How can we alleviate material poverty in areas that have experienced decades of chronic disinvestment?
It’s an important question – and one that many thoughtful, passionate people have addressed over the decades. For us at FCS, the answer lies in place-based revitalization. We believe in a neighborhood centric city.
The Neighborhood Centric City
First, this view places neighborhoods at the center of plans for growth and change. It sees the neighborhood as the key – the model to address an age-old problem of depressed neighborhoods (not people).
The neighborhood centric city sees patterns in disinvested parts of town, and draws geographical conclusions. When you start mapping outcomes in the city, you can see the geographic patterns. Everything correlates to geography. When you begin to see the relationship between place and larger policy decisions, it becomes clear that chronic disinvestment in a place leads to a multitude of negative outcomes.
We’re Built in Siloes
Typically, we don’t see the neighborhood as a single unit of analysis. Historically, we look at schools, water, fire, and police as separate departments with different interests, budgets, and goals. However, this view doesn’t ever get to the heart of the matter. The city is made up of neighborhoods, who in turn are shaped by the impact of these various departments.
We need a broader view. There needs to be a shift from an institutionally centered mindset to a neighborhood centered mindset. We need place-based work.
People-Based or Place-Based?
One of the patterns we see at FCS is a move toward work that’s called “place-based” but is actually “people-based.” We talk a lot about the difference between these two concepts. Traditionally, efforts to alleviate disinvestment rely on reinvestment in individuals. There’s a belief that adding resources to individual people and families will improve outcomes overall.
However, we’ve seen that this is generally quite ineffective.
Even when people have additional resources, if they’re not living in a place that can support them and allow them to thrive, the trajectory of their lives doesn’t change. That’s why just performing people-based work doesn’t impact the place…and ultimately doesn’t improve outcomes for the community as a whole.
For example, increasing affordable housing is a worthy goal. However, just putting up affordable housing isn’t a fix for chronic disinvestment. It’s one step toward creating a thriving neighborhood, but it’s not the solution. Reinvesting in neighborhoods as a whole is the only way to enact restorative justice. That’s the central strategic imperative for every city.
What Gets in the Way of a Neighborhood Centric City?
Depressed neighborhoods have lots of transition – and it has a big impact. Families that are constantly on the move de-stabilize neighborhoods. Place-based work asks, “how can you give families the ability or reason to stay in their neighborhood?” You need to create stable, healthy neighborhoods that allow businesses, schools, and other institutions to function and allow folks to stay.
Sometimes, there are restrictions that prohibit the city from investing in neighborhood and place-based work. However, in many cases, if you start from the assumption that the city can actually be an investor, it’s evident that there’s much to be gained from neighborhood investment. From the federal level, investment can make a huge impact.
Learn More About the Lupton Center
As the training and consulting arm of Focused Community Strategies, we’re focused on helping communities understand the power of place-based revitalization as a way to promote flourishing for every neighborhood. We’d love to invite you to learn more on our website.