Rights-Based Urban Development

We partner with community organizations, leaders, and advocates in the fight for the right to participatory development that ensures decent housing, jobs and healthy and stable communities for all. 

Development is a broad term with economic and community development occupying different but overlapping spheres. Policy makers often view economic development as the tool to create employment, wealth, and tax revenue, while community development addresses a wider range of issues and is supposed to involve community stakeholders.

In the last forty years, federal, state and local public policies have adopted an approach to development that primarily subsidizes private businesses and developers.   

Despite all evidence to the contrary, this approach to development assumes that tax breaks, cheap land, and other public subsidies that assist the pursuit of individual profit for a few large businesses and developers will bring wealth to the community as a whole. The result has been serial displacement of whole communities in areas where these policies concentrated wealth and blight and abandonment in others, along with poverty or sub-poverty level jobs. In other words, it has been a failure. 

NESRI works with community partners to fight for a more principled and evidenced based approach to development grounded in a human rights framework centered on:

EQUITY: Development policies must enable equality of opportunity and outcome by prioritizing those who have faced the greatest historical injustice as well as the greatest need. In most localities this means communities of color and includes resources for transportation, fire services, recreation, information technology, housing, health, social services, workforce development, and education among others. Workers should also benefit from development through guaranteed living wages, the right to organize, workplace protections and benefits.  

UNIVERSALITY:  Development shall benefit all and displace none, and no development goal can be pursued at the expense of another.  For example, producing jobs and displacement simultaneously fails to meet the standard of universality, just as concentrating wealth on only a few neighborhoods while abandoning others to blight does.     

PARTICIPATION:  Government must engage people and support their participation in decisions about development that impacts their basic human rights.  Development decisions such as those involving public subsidies and zoning changes must involve not only meaningful input by residents, workers, and community stakeholders, but an opportunity for influence and decision-making through transparent community processes.   

TRANSPARENCY:  Government must share accessible Information and engage in open, not back door, decision-making. The public must be able to easily monitor development decision-making processes, with accurate information offered in terms the public can easily interpret. 

ACCOUNTABILITY: Localities must have a process for holding policy makers and publicly subsidized developers accountable to publicly set development targets on living wage jobs, health care, increased commerce, and public benefits among others. That process must include market or other consequences that are both sufficiently timely and effective to ensure the success of public goals. 

Economic growth and material wealth are not in themselves development, and only meet development goals when they increase equity and ensure human rights such as housing, education, clean water, adequate nutrition and decent jobs. Additionally, they are but a subset of tools for development with other tools offering significant benefits as well.   

Governments must orient growth in a manner that prioritizes justice and equity.  We work with our partners to advance a human rights-based approach to development designed to produce permanently affordable housing, dignified jobs, and the stability to ensure the health of individuals and communities.


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