Darwin wasn’t talking about community development, but he could have been. The field—as complex and diverse as the species he studied—is constantly evolving. Community development practitioners are facing the familiar challenges of cuts to federal and philanthropic funding amidst a growing need among low-to-moderate-income (LMI) communities, explained Karen Leone de Nie, a director in the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s community and economic development (CED) group. These practitioners have come up with creative ways around those challenges, many of which are playing out in the Southeast. Their strategies fall into three emerging themes—taking a holistic approach to community development, collaborating to increase capacity and boost impact, and using data to drive good decision making.

A local success story goes national

There is perhaps no better example of a holistic approach than the revitalization of Atlanta’s East Lake community. Today the city’s eastern-most neighborhood bears little resemblance to the place once disparagingly referred to as “Little Vietnam” – a moniker that reflected the neighborhood’s violent past.

East Lake’s transformation is well known among community developers. The neighborhood had languished for years in a cycle of concentrated poverty, crime, and low employment until Atlanta real estate developer and philanthropist Tom Cousins stepped in.

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