An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy. Part -1

“Inspire a Generation!” was the London 2012 motto. It was everywhere, billboards, buses, cars, the underground (tube) and television commercials. It was powerful enough fuel for the Great Britain (GB) athletes, as evidenced by the most amounts of medals (65) for team GB in 100 years of Olympic Games. With the feats of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah’s, Gabby Douglas (USA) and other Olympians, their successes will be inspiration for many young men and women for years to come.

Jessica Ennis  won the gold in the heptathlon – Mo Farah double Olympic gold medalist and Victoria Pendleton Olympic gold cyclist

For some, the dream will continue with  increased training time on the tack, in the pool or in the boxing ring. Their focus will be in stepping-up their dedication with increased execution. For others, a vast majority, the challenges will start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags. For these young men and women, their lives are a far cry from Hyde Park, The Mall, Trafalgar Square or Earls Court.  It’s more like Finsbury Park, Kilburn,  Holland Park, Neasden,  Stratford,  and the likes; the “cobbles”  is where their respective futures are being shaped. Much like  inner city low-income communities  in the United States, the challenges for these neighborhoods at times seem insurmountable  appearing to outweigh the allocated resources.

Nearly every city that has served as host to the Olympics has left some sort of legacy.  In all cases, the legacies have been paved with good intentions. London’s Olympic 2012 project  investment was originally estimated to cost  $4.8 billion; the final cost was $18 billion dollars.   The London Legacy Project:

  • The construction of five new neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character, will see up to 8,000 homes built-in the Olympic Park by 2030
  • Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will provide an escape with its green, open spaces beside tranquil waterways. Elsewhere will pulsate with a multitude of events. The five world-class venues built specially for the Games, will now be host to local, national and international sporting competitions, concerts, festivals, temporary attractions, installations and more in its many public spaces.
  • The London Legacy Development Corporation see’s employment and business growth as key to the regeneration of east London. To deliver this, they intend to promote high-quality education and job training opportunities; making sure they meet employers’ workforce requirements. This will allow unemployed local residents the opportunity to access jobs throughout the Park.
  • Development plans include 1.3 million square feet of housing, 480,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of hotels, shops, a health center,  community centre, nursery school, gym and parking.

The Athletes’ Village at Stratford will be retro-fitted to create nearly 3,000 new homes after the 2012 Olympics

The final result is a complete reshaping of the East End.  Winning an Olympic bid was both huge and historic for London and Great Britain. Serving as a  lasting legacy of English and London pride; where “Club and Country” is as sacred, if not more so, than “God save the Queen”.  As expected, Brits’ and Londoner’s alike shined in extending the United Kingdom’s hospitality. However, this hospitality  maybe considered a new normal for the likes of  an Indianapolis, Indiana. London is a City where one’s olfactory senses are tantalized with unique scents and your hearing and vision are greeted with varied dialects and appearances  of  African, South African, East Indian, Eastern European immigrant, Asian, Latino and West Indian culture at every turn. In every  pub (bar), bus, tube,  newsstand, restaurant, cinema, football (soccer) game, concert and corner store. London, is not short on diversity, in fact it serves as the future of what communities and neighborhoods are to become in United States, including  Indianapolis.  London’s ability to embrace its ethnic and cultural differences as part of the new enhanced British culture, represents the new normal. As such, I find it increasingly difficult to hear this current  mantra and position of “art, beauty and nature” from leadership in the fields of  philanthropy, economic and  community development in Indianapolis; when some of  these very organizations in the  field continue to plan with a blatant insensitivity to the changing demographics.

“Transformation” seems to be the constant language being used as Indianapolis wrestles through its identity crisis. Yet, the methods used in economic and community development and philanthropy  are “transactional”; defined by  “asset mapping”, “investments” and “asset-based planning”and are devoid of any real transformative  and restorative imperatives. In essence,  my estimation is  there are three  significant challenges (assertions) in the current practice of Indianapolis’ “theory of change”, a) continued planning from a place of cultural tunnel vision, b) cherry-picking of communities and neighborhoods and c) Structural Racism embedded in the process of philanthropic, economic and community development. At a glance, these may seem to be far-reaching assertions but from the various seats on the bus (which I occupy), it cannot be any more glaring.  But this paragraph will be expounded upon at a later time, in another blog.

Back to “Inspire a Generation!” For other persons, a vast majority, the challenges start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (the Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags.

These concerns and sentiments are echoed by London Funders. In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership, whose members include Comic Relief, the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and London Funders network, says “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer is a call to the government to commit at least £100m to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident, successful people and all-round better health?

These concerns and sentiments were echoed by London Funders network, whose members include Comic Relief and Community Development Foundation (CDF). In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012 – Rachel Williams ), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership and London Funders network agreed “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer was a call to the government to commit at least £100 million to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: “why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident successful people and all-round better health?”

CDF’s chief executive Alison Seabrooke, “We want to fill the gaps,” she says. “There’s a lot of noise around the different government departmental provisions in sport and where it’s lacking and what it doesn’t tackle is the people who aren’t sporty, who aren’t active. Everything we see is all about sports’ outcomes – the number of footballers you produce, or the number of boxers, and the increase in sporting achievement. What we don’t look at is sport as a tool for doing other things in the community. We want a fund that will cut across different political cycles that will protect the money and make it work really hard.”

The challenges that  low-income young males  and females of color face in London is no different from any urban or suburban area in the United States. The main distinctive difference seems to be class, especially in the Council Estates (America’s equivalent to Public Housing). There is council housing (Flat’s & rented houses) available outside of the estates, in middle-income communities, adding to the diverse population representing community.  However, even with the vibrant colors that make up London, young men of color (often in the lower-class)  are so weighed down by social and psychological deprivation they borough-in rather than dig out. Seeing themselves as the beneficiaries of the London Olympics’ Legacy Fund will require more than ambitions of developing a Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park or building a new generation of elite athletes. With an eye on success in Rio in 2016, whether it be London or Indianapolis, there is a need for more tangible imperatives than “art, beauty and nature” in transforming low-income communities. Developments the likes of an Olympic Legacy or Super Bowl Legacy need to reflect the faces and culture of the current residents. Taking into account changing demographics; ensuring long-term employment and stability over gentrification.

Planned Development after the London Olympics - The East End

London Olympic Legacy Redevelopment Plan

In Ilford, community youth worker Mehbub Ahmed agrees. The 24-year-old runs a non-contact boxing project at Frenford Clubs’ Jack Carter centre…”[The government is] only looking for elite athletes and nothing more than that. It’s not looking to help the community as a whole. It sees it as more about collecting medals than looking out for where young people are going with their lives.”

Whether, Haughville, South Bronx, The East End, Martindale-Brightwood or the barrios of Rio de Janeiro, planning, redevelopment and regeneration must include those who are disenfranchised. There must be clear, honest and authentic dialogue that forces reflection  of one’s assumptions of a shared vision of community and, what is looks like? Planning investment and attracting assets are central to restoring the economic base of local  low-income communities, cities and regions, which makes  inclusion an even more vital piece to the redevelopment process. The notion that communities that are “dis-invested” also lack the intellectual capability to grasp the technicalities of community restoration is a sorely perpetuated myth. There is no doubt that the East End will thrive, pockets of Indianapolis will continue to grow, communities will feel safer, school facilities will improve, housing will be created, jobs will increase and some of the local residents will benefit.  But to inspire a generation, the next generation needs to continue to see like faces in the process, occupying program manager, project manager, senior or  lead planner positions. Being part of the management and executive team, in a manner that is  more than “cosmetic diversity.”  Listening to a  radio show about community and economic development a caller by the name of Grandpa said the following;  “the recent calls reek of people who are completely cool with gentrification and who see cities as playgrounds instead of what they really are. The hierarchy of America and the world elites laugh at how the people are worried about the look of the city when there are absolutely enormous problems with racism, education,  jobs and pollution. Poverty and ignorance are all over the place in every city  but hardly ever mentioned. Be careful when you try to make empires places where you can go and play pretend all day.” 

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Adisa: “One who makes his meaning clear”

Community Building , Econ0mic and Community Development, Sustainable Communities; whatever you want to call it, whatever the “buzz” word, it has an essence, a soul and a spirit that manifests in Passion.

For Carrying-Capacity’s launch I am excited to introduce a young man with a seasoned perspective; resident philosopher, writer, music business entrepreneur and all round Renaissance man – Diop Menelik Adisa! A man in his mid-twenties, he represents one of the new voices presenting with critical inquiry. Diop serves as the Youth Director, Outreach Director and Grant Writer for the Kheprw Institute and Ki-EcoCenter. He is an IUPUI graduate with a Bachelors in Philosophy and is every bit his father’s (Imhotep Adisa) son, especially when it comes to deduction and “breaking it down.” The definition of his name according to him: Diop – “Named after his grandfather a self-taught Senegalese scholar” Menelik – “Son of the wise man, bringer of the knowledge”. Adisa – “One who makes his meaning clear”.

Diop Menelik Adisa

Diop Menelik Adisa

Keep in mind as you read his blog writings, he is both refreshing and gritty.

“The past few months, given the work I and my organization have been involved with, have lead me down a road that requires a critical examination of the mindset difference between those that build from the ground up from those that “build” from the top down. The second build is in quotation due to the fact that I have never witnessed the construction of any standing building from the top down”

Diop’s description of this all too common practice of economic and community development crystalizes the difference between accessing resources and being resourceful. He states:

“Grass Roots as a mindset understands the simple idea of starting with whatever and whoever you have. They understand how to survive by bootstrapping instead of bootlicking. Power is needed to empower. Non-profits/people that chase funding and approval can never empower community because they have relinquished their own power. They have fallen subservient to the status quo and as a result no longer possess an authentic autonomous voice, which is the exact voice being called upon in these turbulent times. The funding chasers are not in a position to critique the Grass Roots mindset primarily because they have no knowledge of how to build from the ground up.” The Kheprw Institute

Both models have a place in the plethora of approaches to community development. The question remains, which model provides the best opportunity for long term sustainability? It is crystal to me, but I’ll let you decide. Still, Diop’s analysis of the top down approach as a change process, reminds me of an eloquent statement captured by Henry Ford in 1908 in reference to his Model-T automobile, “You can paint it any color, so long as you buy it black”.

Diop’s fearlessness is reflected in his philosophy of self-mastery as he calls out the traditionalist;

“Far too often non-profit ‘know it alls’ spend their time doing the exact antithesis of the term non-profit. Funding first and change second becomes their mantra.”

This is by no means an accident. Remember his last name, Adisa: “One who makes his meaning clear”. I invite you to follow this new voice, the Kheprw Institute, and Ki-EcoCenter as they continue modeling the difficult work of “self-mastery” as a core value of sustainability and “grassroots as mindset.”

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Carrying-Capacity Launch

Do you think she's overwhelmed?

Whatever has landed you on my blog page, word of mouth, a shared link, curiosity or just boredom; Welcome! Stay awhile and if so inclined, add to the discourse and share.

I’ve been toying with  the idea of blogging for some time. Contemplating such a committment, I asked the questions: “What will I say? Why will anybody read what I have too say?” However, those were not the real questions causing the struggle. The experience I was struggling with was the feeling of “fear”; the thing that paralyzes us in the most unimaginable way. I always remember the words of my Professor Dr. Grallo, “Push yourself uncomfortably.”   How can I not? The tensions we are experiencing locally and globally are bearing down: depletion of natural resources, social and economic inequity, global recessions and a trajectory that seems less than promising. “Fear” has a cast of characters including: disparity, unemployment, poverty, greed, racism and inequality. All are co-culprits in the ongoing saga and contention of the human spirit.

The alternate is equally true. There are fears of succeeding. Fear of embracing ones true self. Fear of finding one’s authentic swing. Fear of who we really are. These are so far removed from the culture we currently experience; we wonder, where do I fit? Where can I work on my passion? Where can I unleash my creativity and take a risk in a place where they embrace the notion and idea that “it’s the hardest conversations that need to be pursued” and “it’s only when one leaves their comfort zone, life begins.”

Carrying Capacity seeks to attack that “fear”. In connecting you to sustainable initiatives and highlighting local and global sustainability efforts, you will come to see and hear success stories of individuals and communities that have been deemed “the hardest to serve.”

What is Carrying Capacity?

Carrying-Capacity

Carrying Capacity is the population that can be supported indefinitely by its supporting systems.

In ecological terms, the carrying capacity of an ecosystem is the size of the population that can be supported indefinitely upon the available resources and services of that ecosystem. Living within the limits of an ecosystem depends on three factors:

  • the amount of resources available in the ecosystem,
  • the size of the population, and
  • the amount of resources each individual is consuming.  (Sustainable Measures – West Hartford, CT)

Carrying Capacity was born out of the concept and practical application of Sustainable Development (SD.).  According to  Wikipedia,  Sustainable development  is a pattern of resource use, that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come (sometimes taught as ELF environment, Local people, Future). The term was used by the Brundtland Commission which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

My work for the past 20 yrs has been in the area of sustainability; first in New York City and now in Indianapolis. I am amazed at the efforts that local communities are taking to ensure their sustainability; tending to their individual and collective “carrying-capacity” to create a better life. These efforts were evident in RedHook or Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, East Harlem in Manhattan, the South Bronx or Martindale/Brightwood and Mid-North Quality-of-Life Plan in Indianapolis. These stakeholders continue to draw on one of their most important sustainable assets, their core values.

Carrying-Capacity will showcase stories and conversations that may not make it into the foundation, charitable organization, or corporate report. Many writings may not fit neatly into that quantifiable results-based model.

Carrying-Capacity will share stories of amazing everyday people, activities, new voices and organizations. It will showcase individual and group work in pushing through daily fears, asking critical questions and providing more than a ray of hope. The aim: to bring attention to sustainable opportunities through discourse, networking and action. To move this forward, Carrying Capacity operates from a position that  the “idea” and “action” of Change rests in the following belief: “The hardest conversations need to be pursued.” Hard conversations require “hard thinking”. Throw-in some “hard and respectful modeled discourse” and we start to touch hearts and minds; connecting people around difficult matters that often get in the way of making us better.

Hard Conversations:

Sustainable?

Sustainable?

Economic Disparity, Racial Inequality,  Failed models of Sustainability, Structural Racism and Community Building, Discrimination, Philanthropy as preservation of wealth; I think you get the point.

Important to this discourse are two important questions: “What is working well?” and “How do we plug-in or create what’s needed to fill the void in our individual neighbourhoods, communities, cities and state?” Throughout the country and the globe, there are places having enormous success building community. Cities tackle head-on those questions and become action oriented, producing amazing “change results.” Get on board. Decide where you wish to sit in this bus and challenge yourself to the following: 

Western Army Officer: “What do you want from me?”

Samurai: “What do you want for yourself?”

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