By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor, Sarah Beauchamp, Assistant Editor, Katie Kervin, Assistant Editor
2012 summit covered important, timely international issues, such as the attempted assassination of 14-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, gay and disabled rights, and environmental sustainability. Antony Jenkins, who was appointed CEO of the global financial-services provider Barclays last August, discussed ethical business and his plans for reforming the scandal-plagued bank. Summit ambassadors also shared the work they'd been doing in their home countries concerning government transparency and accountability.
Delegates had more input than in years past, contributing firsthand to the conference's content. “In the run-up to [the 2012] summit,” Robertson said, “we dedicated more time to work with the incoming participants than in previous years. We gave them a real sense of ownership by enabling them to choose discussion topics for the summit. This really changed the nature of the event.”
Many delegates left the 2012 summit feeling “invigorated, excited, and empowered to create,” Toccket said. “The impact of the events [at the summit] are really intangible and hard to articulate. The biggest thing is creating these projects and ideas, and reinventing the world in our young image.”
And giving tomorrow's leaders a voice today. To that end, the summit has seen a surge in international media coverage, welcoming journalists from India, China, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Europe, and Mexico last year. “Ultimately, we want One Young World to be the most important summit in the world other than the World Economic Forum,” Robertson said, “and that the media give the delegates a hearing — that the world listens to young people.” PCMA Convene
Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference
By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor
The Center for Community Progress is looking for people who believe that change begins with that abandoned building down the block.
A vacant property is a missing tooth, a onetime healthy home or store that now stands empty and dilapidated, sometimes indicating the presence of a rot that could spread to its neighbors. Each one is a threat to neighborhood cohesion. And each one represents hope — the potential to do something small that can fix something big.
“When you're looking at how to create vibrant communities, when you're looking at creating communities that people want to be living in and working in, vacant properties are really tough,” said Jennifer Leonard, vice president and director of advocacy and outreach for the Center for Community Progress, which is dedicated to “helping cities, towns, states, and regions across the United States reintegrate vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties into the economic and civic life of their communities.” Vacant properties, Leonard said, “really tend to destroy communities, but they can be great assets. But you need to get your hands on them in order for them to be assets.”
That's where Community Progress’ Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference comes in. Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 local, state, and federal government officials, policymakers, activists, sponsors, and other people working on the issue attend the annual meeting, which this year is scheduled for Sept. 9-11 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia — a city that's no stranger to vacant properties. Ditto the conference's previous hosts, including New Orleans, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. “It has to be a city that does have a challenge,” Leonard said. “But more important than that, we think it's important to know that they're actively doing something about it.…We want to be able to say, ‘This city is doing really cutting-edge work.'”
Community Progress also wants to be able to help attendees — by offering a program that shares “lessons that people around the country have learned [about reclaiming vacant properties],” Leonard said, “so they're not figuring it out for themselves.” At the 2012 conference in New Orleans, there were seven “mobile workshops” that took participants on tours of revitalization projects throughout the Crescent City; three-hour training sessions on topics such as “Building an Effective Code Enforcement Management System” and “Understanding Neighborhood Dynamics and Using Market-Based Data”; and breakouts that included “Local Efforts to Combat Blight: Foreclosure and Vacancy Ordinances,” “Combatting Crime in Vacant Properties: Engaging Unusual Allies to Battle Vacancy,” and “Alchemy for Resurgent Regions: Using Vacant Land to Kick Start Local Economies.”
About 600 people attended the first Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference, held in Pittsburgh in 2007 — many of them coming from the older industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest. “They were so excited to recognize they weren't alone,” Leonard said. “They were in a room of people who had this problem.”
It's a problem that, since the subprime-mortgage crisis and the economic meltdown, has only become more acute. And understanding the systems that create vacant properties is more important than ever, as is creating “a national network of people that are connected to each other,” Leonard said. She added: “It's fun. You have people in the room who are really, really excited about changing how their community is dealing with vacant properties. And everyone is so enthusiastic.”
An important component of the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference is success stories - sharing them as a way of showing attendees that a seemingly intractable problem is actually reversible. At last year's conference, for example, a session called “Redeveloping Neighborhoods and Revitalizing Housing Markets: A Tale of Two Cities” presented a joint case study on innovative programs in New Bedford, Mass., and Baltimore.
The Baltimore portion is particularly eye-opening. Baltimore Housing's Julia Day and Michael Braverman took attendees through the agency's Vacants to Value (V2V) initiative, launched two years ago to target 16,000 vacant buildings throughout the city. By streamlining and strengthening the process through which properties are declared abandoned and providing incentives for the private market to reclaim them, V2V has resulted in a 175-percent increase in the sale of city-owned property, helped secure nearly $35 million in private investment, and seen some 760 rehab projects completed or under way.
“Where developers have the means to rehabilitate every vacant house on a strategically selected block, they can effectively restart a housing market,” according to Baltimore Housing's presentation. “Using their expansive toolkit, Code Enforcement attorneys can require every owner of vacant property on a block to either rehabilitate or sell to someone who can. … As long as there is at least one capitalized developer, the block will be rehabilitated.” PCMA Convene
Transition Network UK Conference
By Katie Kervin, Assistant Editor
From food distribution to energy systems, Transition Network is developing projects that will help people thrive in times of crisis.
The idea of “resiliency” has been one of the core tenets of the U.K.-based nonprofit Transition Network since its inception in 2006. “The way we use resilience is as a term to describe the ability of a system — which could be an economic system, or a human entity, or a society — to withstand shocks from outside and maintain a healthy level of equilibrium,” said Ben Brangwyn, Transition Network's co-founder and one of the main organizers of its UK Conference.
While that might sound like a group of people preparing for doomsday, members of Transition Network are really concerned with making