Reflections on 15 Years
Leading Comprehensive Resident-Guided Community Development:
The Village at Market Creek
Letter to Stakeholders from Jennifer Vanica
To all of you who were partners, friends, and colleagues during my tenure as President & CEO of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, I want to thank you. It has been an extraordinary privilege to work by your side.
After closing out Fiscal Year 2011 and ensuring the next round of physical development and teams were ready to go, I transitioned from my leadership of the Jacobs Center and Jacobs Family Foundation to contribute to the national learning around comprehensive community change and to write the next chapter of my career.
Fifteen years ago, Market Creek Plaza was a journey into uncharted territory. It was a huge risk. At the time, it flipped a century of philanthropic/community relations on its ear by no longer assuming funders should be at arm’s length. The community partnership that was forged was based on the idea that deep connections, powerful relationships, and teamwork might stand a better chance to change things than the traditional model of neighborhood revitalization.
For me, embarking on this journey was not a choice; it was a mission. The work was patient and personal. It required me to rethink everything I thought I knew. It taught me to suspend my own world view long enough to really listen and let go of preconceived ideas I had about how things should unfold. It taught me to find the pulse and the consensus points and put help behind a community of engaged citizens on their agenda rather than a pre-designed foundation agenda. It taught me to serve and support.
As the head of the Jacobs Center and coordinating partner for The Village at Market Creek, I had to discover new roles and goals for myself as a leader. Over time, I realized that my role was largely to give people permission to bring their insight and instinct to bear, to build a bridge to the resources for implementation, and to have people’s backs when taking a risk was necessary.
It was a learning adventure. Joe Jacobs loved the story of Babe Ruth striking out 1330 times. A day didn’t go by I didn’t think of this metaphor as I tested my own bounds for dusting off when things didn’t work and when I needed the courage to stand up to the plate with a ball coming at me at 100 miles an hour. I learned how to overcome hurt and disappointment and to withstand critics, apathy and dissent.
But I also learned that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things when human creativity is unleashed, relationships are nourished, and people believe that anything is possible. Market Creek was a journey of great fun, hope, and kindness, and great spirit and energy for action. It made me a firm believer that change is possible when people connect, vision is born, skills are built, and value is created that can be recycled. I got to experience the gifts and talents of people coming together. I got to feel their pride as change took root. And by finding our way through differences, disappointments, successes and celebrations, I got to experience the love and learning that are the hallmarks of great relationships.
Once known as an area of large-scale blight, The Village at Market Creek with its 590 jobs and $92 million in economic activity is a testament to resident vision and voice and a tribute to all the people who helped make it happen. It has become a beacon in the national search for effective community regeneration and has set the standard for large-scale civic action.
While I am proud of much, I am proudest of how Market Creek “changed ownership” – changed what ownership meant, how it was defined, and who could participate. The pioneering Community Development Initial Public Offering, which created the opportunity for 415 residents to own shares in Market Creek Partners, brought together the world of securities and the world of community development. It took six years and three tries. It opened the door for residents – who could not previously meet the State’s requirements for income and assets – to invest. Once approved, there were no broker-dealers, only a core team of stakeholders helping other stakeholders achieve ownership.
In every journey, there are markers and reminders that everything must go on without us. For me, this is one of those moments. As I reflect on my time with the Jacobs Center and think about its future, my hope is that people will continue to work together in service to their community, tackling those issues of common concern. I also hope that Market Creek and its model of resident ownership will continue to inspire and inform other efforts around the world. And most importantly, I hope that the assets that have been built to date will be leveraged for the change of tomorrow.
The journey continues...