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James Barnes speech

Thank you for inviting me to your conference.

I am honored to be speaking on the same program with our distinguished guest, Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy

I have been a career civil servant now for 40 years, the last 20 of them working directly for elected or appointed political leaders.

I can tell you how important it is for us to work for strong leaders.

I have that opportunity in the City of Lawrence working for Mayor Michael Sullivan, who has been responsible for a transformation in the City of Lawrence in the 7 and ½ years of his administration.

And I had that opportunity much of my time at HUD. And believe me there were enough HUD moments that I can tell the difference.

The City of Lawrence is an old industrial city about 25 miles north of Boston.

We have a population of about 75,000 in an area of just under 7 square miles. So we are a little smaller by 5 to 8,000 people than your Derry.

Lawrence was created in 1845 by the Essex Company as a planned industrial city. In its heyday some of the longest mills in the world lined the Merrimack River. Generations of immigrants, first from Ireland, produced cotton and wool cloth in the mills. From its creation Lawrence has been an immigrant city and an industrial city.

[Essex Company still has a hand in Lawrence, it successor company, ENEL, an international energy company based in Italy owns our canals and alleys.]

For this past year I have been fortunate to be part of the City’s regeneration in the post industrial era that most American cities in the northeast have been facing.

As the City’s Community Development Director I have a staff of 18, and we administrator Federal and State grants that are directed primarily to housing development or rehabilitation and community development – what in Northern Ireland would be called regeneration.

I wanted tonight to share with you some lessons learned in urban regeneration, based on my 40 years working in Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles with the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (known as HUD), and most recently in the City of Lawrence, as Mayor Sullivan’s Community Development Director.

HUD Secretary Shawn Donovan notes, “HUD’s work has a broad reach across urban, suburban and rural places in almost every neighborhood in America.”

My time at HUD spanned 7 presidencies. Throughout that time my responsibilities had a consistent theme: helping city leaders in communities ranging in size of tiny Monroe, Wisconsin to the likes of Chicago and Los Angeles in issues surrounding urban redevelopment. In the administration of Federal Grants I helped cities make sound decisions, and helped them get out of trouble when the decisions were not so sound. We worked together on accountability, site selection, public relations, governance, citizen participation, intergovernmental relationships, and performance measurement.

I left last year because I wanted to be closer to the action at the local government level.

I have found that my HUD experiences and my city experience have some common threads that have adaptability to regeneration and development initiatives in Northern Ireland.

Tonight I want to share with you three areas that must be addressed for successful community development with public funding.

[I note that there are many for-profit sector persons in the room and 2 of these 3 areas are applicable to the for profit sector as well.]

The three are:

  1. Creating and sustaining a successful team
  2. Community Partnerships
  3. Sustaining the momentum, and using what we learn

These are three challenges that are universal; they are not unique to one country even if our governmental systems and funding processes are different.

1. Creating and sustaining the successful team.

A book that has both influenced and confirmed my thinking about how organizations work and how they can work successfully is titled Good to Great by Jim Collins, published in 2002. In 2005 Mr. Collins authored a monograph specifically dedicated to the Social Sectors.

I commend both to you. An excellent read.

Lot’s of good stuff – including the best advice I ever got on performance measurement – that is “all indicators are flawed.” So don’t get hung up on it

What matters he said, is developing a consistent and intelligent method of measuring your results. And then sticking with it.

Jim Collins most quoted piece of advice (and he divides his advice into 5 areas) is, “Get the right people on the bus.” Success (or in Collins words organizational greatness) flows from having the right people filling key positions, being part of the team.

In the public sector there are constraints to that (civil service requirements, bargaining unit agreements, and the like) – we all are aware of them and there is no need to detail them tonight.

And Collins points to how these constraints can be overcome.

In large and small ways we need to pay attention to the importance of putting the right team on the field.

One way, in my own experience, is to make sure those responsible for vetting or hiring candidates understand the vision, that they themselves are board with it. Often large organizations rely on Human Resources Departments to do the hiring – this can be a problem if the are not on board, not in tune with the leadership’s vision.

Another is to continuously adjust your team. Don’t stand pat – always be adding to the bus.

We need to be continuously developing and expanding our talent – as younger generations of employees become more entrepreneurial in their employment choices, we need to be nimble with our team composition.

One group that almost always needs to be on the bus in American Urban Development is the Community Based Organization, also known as the Community Development Corporation.

2. And that leads to the second area I want to talk about – Community Partnerships.

The success of neighborhood development in America’s cities can be tracked on the same upward sloping line with the growth in our country of the Community Development Corporation movement.

Another book I suggest you take a look at is titled Comeback Cities, published in 2000 but still relevant today, co-authored by a Bostonian, Paul Grogan who is currently the head of the prestigious and influential Boston Foundation.

I suggest in particular Chapter 4 which traces the growth of CDC’s from their infancy in the late 1960’s to the present time.

Community Development Corporations have been the most significant force in neighborhood renewal across America.

“With support from national and community foundations, these CDC’s have become our most innovative housing developers and in many neighborhoods some of the most important civic institutions.” (Donovan)

There are several reasons for this – one is that, because they are neighborhood based, they have to live among their work. That gives them a long term investor’s approach to their projects. (Grogan)

We have many outstanding community based organizations in Lawrence, and 3 stand out because of their steady growth as they stay focused on their vision and broaden their reach with new and important ventures:

Lazarus House Ministries,

Lawrence Community Works,

and Groundwork Lawrence.

Each has a national reputation and serves as a role model. I suggest you check out their web sites.

What do Community Based Organization deliver?

New Ideas

Desire to move quickly

Desire to break down barriers

A Passion of inclusiveness and transparency

All really important to successful neighborhood strategies

CDC’s as part of our team is not without its challenges.

Entrenched interests don’t like new ideas.

They don’t enjoy being pushed – and a desire to move quickly to those in power positions feels like being pushed.

There are traditional ways of doing things, many out of date.

Community Based Organizations challenge those old ways.

That causes discomfort.

And governments – city or state or federal can be secretive, or at least less than forthcoming.

One of my jobs – no one said it was my job but I have taken it on – is to bridge the gap. To deal with the tensions that sometimes are created by the capacities and styles of a community-based organization when they come up against old ways of doing things. That happens – city and national leaders need to be prepared for it and use the tension for positive purposes, blending important institutional structure with community-based advocacy and projects.

3. Sustaining momentum, relationships, and progress

This is the tough one for me. I’ve figured out how to get the right people on the bus. I recognize when there is not a good fit.

I understand the strengths and weaknesses of CDC’s in general, and within each one that my community works with.

But sustaining the vision of our leaders and constantly moving forward.

Not settling, constantly improving.

Using what we learn. Assuring well-researched plans get implemented.

That’s the challenge I have not figured out yet.

It’s not that we get flat. It’s more about managing lots of good ideas, with limited resources.

Making sure your staff and your partners don’t get fatigued.

A few things I have learned – Watch for shifts in the governance of community-based partners. Boards change, key staff move on.

Recognize it’s difficult to keep the energy level up.

Some of the people on the bus will have the energy, and we need to look for them and reward them.

I am pleased you have chosen Boston for your conference. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has enlightened leaders and visionaries, and successful practitioners in community and economic development.

I trust that this conference and the words from Minister Murphy will foster larger and productive relationships in the pursuit of our common goals.


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