Seven Questions with Mayor Steve Schewel

ReCity Network is proud to celebrate two years of social impact this fall! We recently hosted a special ReCity Roundtable featuring the Mayor of Durham, Steve Schewel. Mayor Schewel is deeply committed to the success of Durham. Through his advocacy and policies, he is working to create a community that is welcoming and prosperous for all. ReCity Staff sat down with Mayor Schewel to ask his thoughts on the future of social impact in Durham.

What initially sparked your passion for local government and for public service?

I first got interested in the idea of running for office through running for the school board. My kids were in public schools and I had been very involved as a PTA President. I also served on the Boards of Directors, working to try and improve the quality of our schools for everybody. I was 53 when I ran for mayor. I had been very involved in the community for a long time before I decided to run for office.

What do you believe is the most current pressing social issue in Durham? What are some resources that either exist currently or that you hope to develop in the future to see improvement on this issue?

Undoubtedly, the most significant issue we face is the continuing poverty of a large segment of our community, mainly communities of color. Gentrification has only added to this challenge, but the challenge has been here and that’s what we need to attack. There are a lot of people who are working very hard on this, we have to take a holistic approach.

Are there any resources or initiatives that you’re excited about that could move the needle on the issue?

I’m excited about our new city economic development plan based on shared economic prosperity. I’m also excited about the work we’re doing on affordable housing. This year, the city is spending 17 million dollars to build and maintain affordable housing in Durham. There’s also a lot of work going on around food security. We need a city where no child--where no person--goes hungry.

How can people in social impact spaces effectively collaborate with city government?

There are some areas where the city has very close relationships with nonprofit partners or with mission driven for-profits. For example, in our affordable housing, we’re working with nonprofits and the Durham Housing Authority to build and maintain affordable housing. The same is true of our work in criminal justice reform with Bull City United. Collaboration is crucial. People in social impact spaces are already doing this work. We need to come together and find common paths forward.

What about ReCity’s mission has you excited?

I had seen in my own experience the ways in which people being in the same physical space can spark cooperative work, creativity, and partnerships. It’s very inspiring to walking into ReCity and see all of the organizations and know that they will be collaborating in ways that wouldn’t happen if they were not together. I also appreciate the intentionality with which work is done at ReCity. Specifically, the efforts to increase the capacity of organizations.

What kind of long-term impact do you think that a model like this can have on a city like Durham?

What strikes me is we need more of it. Government can only do a small portion of the things that we need done to build a kind of community that we want to be in. ReCity is strengthening these organizations’ capacities so that they’re able to do more, collaborate, and make the kind of community we want. If we continue in this spirit, we can make the city we love a city for all.

If you had to identify your vision for the next five to ten years in Durham, where do you hope to see the needle move on social impact?

Durham is a city that is in a period of tremendous prosperity...for most of us. Currently, 20% of our residents, mainly people of color, are not sharing in this prosperity. Whether you’re in city government, Durham Public Schools, or working in the social impact sector, our goal has to be to work together to change this. I believe this is Durham’s common vision; to work towards being city where our prosperity is shared.

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