Learning to Slow Down through Community Development

Michael Manning ’17, Project 55 Fellow at New Markets Support

Michael Manning ’17 is from Cincinnati, Ohio. Growing up, Michael became fascinated with how cities grow and change over time by witnessing developments happening in his own community. At Princeton, he majored in Music and minored in Urban Studies and Vocal Performance. Michael has researched urban development in American cities from a theoretical and analytical perspective. Michael is also a dedicated musician and performs regularly as a choral singer and operatic countertenor. Here, he gives us a glimpse of his experience thus far at New Markets Support Company in Chicago, IL.

This far into my Fellowship, I’ve had the “What is my job” conversation with many people. I find that the community development industry isn’t much on the mind. We see buildings rise in the city all the time, but we don’t often think about all the strategic planning, exchanges of information, legal reviews, money flows, etc. that had to take place well beforehand. Before I accepted my Project 55 position at New Markets Support Company (NMSC), I counted myself among those who rarely remarked at a new building. Still, for years, I’ve sought out community development news. When I read about a new real estate project, I look at the sleek renderings and think to myself “Wow, I can’t wait for this to happen!” Then there’s a lull; sometimes it can last for years. I remember once reading about a plan to turn land by the Ohio River into a multi-billion-dollar development called Ovation. The renderings were jaw-droppingly beautiful. When the demolition crews came through, my excitement became palpable; I thought this amazing, catalytic project was underway. That was 2007. Thanks to the intervening Great Recession, the land looks much the same today as it did the day after the demolition crews went home.

In the industry, projects like this are in a holding pattern. The label doesn’t inspire confidence. My job at NMSC is to help pick new projects for our portfolio, considering jobs, wages, costs, readiness to close, community investment, and more. When I see the words holding pattern in a project write-up, I let out a little sigh. Normally, I will have just read about how much the project means to the community and its positive socioeconomic return in a low-income area. But for one reason or another, the project has lost momentum. Many never regain it.

I admit I’m an impatient person. I walk fast. I grit my teeth on the bus when the driver slows down on a yellow light. I hurry myself to finish things. The inefficiencies around me drive me crazy. My work has taught me the community development business cannot be rushed. It moves glacially because of its sheer complexity. It’s a feat of operatic proportions for one of these projects to rise from the ground. Impatience only leads to mistakes.

After my Fellowship, I plan to stay in Chicago. I enjoy the friends I am making, the times spent however I choose, and even the quiet thoughts to myself on my morning commute. Not being a student for a year has taught me more about myself than ever. Although I plan to return to school eventually, I won’t be impatient.




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