Land, Listening, and Learning: Building Collective Leadership in Baltimore
12 March 2018 - Impact Hub

In Baltimore, Communities for Change (C4C) explores: How might we connect leaders of community-led, community-owned neighborhood development to the resources and skills they need to realize their visions of strong and stable neighborhoods?

On one hand, the city faces a legacy of disinvested neighborhoods and generations of exploitative and extractive models of community development. On the other, committed residents across the city are dedicating their own time, money, and skills to creating new systems from the ground up. Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are one of these promising new models, and Ryan Flanigan is one of those dedicated residents. He is also a participant and organizer of C4C.

Ryan is working to establish a CLT in his neighborhood of Remington. As traditional development began to get momentum and neighbors expressed concern about how long they could afford to live in the neighborhood, Ryan looked to CLTs as an alternative model. This permanently affordable, community-controlled housing method allows money to stay in the neighborhood instead of being extracted by the housing market.

Ryan joined C4C to learn new frameworks to process complex challenges. After three weeks, he shared “C4C sessions have shown me what good structure can do for a conversation and how it can shape dialogue. Poorly facilitated conversations can allow certain voices to dominate. It can seem very exciting, but not a lot of real progress occurs.” When we actively listen to innovative, locally-driven ideas in housing and healthy neighborhood development, implementation trails close behind. We just need to get these creative minds in a room.



Each week, C4C mobilizes people working on a wide range of solutions—community-driven housing, a neighborhood farmers market, an LGBTQ home sharing platform, zero energy construction methods, a community planning academy. Participants bring their own expertise and skills to the table to consider the challenges of the existing system and to pathways to a more holistic and healthy future.

The real innovation occurs in the fostering of new relationships to spur new ideas that leaders can then take back into their own communities, or use as a launch pad to collaborate within new partnerships. Another C4C participant, Brendan Schreiber describes, “It’s only been three weeks, but it feels like a crash course in a new way of thinking, a new way of operating.”

Brendan is a young mission-driven developer whose company builds affordable, inclusive housing in West Baltimore. He says, “I’ve always known that my heart’s in the right place and that we’re doing this for the right reasons, but I’m now getting to bounce my ideas off these people who really want to see the things that we want to do brought to fruition. But I need their input to make sure we’re doing them for the right reasons and doing them the correct way.”

Brendan has paired up with Ryan to lend his expertise to planning and advocating for CLT pilots across the city.  He sees CLTs as an important medium to long-term solution for protecting housing affordability. “We should be starting right now on trying to get money from the city for CLTs. We need to be encouraging some of the under-represented neighborhoods to start assembling land. Yes, there’s a lot of vacant housing right now, but what happens when these neighborhoods are suddenly in the natural path of development.”

Each session of C4C Baltimore has focused on a different dimension of a complex system of housing and neighborhood development. Through guest speakers, active listening, guided journaling, learning journeys, and modeling practices, we’ve explored ways that our individual and collective actions can unravel what’s stuck.

As members of our learning community share insights each week, conversations blossom into meaningful discussions about their challenges, their hopes. We explore questions of ownership, leadership, trust, value, and vision. We grapple with the gap between the American Dream and the American reality. We deepen our commitment to create new models that value people over profits. And we leave with certainty that we must create space to listen, to nourish ideas, and to unite for collective action.


Thank you Michelle Geiss and Alice Kuan for your support in shaping this piece.

Should you want to learn more about Impact Hub Baltimore’s work building leadership in Baltimore, you can contact Michelle Geiss.