Urban Heights Collaboration
By Barbara Gray
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Urban Heights Collaboration," Selection from: Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989), pp. 95-111.
In the early 1970s, Urban Heights was a racially integrated community with a tradition of strong civic involvement by its residents. In 1974, a citizen's group became concerned that lending institutions were beginning to disinvest in their community. Disinvestment generally leads to resegregation and neighborhood decline. Specifically, the citizen's group suspected that lenders were restricting home mortgage loans in the community, a practice known as redlining. The group's research suggested that disinvestment was occurring. However, lenders denied any charge of redlining. While the citizen's framed their concerns as a matter of community preservation and racial discrimination, the lenders saw it as simply a matter of making sound investments. The conflict threatened to escalate.
Rebuffed by the lenders, the citizen's group appealed to the city government to intervene.
In response, the city convened a Committee on Residential Lending (CORL) to investigate possible disinvestment. CORL members included representatives from lenders, realtors, citizens, and local government. The city manager chaired meetings and set the agenda. The city manager thus expanded the dialogue beyond the initial disputants to include other affected parties.
Initially CORL members had difficulty identifying the central problem. Early CORL agendas tended to focus on proposed solutions rather than on defining the problem. The city manager's control of the agenda and ground rules was key to CORL's eventual success. The manager assured each group of adequate time to raise its concerns, and managed discussions to avoid escalation while still raising critical issues.
Still, after some months of difficult discussions and disagreements, CORL members had not settled on a common definition of the central problem. Here again the city manger played a key role. The city manager distilled a list of issues for the CORL to pursue from the earlier discussions. The manager also appointed subcommittees to investigate each issue, gather data, and make recommendations to CORL. .
As the different stakeholders worked closely together in the subcommittees, their positions began to soften. CORL was finally able to agree on a common definition of the central problem, and to develop solutions. In order to implement those solutions CORL needed to gain the cooperation of a number of constituencies, including lending institutions, federal agencies, and the city council. CORL had broad community support, through the association of the original citizen's group with the main community congress. One of CORL's' realtor members also served on the city council, and so was influence those constituencies. As CORL's base of support widened, they were to apply greater pressure to particular constituencies. CORL was persuasive, and their plans have been put into effect.