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Building community wealth in Rochester, NY

By Lovely Warren

Dec 5, 2018

Progress and prosperity have often been unequally shared in cities around the country. In many ways, Rochester, NY, is no different — a city with a rich history of innovation and social progress, but also of disinvestment, poverty, and institutional racism. I see the suffering on the faces of far too many people in the community that raised me, and I hear their pain in the stories they share.

But as Rochester’s mayor, there is something else I know: This city and its people hold unlimited potential to create new systems designed to work for the betterment of all, and not just the select few.

At the beginning of my first term, I created the Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives to develop ways to combat poverty. We have had many successes, including the rollout of alternative, affordable transportation methods like Vanpool and Bikeshare</a>; interest-free microloans through the crowdfunding platform Kiva Rochester</a>; and a study detailing race- and gender-based wage disparities in our city.

Despite these wins, there was a missing piece. So, upon my inauguration for a second term, I announced the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building — an ambitious endeavor to ensure everyone in Rochester benefits from the economic recovery of our city.

The Office will lead a cross-sector coalition to foster financial stability for residents; build new and equitable systems of business and entrepreneurial development; fight to raise wages to ensure that all who work hard are able to live a happy and comfortable life; and create opportunities to build intergenerational wealth for those who have historically been denied the chance to do so. And, it will work with the community at every step in the process so that the voice of the people is reflected in every decision made.

Already, the Office is engaging with national organizations to bring innovative programs to Rochester. Through the Living Cities and Citi Foundation City Accelerator Initiative, the City of Rochester will build a stronger and more inclusive system of supports for small business owners and entrepreneurs, ensuring that all who wish to build wealth through business ownership are afforded equal opportunity to do so. It will also help us examine our own internal policies and regulations to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to encourage local job growth.

The Office is also leading an effort in partnership with the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund to offer professional financial counseling services to the residents of Rochester as a public service. That program will bring new and unique opportunities for our residents to build a brighter financial future for themselves, their families, and their neighborhoods.

Community Wealth Building is not simply another anti-poverty initiative. Rather, it is a fundamental shift in how my administration approaches community development. This new mindset aims to correct the flawed systems that have consistently — and in many cases intentionally — resulted in unequal outcomes. No longer will we solely work to treat the effects of poverty and inequality; instead, we will attack the root causes of the issues.

While our nation has made great strides in achieving equality under the law, there is much work to be done to ensure true, genuine equity. For as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “We know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

My young daughter already has dreams of graduating college, finding a job where she can pursue her passion, and someday raising a family of her own. As I watch her grow, I know there is nothing more important than ensuring that she, and all children, can grow up in a city that provides the same level of opportunity that allowed me — the daughter of an immigrant, granddaughter of sharecroppers and product of Rochester’s 19th Ward — to go to law school, be admitted to the practice of law, and become elected as our city’s first female mayor.

I believe that Community Wealth Building is indispensable to creating the future we want to see in cities across the country. I am proud to have placed Rochester at the forefront of this exciting trend.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Ann Warren is the city’s first female and youngest mayor in modern times. Now serving in her second term, she continues to focus on job creation, safe and vibrant neighborhoods, and better educational opportunities for Rochester residents.