Community-based Corridor Enhancement Labs

What is a CCEL?

District Bridges Community-based Corridor Enhancement Labs are programs that leverage District Bridges’ organizational capacity to support emerging community-based economic development initiatives across the District and beyond.

District Bridges’ Community-based Corridor Enhancement Labs was a concept born out of experience. In 2005, a small group of passionate community members came together to plan a community event that would highlight the small businesses and unique community groups in the Washington, DC neighborhood of Columbia Heights. This event grew into a beloved annual event and in 2009, the small group of community volunteers established a nonprofit entity called the Columbia Heights Day Initiative to enable the event to grow and become sustainable. After 10 years of running successful festivals and growing the volunteer board of directors, the organization wanted to support the community beyond just a one-day event. It was with that vision that the board hired the first executive director and began developing dedicated programs that would serve the small business community of Columbia Heights, engage residents and community stakeholders, and support a holistic economic development strategy. It was that community -based grassroots movement that enabled the Columbia Heights Initiative to pursue a Main Street grant in 2016 which provided dedicated long term funding for this work. It is that legacy that built the organization that District Bridges is today and now we want to help other communities develop similar initiatives. We have developed three building blocks of success that enable communities to launch a new CCEL program. 

Three Building Blocks of Success

Building Block 1: Community Commitment

Many communities already have active citizens associations, business associations, arts and humanities organizations, community stakeholders, and engaged businesses who are committed to supporting their communities. The first step necessary for establishing a CCEL program is identifying and engaging the active community stakeholders and gaining their commitment to a shared vision. Once identified, we work with the community stakeholders to form a Neighborhood Strategy Council or Cultural Trust. In partnership with this group, we develop a fundraising campaign to raise an initial financial commitment to launch the program.

The How

  • Ecosystem mapping – Ecosystem mapping is a method we use to understand all the stakeholders that exist within a community. Once the stakeholders have been identified, we map how they are connected, the influence or power they have, and the past battles that may impact the outcomes we seek to achieve. Depending on the complexity of the community we are working with, the ecosystem mapping can be completed in two to five dedicated working sessions.
  • Stakeholder Outreach & Engagement – Once the ecosystem mapping is complete we work with our partners to identify a list of key stakeholders to serve as our Neighborhood Strategy Council or Cultural Trust. Our team then reaches out to these stakeholders to introduce them to the idea and get their buy-in.
  • Neighborhood Strategy Council/Cultural Trust Kick-Off Meeting – Once we have established our founding group our first engagement is a kickoff meeting. This is typically a two to three-hour session where we listen to our stakeholders to understand their challenges, hopes, and vision for their community. We also outline the CCEL process in this meeting and set expectations for the engagement.
  • Visioning Sessions – Once the key stakeholders are identified and engaged, the next step is to help clarify the shared vision for the initiative moving forward. We generally recommend two visioning sessions. The outcome of the sessions is a shared mission statement and Community Commitment letter, and Memorandums of Understanding between partners outlining the roles and responsibilities of the partners. These commitments can include both time and financial commitments.

Building Block 2: Community Needs Assessment
Once we have an established Neighborhood Strategy Council (NSC) /Cultural Trust (CT) and the initial financial investment we start our community needs assessment. Through a collaborative process, we work with the community, to conduct a business survey to understand the individual needs and challenges businesses are facing. We will use this data to develop business technical assistance programs unique to the needs of the area businesses. We also conduct a community survey to understand all of the unique perspectives of the community and the assets and resources available to make the program a success.

The How

  • Business and Community Surveys – working with the NSC or CT, we develop two surveys to understand the challenges and desires of the businesses and community members. Once the surveys are developed, we deploy them through a variety of methods to ensure we capture a representative response from the community. We typically develop the surveys in one joint session and follow up the session with the documents digitally for edits and final approval.
  • Survey Presentation – Once the survey is closed, our team evaluates the responses and puts together a report for the NSC/CT, and presents that in a working session.
  • Planning – Using the responses from the survey and the input from the NSC/CT, we work together to develop a workplan that moves us forward to achieving the desired outcomes identified by the survey. The District Bridges team works with the NSC/CT to set realistic goals and timelines and determine the financial investment necessary to achieve success.
Building Block 3: Identity/Communications and Sustainable Development

Through a series of facilitated community sessions in collaboration with the Neighborhood Strategy Council and community stakeholders, we develop a brand and identity for the program. With this brand, we develop dedicated social media and communications channels to share out what the program is doing and how the community can get involved. programs are intended to be a launchpad to establish long-term, community-based economic development efforts in a community. Developing a sustainable funding strategy is critical to making a CCEL successful. Because each community is different, each funding strategy is also different. We work with our community stakeholders to develop a strategy that leverages their unique assets and will provide the support and programming the community needs sustainably. The fund development strategy evaluates all the available funding sources and designs a plan that ensures a diverse financial portfolio that will fund the current proposed activities of the initiative as well as the needed investment into future activities and development.

The How

  • Branding and Identity Package – working with the NSC/CT, we will develop a collateral package that helps to brand the initiative. The branding process starts with a kickoff meeting with the outcome of delivering three potential brand options to be reviewed by the team.
  • Marketing – our team will develop and launch a strategic communications strategy that includes