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What is the business case for community development?

Written by Chloe Gurin-Sands on November 21, 2017

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Public health and planning professionals assume that holistic development benefits communities. But where’s the supporting evidence?

This article first appeared on The Metropolitan Planning Council blog October 31, 2017.


Organizations often struggle to quantify the benefits of future and existing projects in order to secure grants or other funding. But how can we quantify our return on investment?

An innovative new research project aspires to answer this question.

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), the University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science (CSDS) and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) have recently received a grant from the Build Healthy Places Network. The team is tasked with creating a framework to measure—in practical and quantifiable ways—the benefits of community development. In short, we want to make the business case for cross-sector community development.

Much of the current research on this topic deals with specific, targeted intervention—such as early childhood education or a single affordable housing development. LIIF’s Social Impact Calculator, an innovative tool, is most useful for evaluating a single project or portfolio. MPC, CSDS, and CDPH are working to develop a broader framework that developers, businesses, investors and funders can use to understand what the returns are (and to whom they accrue) of broad, multisector, collaborative community development approaches.

Returns on investment can be economic (e.g. increased income), social (e.g. educational attainment, reduction in violence), both which contribute to health-based returns (e.g. improved life expectancy, decreased rates of cardiovascular disease), alongside other benefits. The goal is to create a quantifiable, practical framework to show the value of holistic community development. Arguable all of these factors contribute to the health of a community and influence the social determinants of health.

Such a framework will help potential investors, nonprofits and funders evaluate, articulate, and scale-up their efforts. For example, if we know how and why a project such as the Columbia Parc at the Bayou District in New Orleans, LA is so effective and what its long-term benefits will be, we can apply the best practices elsewhere, and make the case for similar investments in other communities.

Building a framework is the first phase in developing a functional tool that can serve as a blueprint for action—and MPC, CSDS, and CDPH are excited to take on the challenge!

Hero image from Flickr user El Gringo(CC)

About the Author


Chloe Gurin-Sands

Chloe joined MPC as a research assistant in January 2016, and was then a Wayfinding Fellow before becoming an Associate in November. As a research assistant, Chloe worked on MPC’s Great Rivers Chicago initiative with the City of Chicago, focusing primarily on analyzing the public’s qualitative feedback. Chloe also used her time to complete the capstone project for her master’s degree in public health, which examined the potential health benefits of improving urban blue space through Great Rivers Chicago. Chloe now works on both Great Rivers Chicago and the Cost of Segregation initiative. Chloe received her master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 2016. While attending UIC, Chloe was a teaching assistant for the UIC Dialogue Initiative. During her program, she completed her practicum with the Adler University Institute on Social Exclusion, working on a Health Impact Assessment of converting a portion of the former Fisk & Crawford coal plant sites in Chicago’s Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods to green space. Chloe grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish (with minors in gender and health and Latino/a studies) from the University of Michigan. She lives in Pilsen, and spends her free time playing volleyball, going on long nature walks, enjoying the beach and reading.