Purpose Built Communities and the Importance of the Community Quarterback
By Carol Naughton, President of Purpose Built Communities
When we started Purpose Built Communities in 2009, our mission was to help transform struggling neighborhoods into places that helped low income families reach their full potential by improving housing, education and wellness. The notion of a “community quarterback” was practically nonexistent six years ago. As we met with leaders of communities to explore holistic redevelopment initiatives, we insisted that the key ingredient to success was a nonprofit organization dedicated solely to the leadership of the long term, complex, cross-sector initiative.
The typical response? “We don’t need another nonprofit.” And we agreed. They didn’t need “another” nonprofit, they needed a community quarterback. In our model, the community quarter-back functions as an organizer and navigator toward the shared goal of community revitalization. The quarterback works with partners to establish shared metrics, brings together knowledgeable allies and financial resources, and ensures the work of community partners will benefit the entire neighborhood. The quarterback knits together the diverse sectors of a community, creating a powerful integrated initiative.
Our work was bolstered in 2012 when the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Low Income Investment Fund published Investing in What Works in America’s Communities, and coined the phrase “community quarterback.” The book helped demystify the concept and highlighted models around the country using this strategy, including our own. By 2013, communities interested in the Purpose Built Model not only welcomed a community quarterback, but asked us for our advice in creating one.
From our experience, partnering with a local community quarterback has made the difference in the now more than 10 neighborhoods implementing the Purpose Built Model of mixed-income housing, a cradle-to-college education pipeline and community wellness within a defined neighborhood geography. It has also been interesting to observe how the community quarterback operates differently within each environment.
In Omaha, for example, the community quarterback organization, Seventy Five North, has been a public face for the redevelopment effort. The executive director, Othello Meadows, has emerged as a leader within Omaha working with his board members, public and private partners and funders to bring new mixed-income housing and an unprecedented partnership with the Omaha Public Schools to fruition.
In Birmingham, the Woodlawn Foundation has played more of a “lead from the middle” kind of role. Its executive director, Sally Mackin, uses a different football term – “pushing the pile.” A different kind of leadership in a different neighborhood. In Spartanburg, SC, the Northside Development Group uses more of a community organizer style of leadership. Curt McPhail, one of the leaders of the initiative, had a long career as a community organizer before joining the Northside Initiative.
All of these styles of community quarterback are different, but they are all working because they are appropriate for their neighborhoods. These initiatives have some of the most thoughtful and effective leaders anywhere in the field of community development, and they are successfully breaking down silos to create healthy, sustainable neighborhoods. Their work demonstrates the importance of an effective community quarterback in the Purpose Built Communities model.