The People-Place Dilemma: The Challenge for Anchor Networks in Legacy Cities

The Challenge for Anchor Networks in Legacy Cities




anchor institutions & initiatives, Community-based economic development, Asset-based community development, uneven development, racial and economic segregation, legacy cities, community-engaged research


Anchor movements rest on the premise that people- and place-based initiatives can be mutually reinforcing.  The community development movement, however, has been haunted for years by the people-place dilemma – the idea that efforts to help people harm efforts to uplift places and vice versa.  This article examines the people-place dilemma through a case study of the St. Louis Anchor Action Network (STLAAN), a collaboration of 16 anchor institutions.  St. Louis is a classic legacy city that once enjoyed rapid growth but is now characterized by falling population size and high poverty.  The heart of the people-place dilemma in legacy cities is that efforts to help people in disinvested communities may enable them to move somewhere else, leaving behind poorer communities.  We document longstanding trends that have drained STLAAN’s focus geography of people and resources, as well as more recent growth of an “eds and meds” economy that presents an opportunity to address decades of disinvestment and decline.  We examine STLAAN’s efforts to invest in its focus geography and the people who live there, drawing lessons for anchor work, especially in legacy cities. Our research underscores the importance of data, social commitments, community engagement, and research.



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