Last week, Open Buffalo was among a long list of local and national partners that brought together a broad constituency to discuss the role of anchor institutions in revitalizing neighborhoods and providing opportunities to people that have been left out of the economic mainstream.
In the community development field, anchor institutions are thought of as those large employers or organizations that are tied to a place and aren’t likely to soon leave town. The development of the term was a response to the departure of many corporate offices – either to the suburbs, or from the region entirely – from downtowns and neighborhoods of struggling post-industrial cities during the latter half of the 20th century.
When these employers left, the negative impacts they had on surrounding communities, both in terms of loss of direct employment and spinoff economic activity, was devastating to many neighborhoods. During this dark time in America's cities, the notion emerged that by strengthening and deepening relationships with existing place-based institutions, cities could essentially create win-win partnerships to revitalize struggling communities.
Anchor institutions are generally put in the category of “Eds & Meds” – coming mainly from the educational and medical sectors. Universities and hospitals have large amounts of investment in physical infrastructure and are thereby unlikely to move to greener fields elsewhere. These institutions are also often nonprofits – driven not just by a bottom-line mentality, but by a social mission as well. Ultimately, a thriving neighborhood helps these institutions by providing a welcoming front door to potential students, patients, and employees.
At the convening, local institutions shared their perspectives and initiatives oriented toward community benefit. National best practice examples, such as those in West Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and Syracuse presented an impressive array of tools and strategies for advancing Buffalo's institution-community partnerships to the next level. Hopefully all the participants were as inspired as Open Buffalo to heighten our efforts collaboratively ensure institutional investment stays local and supports both the mission of these organizations and the broader community.
Particularly at this moment in Buffalo's redevelopment, it is more vital than ever to have community and business aligned so that we might begin to erase, rather than reinforce, the social and economic divides that have defined our city for far too long.
Special thanks to the conference co-sponsors:
- The Ford Foundation
- The Annie E. Casey Foundation
- The Surdna Foundation
- The F.B. Heron Foundation
- The Open Society Foundations
- The Funders' Network for Smart Gowth and Livable Communities
Thanks also to our partners on the local host committee:
- Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo
- Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
- University at Buffalo Office of Educational Collaboration and Engagement
- UB Regional Institute at the School of Architecture and Planning
- PUSH Buffalo
- Open Buffalo