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Development Disruptor

Community developers, welcome to your moment of disruption. In the mid-20th century, legislation connected to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” initiative gave the federal government a leading role in community development. After 60 years, however, the private sector is playing a vital role as well. With the introduction of Social Impact Bonds in 2010, the growth of corporate social responsibility initiatives, and the coming of age of a generation motivated to improve society, corporations and the public sector are choreographing a new dance for the public works industry.

Central to this change is Milano School faculty member Kevin McQueen. McQueen serves as a social investment strategist and community development consultant for organizations across the country – and also is instructor at The New School’s Community Development Finance Lab (CDFL). The lab is a yearlong course in which students spend the fall semester honing their finance skills and learning industry best practices, and the spring semester working in the field with a client. They leave the course with an in-depth proposal for funding and creating a community project. McQueen recently sat with Research Radio to discuss the course and his ideas on the future of community development in “Development Disruptor.”

Click on the player below to listen to “Development Disruptor.” 

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The lab creates opportunities for private and public sectors to work together, which McQueen considers crucial for successful community development. CDFL projects bring together clients from corporations and nonprofit organizations, and student teams have urban policy students from Milano working with designers from Parsons, melding art and technology with finance and practice. One example is a 2012 project in which students working with the Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles proposed designs for an affordable housing complex in one of the country’s largest stable areas for the homeless. McQueen describes such projects as pointing to the future of community development, in addition to offering invaluable learning experiences for students. 

“Responsibility for community development projects now extends beyond the government to include the private sector,” says McQueen. Since its beginnings in the 1950s and 60s, community development has matured, with generational leadership changes and professionalization of the sector bringing in new ideas, innovation, and capital.

“One sector alone can’t shoulder all of the work,” says McQueen. “Over the past 20 to 30 years, we’ve seen increasing use of private-sector capital, where investors tie the financial return of a product to the social outcomes that are created.” He’s talking specifically about Social Impact Bonds. First launched in 2010 in the United Kingdom, SIBs are public-private-sector contracts in which a corporation commits capital to promote social change. The concept is gradually being adopted in the United States.

Politics plays a major role in community development, beyond establishing a healthy balance between private and public involvement. “Politicians determine how the resources from the public sector are ultimately going to be deployed, so community developers need to know how to manage and negotiate the political system,” says McQueen. Of course, frequent election cycles make developing this skill a complex and delicate task.

To learn more about CDFL’s work, visit The New School for Public Engagement’s “Centers, Institutes, and Initiatives” page.     

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Research Radio is a New School podcast series that explores academic inquiry at the university. Our faculty and students have been researching pressing social and scientific issues, from sustainability to psychology to politics, for nearly a century—and now you can hear about their latest findings. 

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