we invite resourced people to move in as partners with families experiencing poverty so that we experience Shalom together.
By taking this approach, a neighbor recently raised his voice with a very different message: “Hey, those plums I bought yesterday…they were AMAZING! Best plums I’ve ever had!”
If you’d like to learn more about creating wealth in low-income contexts, we would encourage you to read Charity Detox, written by our Founder, Dr. Robert Lupton. You can also reach out to our Director of Training and Education and contributor of the post, Dr. Shawn Duncan: firstname.lastname@example.org.