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Urban Community Development Is Focus of Symposium, April 11

An upcoming symposium at Yale Law School will address challenges and problems that exist in New Haven and in cities around the country. The day-long event is titled "Urban Community Development: Market, Government, and Social Forces" and will take place on Friday, April 11.

(A complete schedule for the symposium is available on their website. The program is free and open to the public, but the organizers ask that you register online.)

The Urban Community Development symposium grew out of the Housing and Community Development Clinic at YLS, in which students work on behalf of nonprofit organizations and small businesses to promote job creation, neighborhood revitalization, low-income housing, and social service delivery in the New Haven area. Sofia Yakren '04, one of the organizers of the conference, explains why a group of students from the clinic decided to plan a conference: "When you're dealing with client needs, you often move from one project to the next without a chance to step back and look at the policy issues."

In addition, Yakren points out that "it's hard to live in New Haven without worrying about these community issues." She mentions the redevelopment of the Broadway area, a few steps away from the Law School, where Yale University has taken an active role in bringing in new shops and restaurants, including both local retailers and national chains. "Students look at that street, and think it's great for us," says Yakren. "But how does it affect the local community?"

The Yale Law and Enterprise Forum, a student organization devoted to furthering a legal system that promotes the common good through free enterprise and personal initiative, joined the project and became a cosponsor of the event--along with Yale Law School and the Housing and Community Development Clinic.

Ryan Bubb '04, another of the chief organizers of the symposium, adds, "We wanted to explore some of the issues raised in the clinic by inviting people who think hard about them." As the student organizers researched their four main areas of interest--education, retail, jobs, and housing--they found that much of the discussion about these areas divided along the axis of market-based solutions as opposed to politically engaged approaches.

The keynote address that opens the symposium, "Market-Based vs. Politically-Engaged Urban Community Development," will feature representatives of both approaches. Anne Habiby is the co-executive director of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, an organization devoted to sparking new thinking about the business potential of inner cities. Habiby has been involved in the field of public/private finance, primarily for inner city economic development, since 1987. Scott Cummings is an acting professor of law at UCLA School of Law, who has written about political organization as a means of economic development. He also has been active in movements to promote living wage laws and to enforce workplace standards. The divide between market and social policy solutions is not absolute, and the organizers hope for an exchange of ideas between the two sides. "My sense is that there are creative ways of bridging that divide," says Bubb. "Market, government, and social forces can be brought together in innovative ways that transcend ideology and improve urban communities."

Four panel discussions will continue to present a spectrum of approaches to urban community development. The topics are: "Retail: Building a Sustainable Urban Marketplace"; "Housing: HOPE VI: The Right Paradigm for Affordable Housing Development?"; "Education: Magnets, Charters, and Vouchers - How Much Choice?"; and "Jobs: Is Biotech the Future of New Haven?"

Bubb points out that all of the panels will deal with both local and national issues. For instance, one of the speakers on the retail panel, Jack Thornton, was director of new territory development at Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc., from 1992 to1999, where he spearheaded the development of the Shaw's Supermarket on Whalley Avenue in New Haven. Thornton will discuss the cooperative process that brought this supermarket to downtown New Haven. However, the panel will also provide an opportunity to see generally "how businesses look at the inner city and the challenges and opportunities it offers," according to Bubb.

The symposium is open to all interested persons, and Yakren hopes it will draw students, academics, and activists--"all people interested in applying some of these ideas to their work or simply to an understanding of their urban environment."