Community Wealth Building – Why Now?

Posted on May 15, 2020 by Dan Gilmartin

We know that everyone in Michigan is confronting the COVID-19 pandemic in their own way.

The Michigan Municipal League has watched our local communities pivot to this critical emergency, providing answers to residents, helping deliver food to seniors, and working to provide critical services under difficult circumstances. It’s been remarkable—but not really surprising.

At the League, we‘ve been working both to meet the needs of our 520 members—cities, villages, large townships—during this crisis, and also to launch the new home page for our Michigan Municipal League flagship website, We are evolving our work in placemaking, economic development, and municipal finance reform into the overall concept of community wealth building: strategies that build community and individual assets, creating resilient and adaptable systems to address social and economic needs.

In making this move, we asked ourselves: why now? Why relaunch the home page and introduce new concepts in this point in time? The answer is one word: innovation. Our friend and League supporter Mike Bills likes to say we only really innovate when there’s a disruption, otherwise it’s too easy to continue on with things you do on an everyday basis.

While we’ve been looking for a couple years now for the “what’s next” approach to city building, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the urgency of tackling several questions:

How do we take all of our work we’ve done in placemaking and take it to a new level—a 2.0 level? And in doing this how can we make our places and our communities more resilient? How do we make them better against the pandemic that comes down somewhere in the future, while creating jobs and creating a better quality of life for the people who live, who visit, and who work in our communities?

That’s what our mindset has been in moving toward community wealth building. The disruption that the coronavirus has caused leads us to feeling this is the right time to begin talking about the concepts of community wealth and community wealth building.

Community wealth building also means reducing economic disparities so that everyone can thrive. In our minds, this coronavirus pandemic makes the League’s focus on community wealth building even more timely and important. It is clear in this pandemic that communities that have long suffered from socioeconomic isolation were the first to experience the impacts of the virus and the blowback from the shutdown. Just look at the initial disproportionate number of coronavirus cases in some of our hardest hit cities—like Detroit and Flint.

And, it’s not just Michigan. We’re seeing this trend nationwide. A recent New York Times piece was particularly compelling because it addresses some of these issues. Here is a key excerpt:

“The data offers real-time evidence of a divide laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic—one in which wealthier people not only have more job security and benefits, but also may be better able to avoid becoming sick. The outbreak is so new that the relationship between socioeconomic status and infection rates cannot be determined, but other data, including recent statistics released by public health officials in New York City, suggests that the coronavirus is hitting low-income neighborhoods the hardest.”

It all ties back to the original inspiration that innovation is often born from disruption. How can we emerge from this crisis even stronger? Or to ask the question more philosophically: How can we do better in building meaningful and equitable opportunity for our communities as they recover from this crisis?

The League fights for all of our communities. Our vulnerable communities are comprised of individuals whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic, yes, but really, it is those whose lives are regularly disrupted by the discontinuity of systems that have lacked the connective tissue to provide stable platforms for success.

There is no better time than now to lead. There is no better time than now to help and to inspire our members as they lead their communities. There is no better time than now to act.

It starts with informing. It starts with educating our members about building community wealth and why it is important. That is why we’re starting this education initiative with our most visible tool—our website

We hope you will find this site thought-provoking and inspirational. We’ve redesigned it so you’ll still be able to find the things that draw you to our website, including our coronavirus resources page, our Census 2020 information, as well as our traditional site.

So please check out the new website. We would love to hear back from you as you begin to look at some of the information we’re sharing and think about how it may adopt itself in your own hometowns. It’s a conversation worth having. Ultimately, we hope it inspires you as we move forward and helps your community be competitive and resilient from an economic perspective, from a health perspective, and just from an overall quality of life perspective.

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