Principles and Strategies for Reconstruction: Models of African American Community-Based Cooperative Economic Development

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Community-based, cooperatively owned enterprises are characterized by greater community input and participation in the planning, development, and governance of commercially viable, socially responsible businesses that generate jobs, income, and wealth-producing assets. African Americans have a strong but hidden history of cooperative ownership in the face of market failure and racial discrimination. Cooperatives are democratically owned and governed businesses, whose members pool resources and share risk and profits. This research contributes information about viable strategies for economic renewal, particularly to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in ways that retain and benefit long-term and low-income residents of color.

**********

  [Pamela] Everage also worried about her relatives and friends who
  lived on the other side of North Claiborne Avenue between Florida and
  Caffin Avenues [New Orleans], a place where, at the time, soldiers
  were barring people from entering and where, it was rumored, bodies
  were still being found. (Prince 2006, A5)
  Five months later some neighborhoods still have no street lights and
  are not inhabitable. (Rahim 2006, Weeks 2006)

The state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans have announced their plans for rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Louisiana plan in particular uses inclusive language about the return to better conditions for all citizens. Phrases are used such as, "rebuild our communities and the lives of all our citizens to levels that exceed those prior to Katrina," "using the talents, labor, ideas, and assets of our own citizens ... first and foremost, Louisianans will lead the rebuilding effort," "rebuild in a manner that is culturally sensitive and recognizes the strength that comes from the diversity of all our heritages," and "rebuild so that those less privileged in our midst have a markedly improved quality of life as a result of this effort" (Department of Culture, Recreation and Terrorism 2006) as well as "New Orleans will be a sustainable, environmentally safe, socially equitable community with a vibrant economy," and "neighborhoods will be planned with its citizens and connect to jobs and the region" (Urban Planning Committee 2006). This is loaded terminology, which probably means different things to different people, but is to reassure everyone that the right principles are in place.

How will these plans be achieved? Who is at the table, and are all the stakeholders making the decisions present and recognized? Are "citizens" all the previous residents or a certain subset? Do the various stakeholders have the resources and voice to participate equally and effectively? Can the models of development and the business plans proposed actually achieve the goals as stated? What strategies and models would achieve such goals? How do we evaluate the planning process and the suggested strategies?

How all the above questions are answered will in great part determine who is allowed to return, what they will return to, how all the original residents will be treated, and what kinds of development will occur. The New Orleans plan only projects a city of 181,000 by September 2006 (about 144,000 had returned by January 2006) and 247,000 by 2008. New Orleans, however, had a population close to 500,000 on 28 August 2005 before Hurricane Katrina hit. So who are the citizens these plans mention? Where will the rest of the residents be, and what will or has happened to their homes and livelihood?

Words are easy to craft, but crafting actual economic experiences and economic structures that deliver equitable development and increase prosperity at all levels are more difficult and rarely seriously addressed. In many cases the economic development models used are not inclusive and do not deliver prosperity to all. The language, particularly in the state plan, is similar to language a group of Black social scientists used when we publicized our principles and priorities for rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast (Black Social Scientists 2005)--although our proposals were more specific about how to direct help to the most needy and more comprehensive about how to address all the needs. …