As you know I am teaching a course at the University of Virginia this spring, "Housing and Community Development." In these first weeks of the semester, I am having my students do considerable reading in the field of community development. From the War on Poverty forward, they are getting a good idea of what has worked and what hasn't. In addition we are looking at issues facing communities. It is hard to keep all the acronyms of community programs in mind. Take for example the SIP or ARA or CAP. If these acronyms don't immediately jog your memory on the program don't think it is you. These are just a few programs in a long list that have been enacted over the years and no longer are on the books. Now why is that? We have tried an endless array of "fix-its" for our communities with limited success. It is time to change that trend and invest in communities again. What--you cry--can we do in this economy? We had better do a lot to get people working in the inner city, stimulate business development that uses 21st century skills, and invigorate our rural areas with new opportunities for growth that go beyond farming, textiles, and mining. In other words we have got to get our act together in our communities if we want to have a sustainable jumpstart to our economy. Bob Herbert's op-ed this morning in the New York Times about the history of infrastructure is another case in point for remembering history.
As Charles Kettering once said, "those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." We cannot ignore the history of our community renewal efforts. We must learn from them and act on that knowledge. We are great at reinventing the wheel and adding a different name but this time we have got to invent new ways to grow and sustain our communities. The first step in this process is to understand where we have been as I tell my students. Asheville, NC, is taking a look at the affect of their urban renewal efforts. Great idea.