Change Maker: Katherine Mella, MIT Community Innovators Lab and the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative

October 3, 2018  
Elizabeth DeWolf Change MakerEconomy
click here to read the entire interview

The Bronx is home to some of the city’s most important institutions and industry hubs, such as the Bronx Zoo, the Bronx Botanical Gardens, many world-class hospitals and universities, and Hunt’s Point Terminal Market. Collectively, these institutions buy goods and services worth more than $9 billion annually. Certain parts of the borough, like the South Bronx, are experiencing a massive real estate development boom, with investment pouring into the area.

At the same time, nearly one-third of Bronx residents lives in poverty, compared to a 20% poverty rate citywide. The borough’s unemployment rate is 7.5% while the citywide rate is 5.5%. Median household income is roughly $20,000 lower in the Bronx than in the rest of the city ($35,302, compared to $55,191). Although Hunt’s Point Terminal Market brings in more than $2 billion in revenue per year, the surrounding neighborhood is widely considered a food desert. Clearly, the wealth generated by the borough’s many assets is not benefitting the majority of the population.

The Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI), a local community-led effort, wants to address this disconnect by bringing economic power to the borough’s residents. The overarching goal of BCDI is to build a more democratic, sustainable, and equitable economy in the Bronx and to develop shared wealth and ownership of that economy among people of color. Economic democracy is the organization’s guiding framework, which calls for collective ownership and governance of key economic drivers by the people most impacted by the local economy. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Community Innovators Lab (MIT CoLab) came on as a core project partner in 2012 and continues to provide planning and strategy expertise.

The Equality Indicators spoke with Katherine Mella, program director for participatory planning and policy at MIT CoLab,  about economic democracy, the progress that BCDI has already made, and what’s in store for the future of the borough.
click here to read the entire interview