Tag Archives: Community development

Affordable Elegance Comes to Centre Ave

Glad I decided to walk to work and that the guy turning up Roberts didn’t run me over as I img_4515-0type on this phone! Just met Chef Hassan Davis, owner of Affordable Elegance Catering/Cafe/Bakery who has opened up a pop up cafe in conjunction with the Hill Community Development Corporation’s business incubator program. Affordable Elegance has sandwiches and pastries available three days a week in the storefront through November 9th. You can find him 9-4, Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the Hill CDC building, 2015 Centre Ave. Sooooooo beautiful. Mr. Davis is now looking at spaces to open up a full service cafe, catering business with an accompanying banquet hall and space for music. And the icing on the cake? Born Hill Disticter feeding the culture. Shouts to the Hill CDC for its partnership with Mr Davis and shouts to Mr. Davis for adding this and his commitment to the neighborhood. Super dope.

To reach Affordable Elegance, email affordable.elegance22@gmail.com or give a call to 412.224.0653.


You Can Find Me In ‘Da Club…The Block Club

Last evening, Nazura Haymon and I knocked on doors in the Middle Hill as a part of an effort of the Hill District Consensus Group (an organization for which Nazura and my wife work) to develop block leaders in the Hill District. Nazura and I were letting folks know about the upcoming meeting for the blocks encompassed by streets Wylie, Duff, Webster and Sommers. The plan is that at this meeting neighbors will share ideas about what we could do collectively and then later we can develop a plan of action. Personally, what I think is desperately needed is a place for children and youth to play. Unless I want to drive somewhere (an option not all parents have), the lack of space almost forces me to keep them inside and that has a bunch of other negative consequences (tv, video games, my wife and I going nuts, etc). It would be nice to have a place where the kids could play safe in a location that is visible from the house. So, a play space will be what I will be wanting to get energy around, but others will want other things, so that’ll be interesting as well. It was a clear night, not too cold and every door was answered by someone friendly, willing to talk and seemingly excited to do something. A good day.

How Do We Better Support Hill District Restaurants?

After coming home wrecked with no energy to cook, we got some very bland food tonight from the South Side that cost us nearly 40 bucks for four people, so I was going to blog tonight about how we need restaurants in the Hill open after 6 pm, since the closest one to us, Grandma B’s Cafe (scroll to page 3, to read about Grandma B’s) closes at 6 pm. However, my wife, Bonnie, reminded me that both Z Best and Mr. D’s are open after 6 o’clock, so it got me to wondering why we didn’t think of going to Z Best? (We’re partial to Black cooking and ownership.) I wonder if in addition to the fact that our brains were fried, it has anything to do with the need for better signage for place like Z Best, so that you are reminded of it every time you drive by it? If business is location, location, location, maybe I would have thought of the restaurant were it on Centre Ave? Maybe if Grandma B’s had a more visible location like Centre, it could stay open later (will ask the owner, Nafees Bin Muhammad, since they may close at that earlier hour by choice).Obviously, I need to be more disciplined in my thinking so as to better support Hill District businesses, but every little nudge helps.

On a related matter, I got an email today that the Hill District Community Development Corporation is having a community meeting on November 15th at 6 pm and that Centre Ave Development is one of the items for which there will be an update. I haven’t seen anything to say restaurants are on the menu for this first phase, but I sure would like it if they were and it would be great if there was the possibility for the neighborhood’s current restaurants to move to Centre Ave, so they could take advantage of the new energy coming, a more visible place and we could better support them.

Update: I spoke with Brother Ahmad, the cook at Grandma B’s Cafe, and he said it is due to the decline of business in the evening that they close at 6 pm and that they would look forward to opportunities to expand to Centre Ave, while keeping the base at Wylie (which is good for us on Wylie).

Accountability, Transparency Always Matter, But Now They Really Do

In my last post I talked about the part of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s analysis that says structural racism is maintained in ALANA (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) communities in part because gatekeepers are not accountable to the community whose poverty makes their work possible and necessary. While below I explain more about what I mean by “accountability”, I support the general point that gatekeepers are not structurally responsible to the neighborhood, because this is what I have seen having worked in, governed and consumed services in the Hill District for nearly twenty years. Increasing the transparency element of accountability (see below) is something I worked on as part of the formation of One Hill, by using an online community, posting of minutes, membership based voting on critical issues, such as staff salary (the staff member was my wife) and org leadership. However, even One Hill’s transparency lessened once it had a formal leadership structure and negotiations for the CBA began, and most of my other work in the Hill, whether managing the African Brazilian arts organization, Nego Gato, Inc. or working as a case manager or board member for the Hill House Association, was not a part of a process that was accountable to the neighborhood in a substantive way.

To be clear, the issue of accountability is not simply about personal choices and values. It’s how most neighborhoods like the Hill District are structured and its nature of the non-profit industry generally. So, as one would expect, this lack of accountability is still the case in the Hill today. However, greater implications, because the Hill is in such a state of flux as the Hill House builds a new Grocery Store, the Urban Redevelopment, in partnership with the Hill District Community Development Corp, redevelops Centre Ave, and the Master Plan is implemented (although the process by which this will happen is not clear to me). When this is coupled with either our local politicians weakening what accountability mechanisms now exist in the community (see Laing letter to Lavelle-Support the Planning Forum) or missing opportunities to develop these mechanisms (see exchange with Rep. Wheatley in my first post about the lack of public information on the Hill District Growth/Casino Fund), it makes for a situation ripe to come out in a way a residents do not like or understand.

I need to be more specific as to this idea of “accountability”. What does it really mean and what would it look like if Hill District institutions were more accountable to community members? Andreas Schedler in Conceptualizing Accountability breaks accountability into two sections: answerability and enforcement. In the context of gatekeepers, answerability is having to say what the organization is doing and/or why it has done it and enforcement is the capacity for constituencies to impose standards or sanctions on gatekeepers who have not kept their end of the bargain. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on answerability. In order for gatekeepers to meet a standard of answerability, information about the organization and its work should be visible and high quality. Visible is pretty self-explanatory, but it includes the idea of the organization making its best effort of offering a full picture of what is going on so we can really “see”. By high quality, I mean interested community members should be able to make meaning for themselves as to what is going on because the data is in as raw form as possible (minutes, financial reporting, periodic updates) and is prepared for a variety of consuming styles (public meetings, internet postings, newsletters). While Schedler is talking about accountability for political actors or public agencies, I have applied his ideas to the challenge of making gatekeepers accountable as non-profit agencies are public charities. For me, the idea of answerability is best understood as transparency and my explanation of answerability is taken from Greg Michener’s and Katherine Bersch’s Conceptualizing_the_Quality_of_Transparency–.

So, how could these ideas around accountability be made real for gatekeepers and gatekeeping organizations in the Hill District? Staying with the part of accountability that is answerability and the part of answerability that is transparency, I’ll give some examples of transparency standards for the community’s gatekeepers that we all might better legitimize the notion of speaking in the name of the neighborhood. Here are five standards or practices that could be implemented fairly easily and one that would take a little more doing (membership):

  • Publicly posting synopsis of funded projects, the dollar amount awarded and the success indicators associated with the project;
  • Posting of 990s on websites with a standard they will be up within 9 months of the FY ending.
  • Posting of bylaws on website;
  • .A membership structure that allows community residents to have a voting stake in the organization;
  • A publicly available written policy for the amount of board members that will live in the community for organizations housed in the community;
  • Annual meetings at which all the above materials would be available and the organizations success against goals would be discussed and open for conversation.

These standards are only examples and in many ways they represent less accountability than is required by the various funders who support the work, yet its the community’s financial poverty, social challenges and collective history that underwrites much of it. My point is that residents and gatekeepers would benefit from asking for and designing more powerful accountability processes than the ones in place today. According to Michener and Bersch, the amount of transparency in a sector is directly related to the demand for it. If we fear losing the neighborhood, one of the ways to prevent this from happening is to become more active in asking what is happening now and not simply waiting for the “inevitable”. One of my intentions with this blog is that it will increase demand for accountability in the Hill. If you agree it’s an issue worth more attention, please share this entry with someone who lives or works in the neighborhood, comment and then follow the blog for further discussion.

Accountability, Gatekeeping & Racism

Through work this past year with Grantmakers in the Arts on racial equity, I had the opportunity to take a couple of two-day anti-racism workshops with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB), specifically their workshop “Understanding and Undoing Racism/Community Organizing”.  This workshop breaks down the relationship between race, power and poverty and has me thinking about the Hill District differently and, hopefully, more clearly. PISAB’s training begins with the idea that “racism is the glue that holds class oppression together” and goes on to define “race” as a socially constructed concept designed to place “white people” at the top of the racial pyramid and racism as “race prejudice + power” and the process that keeps this racial pyramid standing so visibly. To be clear, I am not qualified to give a PISAB training, (one would need to go to them for that) but I wanted to share my sense of how they define these key terms before going on to talk about two other concepts: accountability and gatekeeping.

PISAB’s focus is on structural racism i.e. the way public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work together to build and maintain societal benefits for being white and penalties for not being white (this is not PISAB’s definition, but an amalgamation of a couple definitions). According to this analysis, critical to holding the structure of racism in place are the “gatekeepers” whose job it is to work for the institutions that get their resources at least in part because of the poverty of ALANA  (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) communities.  As I understand it, the issue is not simply that there are gatekeepers, this is part and parcel of the system, but that they are not accountable to the community members whose poverty makes the employment of the gatekeepers possible. Institutions regularly named include, schools, government, police, non profit industrial complex (social service, community development, funders, politicians, etc). PISAB asks gatekeepers to think hard about how they could make their work more accountable  to these communities. It’s ideas around accountability in the Hill District that I will dedicate the next couple of entries.