From December 9-11, national and community leaders came to Durham as part of Forward Cities third national meeting between leaders from Durham, Detroit, New Orleans, and Cleveland. Many called this meeting a true “watershed” moment for this important work. This was driven by the level of trust that members of the Forward Cities teams have developed with one another – especially in talking about how racial inequities and long-standing racial biases have contributed to current conditions on the ground, and the strategies we need to implement now to move this work forward.
 
Durham offered an important backdrop for this work. Like the other Forward Cities, Durham is rebounding from a major economic collapse.  Once a booming international hub of tobacco and textiles, as well as one of the nation’s premiere African-American business communities called “Black Wall Street,” Durham hit tough times, and as a result, the downtown area emptied out. 
 
Left in the wake were beautiful abandoned brick warehouses that have been transformed by pioneering private investors who saw the potential for a future led by the creative class and local entrepreneurs. Supported by city and university partners (particularly Duke), downtown was redeveloped and is now experiencing a true renaissance with 94 percent occupancy rates and growing demand for cool office space and houses.
 
Just to the east of downtown is North-East Central Durham – a majority minority community that has a centrally located under-developed commercial corridor and an emerging entrepreneurial community. The city just invested $4 million in street improvements in the Angier-Driver corridor but without an intentional plan to accelerate and strengthen local minority ownership, there is a significant risk of gentrification and displacement as downtown grows. 
 
These challenges are not unique to Durham and during our December meeting leaders from across the Forward Cities had a chance to wrestle with questions such as: how can our cities create vibrant, inclusive entrepreneurial hubs that foster local ownership in under-developed commercial corridors? What are promising strategies to increase access to capital for minority entrepreneurs and small business owners? And what are emerging models for entrepreneurial hubs/incubators to support entrepreneurs and small business development in low-income communities? Again, central to these conversations is the question of racial equity and access, and how under-developed commercial corridors can be developed to foster local ownership and participation and reduce the risks of gentrification and displacement. 
 
These are critical questions to our cities’ futures. The same way that a set of intentional decisions dismantled African-American communities during the 1950s and 1960s through “urban renewal” (compellingly told in the documentary “Lessons from Hayti”), how can we bring the same level of intention to restoring vibrant hubs of black-owned enterprise that benefits our entire economy and all of our communities?
 
To get a sense of the convening schedule, discussion topics, and work going forward we encourage you to read the rest of this newsletter, and follow us @forwardcities and www.forwardcities.org.

 For a the full list of attendees at the Forward Cities Durham convening, click here.
 
 Christopher Gergen, Co-Founder of Forward Cities
 
Denise Byrne, Co-Founder of Forward Cities