Community Economic Development as Progressive Politics: Toward a Grassroots Movement for Economic Justice

96 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2006

See all articles by Scott L. Cummings

Scott L. Cummings

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


Community economic development (CED) emerged during the 1990s as the dominant approach to redressing urban poverty, replacing entitlement programs and civil rights initiatives with a market-based strategy for promoting economic equality. Premised on the idea that poor neighborhoods are underutilized markets in need of private sector investment, market-based CED gained a broad range of ideological adherents, resonating with proponents of black nationalism, neoliberal economics, and postmodern micropolitics. As the decade brought economic issues to the fore and legal services advocates faced mounting federal restrictions, increasing numbers of poverty lawyers adopted the market-based CED model, providing transactional legal assistance to community organizations engaged in neighborhood revitalization initiatives. Yet, despite the expansion of the market paradigm, analysts have largely avoided a critical dialogue about CED theory and have neglected a careful examination of the evolving nature of grassroots CED practice. This Article sets forth an indigenous critique of market-based CED, arguing that it fails to deliver on its promise of poverty alleviation, diverts attention from the need for a coordinated political response to economic disadvantage, privileges localism over structural reform, and impedes the formation of multiracial political alliances. This Article then presents an alternative model of politically engaged CED that integrates legal advocacy and community organizing to build cross-neighborhood coalitions that promote broad-based economic reform. It concludes by outlining the contours of this new approach, highlighting how poverty lawyers are collaborating with organizing groups to expand living wage ordinances, establish cooperative businesses, and implement comprehensive hiring and job training programs.

Keywords: Community Economic Development (CED), urban renewal, market-based CED, economic reform

Suggested Citation

Cummings, Scott L., Community Economic Development as Progressive Politics: Toward a Grassroots Movement for Economic Justice. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 54, pp. 400-93, 2002, UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 06-20, NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 05/06-18, Available at SSRN:

Scott L. Cummings (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
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