The Pursuit of Responsible Development: Addressing Anticipated Benefits and Unwanted Burdens through Community Benefit Agreements

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Larissa Larsen


Problem: Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are efforts to address unjust development practices. Communities considering accepting a significant development project want mechanisms to ensure that existing residents benefit from the anticipated positive outcomes and are protected from undesirable burdens.

Purpose: Drawing from the environmental justice literature and the emerging literature on CBAs, I used case studies to propose a system of categorization for CBAs that is based upon their intended purpose. Secondly, I investigate the concern that CBAs are effective empowerment tools only for communities in strong real estate markets. The third purpose of this research is to evaluate whether the instigation of CBA negotiations is the result of bottomup community based mobilization efforts. The final purpose is to address the short term and long term implications for planning practice.

Methods: This research is based upon three case studies from Denver, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles. The case studies were purposely selected to represent a range of CBA applications and market conditions.

Results and Conclusions: The case studies reveal that CBAs are being used in two different ways. CBAs were used to ensure that affected communities were 1) connected to the anticipated benefits of development, or 2) compensated for an anticipated burden from a locally unwanted land use (LULU). The array and extent of community benefits was greater in the real estate market that was perceived as stronger compared with the weaker market. I would not categorize these CBAs as examples of bottomup self-determination, nor were they examples of top-down efforts. This second generation of CBAs represents a new type of mobilization that I call middle-insertion.