Home > PUM ONE ON ONE WITH National Community Development Leader Presley L. Gillespie President of Neighborhood Allies

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PUM ONE ON ONE WITH National Community Development Leader Presley L. Gillespie President of Neighborhood Allies

Mr. Gillespie is on the Job Building Opportunities in Pittsburgh's Communities


About Neighborhood Allies

Community building continues to evolve and the traditional community development focus on place has broadened to include people based strategies as well. Over the past decades many Pittsburgh neighborhoods have improved and community based organizations have contributed to that success; however there remain many neighborhoods that have declined in the same time period. The program and expertise that found success in some neighborhoods were not effective in others. It was evident new approaches were needed.

From Investing in What Works for America’s Communities, by Eric S. Belsky and Jennifer Fauth:

The field of community development is at an inflection point, poised to achieve scale, impact and integration of the many lessons learned over the past 40 years. It is on the threshold of entering a new phase capable of meeting the twin goals of revitalizing low-income neighborhoods and narrowing the achievement gaps of the poor. 

The new model of community development integrates people-based and place-based strategies.

Neighborhood Allies will serve as the platform to rally and inspire partners, set goals, tract progress, raise money and make investments, and communicate successful outcomes effectively.

Neighborhood Allies will strive to be a 21st century community development intermediary deploying the best approaches in community engagement focusing on people in communities that continue to be left behind. 


PUM:     Mr. Gillespie as the new and first President of Neighborhood Allies what are some of your immediate goals?


Gillespie:  Initially there will be a period of listening and observing, to help define and understand the complexity of our neighborhoods. The opportunity for Neighborhood Allies is the opportunity to reflect, to listen, to learn, to craft responses and solutions that are based and rooted in the ideas of people who live and work in our communities; the opportunity to be bold and to take risk and not be constrained by some of those limitations of the public and the private sector. We will convene potential partners, both public and private, and begin to change the narrative to a 21st century model of neighborhood regeneration, which integrates strategies to improve both quality of life, as well as social and economic opportunity for all residents.  Pittsburgh is poised for continued growth however, there is an uneven geographic distribution of community development success.  So, a central issue that we will address is how to connect the distressed and transitional neighborhoods to the larger city/regional economy.  To that end, we will build broad and deep capabilities and institutional knowledge to address these critical issues. We believe we must focus on building broader opportunity for all residents in all neighborhoods, in order to be the Most Livable City for All!


PUM:    As a nationally recognized leader in the field of community and economic development and  most recently the founding executive director of the Youngstown Community Development Corporation (YNDC), the first city-wide community development corporation in Youngstown, Ohio, why was this opportunity to move to Pittsburgh attractive to you?  


Gillespie:  First and foremost, I deeply believe in the mission, vision and values of Neighborhood Allies, which is fundamentally to be a leader in helping to create a Pittsburgh with healthy neighborhoods that are thriving, resilient and livable for all residents.  We have a tremendous opportunity, along with many partners, to craft new ideas and create meaningful and measurable change in Pittsburgh's distressed neighborhoods. Secondly, it is truly a great time to be in Pittsburgh, as we rethink our system, usher in a new era of innovative and inspirational work, and restore Pittsburgh's position as national model of community development.


PUM:  Neighborhood Allies’ mission is “to support the people, organizations and partnerships committed to creating and maintaining thriving neighborhoods.” Will you focus on specific neighborhoods in the region? 


Gillespie: Yes, we will address transitional and distressed neighborhoods where capacity is limited, opportunities are few, and physical conditions have continued to deteriorate. However, we will also focus on improving the community development system by connecting neighborhoods with valued resources and enhancing the linkages with multiple systems including economic, workforce, education and transportation.  We must develop new ways of educating, creating jobs and wealth, and solving problems that we are only just beginning to comprehend.  Additionally, we will help neighborhood leaders and stakeholders increase their capacity to accurately and more easily analyze their challenges and opportunities, through the creation and distribution of shared performance standards, tools and metrics that can be used by everyone.


PUM:    Throughout your 23-year career, you  have been deeply engaged in mobilizing capital and engaging residents to transform under-served neighborhoods.  For those citizens living in blighted areas and are disenfranchised from many opportunities how will you and your team reach this important and diverse sector living in some of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhoods? 


Gillespie:  I personally understand the totality and the complexity of challenges that confront low-income families and diverse neighborhoods, because I lived it and have developed a life-long passion to create solutions.  The challenges are cross-cutting and multifaceted, and while there is no silver-bullet, we know that we can no longer solve new problems with old solutions.  Our team will work with neighborhood leaders and stakeholders as an "on the ground" connected expert and partner, offering tailored support to improve lives and create positive change.  We will use research, data and national best practices in our work, and our belief is that all neighborhoods in Pittsburgh can be attractive, vibrant communities where people of all incomes, races and generations can thrive.


PUM:    With your entrepreneurial spirit, what challenges do you anticipate along the way?  

 Gillespie:  The first challenges are building capacity in the community development system and creating cohesive, well defined outcomes.  In the business sector there are mechanisms for accountability that generally require a set of well understood deliverables.  In the community development sector, we lack consistent standards and processes, therefore, it is difficult to measure performance and real impact.  Additional challenges will include getting everyone to embrace new insights on the dynamics of what meaningful neighborhood change really means, and to shift away from the paradigm that community development is only about bricks and mortar or a single project.  Building housing is the easy part.  The hard part is ensuring that people can thrive in all neighborhoods, by adopting holistic and comprehensive approaches that benefit all residents.  Lastly, a major challenge is to recruit and attract talent to the community development system. 



PUM: Often, when communities hear about development, they are fearful that could mean destroying their neighborhoods. How do you reach the people and truly build their trust as an ally? 

 Gillespie:  We will build trust by working with residents and community leaders authentically, and ensuring that they have ownership in the process and outcomes.  When residents feel that they are truly part of the process, and they see incremental results; we will gain their trust.  Secondly, we fully recognize that housing development without improving neighborhood vitality and quality of life is neither positive nor sustainable, and changes that lead to displacement of any residents is not equitable.  We will invest to build stronger housing markets and healthier neighborhoods, while ensuring that lower-income residents benefit from neighborhood revitalization.  An important approach to creating equity in the system will involve partnering with city government, and encouraging planning and public zoning policies, such as inclusionary zoning or other back stops to ensure long term housing affordability.  These types of policy considerations will ultimately have a significant impact on equitable neighborhood redevelopment, and ensure all residents benefit from stronger and healthier neighborhoods.  Lastly, we will work to develop new high impact initiatives to improve linkages with systems that affect low-income residents and distressed neighborhoods.



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