We’ve all seen the statistical maps revealing deep inequities across the geographies of most American cities and towns. There are oases of privilege and opportunity. And there are neighborhoods that concentrate all kinds of disadvantage. Here, residents contend with high poverty and unemployment rates, and experience poorer health; they are underserved by amenities like public transit and overexposed to polluting or destructive infrastructure.

This spatial organization tracks the historical and ongoing fault-lines of systemic racism, with people of color segregated in low-opportunity places. And we know from a growing body of research that it’s harmful to residents: over and above the effects of household poverty, living in a place of concentrated poverty curtails life prospects. Regardless of family income, for example, children who grow up in such places on average make less money as young adults, are far more likely to experience incarceration, and die younger than people who came up in other neighborhoods.

We know all this. Yet despite a passel of programs and policies to draw investment and seed opportunity in high-poverty neighborhoods, their number has grown steadily over the last 40 years. A greater share of economically poor Americans live in these systemically disadvantaged places today than did in 1980.

So, along with our colleagues at the Brookings Institution, LISC has designed and launched a place-based economic development strategy whose basic premise is simple, yet radical: effective economic development requires a shift in the balance of power. Community members and the local organizations they trust need to be not just at the table but at the wheel, collaborating with traditional power holders at the citywide and regional levels. The goal of this process isn’t overall growth but equity for folks who’ve been excluded from the benefits of growth and prosperity, time and again.

Read the full article about community economic investment by Teresa Garcia at LISC.