Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative
Shared vision, shared power, shared wealth
The Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative could be considered a connector or an amplifier, but the more appropriate term would be multiplier. For decades, Bronxites have created community-owned workplaces, land, and housing. In small but important ways, economic democracy is part of the Bronx’s past and its present. BCDI believes that, brought to another level of scale, these models of economic democracy are key to the Bronx’s future, and have the power to disrupt the history of wealth extraction from poor communities, people of color, and women.
In short, the Bronx already has much more of what it needs to be a place of broad-based well-being than is typically credited to it. BCDI demonstrates that economic democracy can be achieved in the Bronx through the coordination of critical economic actors with the shared goal of shifting ownership and governance of key community assets. With an infrastructure in place, low-income people of color can gain access to more than the cultural capital of this great borough, and begin building secure, transferable, and accumulative wealth across the entire community. The Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative pursues the goal of economic democracy through ecosystem-driven and borough-wide strategic intervention, planning, and coordination.
BCDI is well on its way to building a comprehensive Community Enterprise Network including community organizations, local businesses, government officials, organized labor, and anchor institutions. This network connects capital to labor, small businesses to contractors, and ideas to training and expertise. Drawing on years of research and investigation of successful regional community economies, and drawing on local and global peoples’ movements for ownership of land and housing, BCDI conceptualized six core initiatives that will bridge the gaps in the Bronx’s economic landscape and maximize the borough’s wealth-building power for all its residents. Four of these are already operating to advance economic democracy in the Bronx.
The concept of shared ownership is invisible or misunderstood for many Americans, but BCDI has proven to stakeholders that the Community Enterprise Network model for building economic and civic power has delivered real results in the places where it has been implemented as a long-term strategy, in fact, works. BCDI’s Economic Democracy Learning Center provides an environment for Bronxites to critically engage disruptive economic models and revise the frameworks they use to access economic power by providing educational resources and training around their framework for economic democracy.
The frameworks they’ve developed to promote economic development, shared wealth, and collective governance in their community tap into the wellspring of human capital that already exists in the Bronx and reduces dependence on strategies that are scarcity driven. While the Economic Democracy Learning Center equips community, labor, anchor institutions, and elected leaders with a grounding in the principles and practices of economic democracy, the Planning and Policy Lab helps translate aspirations and ideas into action. The Development without Displacement Toolkit is an example of how BCDI coordinates local stakeholders to co-create strategies to advance equitable economic development. Because the Bronx is similar to many urban communities across the U.S., the toolkit also provides practical support for community leaders across the country fighting their own battles in the national displacement crisis.
The several billion dollars spent by Bronx-based institutions and nonprofits on goods and services each year are also a leakage of local wealth directed away from the borough. Either purchasers are unaware of local businesses or don’t know how to find them. On the other hand, many small, local vendors don’t yet have the systems or processes in place to do business with large institutions. The BronXchange serves as a marketplace where small, Bronx-based businesses can reach larger clients and where buyers and contractors can come to spend their money locally.
BCDI established the Bronx Innovation Factory to nurture future leaders in the digital fabrication and advanced manufacturing economy, where so much wealth creation is possible but for which investments almost always flow to places and people that don’t look like the Bronx. At its core, the Bronx Innovation Factory is a technology and advanced manufacturing program that trains Bronxites in extremely valuable technical skills like 3-D printing and electronics. Soon, BCDI envisions a center for advanced manufacturing shepherded by women and people of color. Such an institution will have the capacity to foster innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors among low income and marginalized Bronxites that build on the city’s history as a long-standing manufacturing hub and the relentless ingenuity of its residents.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, BCDI and their co-conspirators understood that the Bronx should not and could not couldn’t go back to normal– ”normal” was not working for the Bronx before. So they worked with community partners to invite Bronxites to participate in designing their own future–to propose solutions and collectively craft a vision for an equitable and sustainable Bronx grounded in racial justice and economic democracy. The Bronx-wide Plan will be a powerful tool to support diverse Bronx stakeholders to cohere around a shared vision and agenda for transforming the local economy in the Bronx, building community power, and creating a society grounded in self-determination, wellness, and dignity.