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Jay Walljasper: How to Revive Low-Income Neighborhoods

How deeply rooted institutions, like hospitals and colleges, are revitalizing their communities.
Image from Flickr via Joshua Davs

By Jay Walljasper
By arrangement with On The Commons

Anchor institutions—hospitals, colleges, and other institutions deeply rooted in their communities—are a form of commons that is viewed as crucial to revitalizing low-income neighborhoods. Besides being major employers and big customers for local businesses, they have an intrinsic stake in making sure their neighborhoods thrive. Your local hospital, for instance, is not going to pack up its beds and move to Mexico.

In Minneapolis-St. Paul, 7 colleges campuses and 9 medical facilities have been linked to boost the surrounding communities.

Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston and Syracuse have all devised successful strategies to harness the economic power of these anchors to create more good jobs, business opportunities and community improvement projects that benefit low-income neighbors. An ambitious effort is underway in Minneapolis-St. Paul to link seven colleges campuses and nine medical facilities along the 11-mile route of a new light rail line in a broad effort to boost the surrounding communities.

An initiative in Cleveland aims to help local residents become owners of new businesses that serve a cluster of hospitals, universities and cultural institutions on the city’s struggling East Side, including the famed Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University. The Cleveland Foundation teamed up with Ted Howard of the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland to launch the Evergreen Cooperatives: 1) Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, an environmentally conscious employee-owned firm with a contract to clean linens and scrubs for local hospitals; 2) Green City Grower Cooperatives, an employee-owned 3.25 acre greenhouse that produces greens year-round for hospitals and the university; and 3) Evergreen Energy Solutions, where worker-owners install photovoltaic panels and make weatherization improvements for anchor institutions and local residents.

Jay Walljasper, Senior Fellow at On the Commons and editor of, created OTC’s book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. A speaker, communications strategist and writer and editor, he chronicles stories from around the world that point us toward a more equitable, sustainable and enjoyable future. He is author of The Great Neighborhood Book and a senior associate at the urban affairs consortium Citiscope. Walljasper also writes a column about city life for and is a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces and Augsburg College’s Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning.

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