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Strengthening community development networks is key to resilience

American Cities

Like many American cities, Fresno has a history of disinvestment in neighborhoods where Black and Brown residents make homes and raise families.

Though Fresno is California’s fifth largest city, many residents in its under-resourced neighborhoods grapple with the impacts of decades-long environmental injustice, housing and employment discrimination.

According to 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in neighborhoods on the west side of Fresno, over half of residents live below the poverty line. In other parts of the city, poverty levels hover around 27%.

Historically, lower income residents were also often underrepresented in city-level decision-making conversations about how to best strengthen their communities and increase shared economic prosperity.

To face these longstanding challenges, a cohort of visionary and bold community leaders is emerging as part of the Fresno Community and Economic Development Partnership (CEDP). Since 2018, the CEDP has supported peer-to-peer learning and larger collaboration among community development organizations (CDOs) in the city. A recent grant from the American Cities Program will deepen this support as part of the Kresge Community Support: Fresno initiative.

Our place-based efforts in Detroit, Memphis, and New Orleans, have underscored the critical nature of strong neighborhood stewards in fostering resident engagement and accelerating change in communities.

CDOs act as those very stewards by building community wealth, empowering community voice, increasing resident participation and enhancing community conditions through neighborhood organizing. More specifically, many galvanize residents and together push for transformative neighborhood changes including job creation, housing unit production and small business support.

“[CEDP] is a very productive relational network. These neighborhood-based [CDO]s have been relating with each other for a long time, and just now we are getting into economic, social, environmental and physical development projects,” said Keith Bergthold of Better Blackstone Association CDC.

Bergthold partnered with Artie Padilla, executive director of the Fresno-based Every Neighborhood Partnership, to convene the Fresno Community and Economic Development Partnership.

In a recent conversation, Bergthold explained that while community development organizations can advance positive and inclusive change in the neighborhoods they serve through individual projects and resident-oriented programming, in partnership with others, they can do so much more.

“A lot of relational networks aren’t much more than the relationships, which are incredibly important. We are committed to the idea that we have relationships, develop trust, and together move those to outcomes for our communities,” said Bergthold.

Networked CDOs are critical to expanding opportunity in cities and neighborhoods through information sharing, collective action and by promoting local interests.

Through Kresge Community Support: Fresno, we will partner with CEDP member organizations as they build capacity and collaborate to expand opportunity for Fresno residents.

Featured Photo: South East Fresno EDC organizes workforce development training for neighborhood residents. Photo courtesy of South East Fresno EDC.