Xavier University Engages Cincinnati through the Community Building Institute
Based in the Jesuit mission of service for the common good, Xavier University supports community-driven redevelopment efforts in the Cincinnati area. In 1995, the university joined with the United Way of Greater Cincinnati to found the Community Building Institute (CBI) to help communities develop and implement plans to improve their quality of life. CBI deploys the technical resources of Xavier and funding from the United Way to support capacity-building and data-based planning, evaluation, and research in redeveloping neighborhoods in the city and region. By participating in CBI, Xavier University both enhances its academic development and advances its tradition of community engagement.
Asset-Based Community Development
The university provides office space for CBI and its staff of experts in neighborhood-based planning and research. Faculty and students from across Xavier’s academic programs support CBI activities by providing technical assistance in local planning processes. CBI does not impose plans on communities but instead collaborates with community residents, organizations, and institutions as they prepare their own local improvement plans.
CBI’s collaboration is grounded on a philosophy of asset-based community development (ABCD), which was created by John McKnight and John Kretzmann at Northwestern University’s Asset-Based Community Development Institute. Rather than fixating on a community’s weaknesses and needs, ABCD identifies a neighborhood’s core assets — the skills of local residents and the strengths of local organizations — which become the resource base for the community’s revitalization plan. A representative from Xavier University and several Cincinnati community leaders who were introduced to the ABCD model in the mid-1990s decided to found CBI based on these principles.
CBI and Xavier Expand Community Engagement
CBI’s original focus was on training local leaders and organizations in ABCD principles. In the early 2000s, Xavier’s new president, Fr. Michael Graham, began looking for ways the university and CBI could more deeply and actively engage the surrounding community. Neighborhood leaders approached Xavier to advocate with local and state authorities on behalf of a neighborhood public school, the Hoffman School (now known as Evanston Academy) to prevent its closure because of poor academic performance and building conditions. The campaign was successful and led to more robust relationships between the institutions, with CBI facilitating ways for the university faculty and students to support the Hoffman School. According to Elizabeth Blume, director of CBI and director of the master’s degree program in urban sustainability at Xavier, CBI helped set up ongoing partnerships between Xavier and Evanston Academy. The elementary school’s students receive individual tutoring by Xavier students, and the university supports Evanston Academy by regularly inviting Evanston Academy students to its campus and by providing faculty and staff from its education, psychology, and occupational therapy departments to teach in the public school classrooms.
Neighborhood Planning Sets the Stage for Redevelopment
Following its successful experience with the Evanston Academy, CBI expanded its work and adopted a more comprehensive approach to ABCD community engagement, addressing a full range of issues such as housing, schools, health, jobs, and transportation. CBI’s expanded approach also brings together residents, community organizations, institutions, businesspeople, and funders to identify and marshal a community’s strengths toward redevelopment efforts. CBI now helps southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana communities comprehensively plan for redevelopment. Blume credits this broader scope to the regional perspective of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and the need for ABCD in a wide range of neighborhoods. The principal way that CBI supports these neighborhoods is through the Place Matters program, a collaboration with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and several banks and foundations.
Place Matters, a citizen-led partnership of local funders and nonprofit organizations, invests in seven distressed neighborhoods in their place-based comprehensive redevelopment. As the administrator of the program, LISC Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky partners with a lead agency in each community and commits to funding, while CBI staffs data collection, planning, engagement, and evaluation activities. Each year, CBI conducts a two-step evaluation of each neighborhood’s progress. CBI collects qualitative information during mid-year interviews of participants, and at the end of the year, CBI analyzes data submitted by the neighborhood lead agency on such issues as citizen engagement, education, health care, crime rates, and the economy.
CBI’s work in Place Matters communities also includes capacity-building services. For instance, in Cincinnati’s Avondale neighborhood, CBI provided capacity-building services to the newly formed Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation, the neighborhood lead agency. Blume asserts that these efforts, along with those of other partners, supported Avondale’s successful application for a Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant in 2012. CBI has continued to assist Avondale, for example, by producing a communications plan for the development corporation.
In the West End, a neighborhood that recently joined the Place Matters program, CBI successfully implemented the ABCD approach in a planning process in 2015 and 2016 for the historically African-American and disinvested neighborhood adjacent to Cincinnati’s downtown. To lead the West End process, CBI partnered with a local community development corporation, Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, rather than a larger entity from outside of the neighborhood. The plan, which includes 18 goals in a range of areas, has already helped the neighborhood secure a grant from the city to support a pop-up theater program that presents public performances and community-building events. CBI is currently training the local organization’s leaders in developing a work program to implement the neighborhood’s goals and evaluation metrics consistent with the Place Matters program. According to Alexis Kidd, executive director of Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses, CBI’s involvement in the planning process ensured “healthy dialogue” that led to action.
For Blume, the larger role that CBI plays in the city and region gives Xavier University “a way to get students into all of these communities and into all of these organizations that we’re working with” as well as opportunities to conduct research and case studies that enhance classroom resources. As a professor, Blume regularly uses community-based settings from CBI engagements for class instruction. Greg Koehler, senior economic development analyst with the city, participated in CBI activities as a Xavier student. Now helping with the city’s revitalization efforts in the Evanston neighborhood, Koehler notes that he gained knowledge, skills, and a commitment to community-based development through his experience at CBI.
Data to Inform and Empower
Blume says that CBI aspires to move beyond reports on individual neighborhoods to a comprehensive city and regional housing affordability study. Blume maintains this approach is necessary to “step back and take a broader look” at changes occurring across neighborhoods. CBI would extend its data gathering and evaluation in this new effort. More than simple analysis, CBI sees its data-driven planning and decision-making as another tool to empower communities so they can better plan their future. In this way, CBI would also continue its hallmark approach to community engagement — capacity-building — that supports community-based planning and development.
Community Building Institute. n.d. “Who We Are.” Accessed 20 June 2016; Interview with Elizabeth Blume, director of CBI and the master’s degree program in urban sustainability at Xavier University, 7 June 2016; Community Building Institute. n.d. “What We Do.” Accessed 20 June 2016.×
Community Building Institute. n.d. “Who We Are.” Accessed 20 June 2016; Interview with Elizabeth Blume, director of CBI and the master’s degree program in urban sustainability at Xavier University, 7 June 2016.×
Asset-Based Community Development Institute. n.d. “About Us.” Accessed 20 June 2016; Interview with Elizabeth Blume, director of CBI and the master’s degree program in urban sustainability at Xavier University, 7 June 2016.×
Interview with Elizabeth Blume, 7 June 2016.×
Interview with Elizabeth Blume, 7 June 2016; Community Building Institute. n.d. “Who We Are.” Accessed 20 June 2016; Community Building Institute. n.d. “How We Work.” Accessed 20 June 2016; Xavier University. 2016. “Place Matters: 2015 Year-End Report.” Accessed 20 June 2016; LISC Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. 2016. “Place Matters: How It Works.” Accessed 20 June 2016.×
LISC Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. 2016. “Place Matters: How It Works.” Accessed 20 June 2016; Interview with Elizabeth Blume, 7 June and 4 November 2016. Correspondence from Elizabeth Blume, 21 June and 24 October 2016.×
Interview with Elizabeth Blume, 7 June 2016; Correspondence from Elizabeth Blume, 21 June and 24 October 2016.×
Interview with Elizabeth Blume, 7 June and 4 November 2016; Document provided by Elizabeth Blume; Correspondence from Alexis Kidd, 21 June 2016; Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses. 2016. “West End Speaks: a quality-of-life plan for the future of the West End.” Accessed 22 June 2016.×
Interview with Elizabeth Blume, 7 June 2016; Correspondence from Greg Koehler, 7 and 8 June 2016.×
Interview with Elizabeth Blume, 7 June 2016; Document provided by Elizabeth Blume.×