We often talk about flourishing neighborhoods…but what exactly do we mean? It’s not just a pleasant phrase – our view of flourishing neighborhoods is a well-defined concept that we use to power our mission at Focused Community Strategies. The concept of a flourishing neighborhood is one of our foundational principles, and we’re diving into it on a deeper level today.
What Is a Flourishing Neighborhood?
A flourishing neighborhood can be seen, quantified, measured, and tracked. It’s not just a mission statement or a flowery daydream – it’s based on tangible factors. In the FCS model, we measure the health of a neighborhood using three major categories.
Primarily, when we’re talking about a neighborhood’s social cohesion, we’re looking at the idea of belonging. When social cohesion is present, neighbors know they belong to each other and to that place. “Belonging” is often our short-hand for a neighborhood that exhibits social cohesion, and that’s why our commitment to proximity and our core value of neighboring are so important.
Though social cohesion is probably the lead indicator of neighborhood health, it can be difficult to prioritize. Many organizations dedicate time and money to initiatives that erect buildings or hold events since they’re quickly and easily seen. However, we recognize that neighborhoods with better social cohesion will self-report health in higher measures. When neighbors know each other well, interact often, and depend on one another, there is social cohesion.
Social cohesion also increases when there is credible and active leadership in that neighborhood. When we learn more about a neighborhood, we search for a group of residents, citizens, or neighbors who are acting for the betterment of the neighborhood. These are often civic leagues, garden clubs, religious organizations, and more.
Our emphasis on social cohesion requires us to work to change a cultural paradigm that often doesn’t emphasize this sense of place. There’s an invitation to introduce a new way of life that takes a deliberate choice. We’re asking, “How do we love that which is nearby?”
We talk about structural integrity in terms of access. Do the ecological and built environments include a supportive network to make life function? Are there systems for education, legal and law enforcement, health care, social services and resources? How do the structural systems work or not work to promote well-being in this neighborhood?
In many cases, the structural integrity of a neighborhood is severely compromised. In Historic South Atlanta, one side of the neighborhood is bound by a railroad, while on the other side is cut off by a huge highway. In the middle of the neighborhood, there’s a large industrial tow yard and a large recycling plant. This can cut off social and economic access to high-quality services. Before we built Carver Market, access to affordable and healthy groceries was a two-hour round trip on public transportation.
When we think about structural integrity, we ask, “Does the neighborhood have access to the systems and resources they need to thrive?” When a neighborhood lacks structural integrity, social cohesion will suffer. If you’re adding bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, and better street lights, people will have what they need to safely interact with each other.
When we talk about economic vitality, we’re talking about opportunity. Economic vitality has to do with employment, but it’s not just about wages or jobs. We’re not just looking for a neighborhood full of employed people – we want the economic life to breathe life into a neighborhood. Do business serve the good of the neighborhood, employ from the neighborhood, and improve the outcomes for the people in the neighborhood?
Our Community Grounds coffee shop offers employment, but it also contributes a place for neighbors to gather together, too. At FCS, we’re now working on planning a commercial main street to move businesses into a neighborhood that can now sustain it. In an economically vital neighborhood, businesses offer a “triple bottom line” – they’re owned by neighbors, employ neighbors, and are aimed for neighbors to benefit.
Economic vitality is also about wealth building. If you grow up in this neighborhood, will you have access and opportunity to increase your wealth over time? That’s why housing is such an important part of economic vitality – it isn’t just about where you live, it’s a means of allowing wealth to grow over time.
Learn More About Our Model
Though there are ways to measure and quantify these three elements, we want people to first look at their neighborhoods on a macro level. We seek to bring these factors (which are often hidden) into the light.
However, we do include metrics as a part of our work. About every two or three years, we use a tool called the Flourishing Neighborhood Index to create a cohesive score. We measure the health of the neighborhood on the lived experience of neighbors, not just on publicly available data. This allows us to sit back down with the neighborhood and present our findings.
We’d love for you to learn more about the work we do at FCS and the model we use to create flourishing neighborhoods. Our work isn’t easy, but it is profound, and we are excited to share the progress. We’d love to connect further with you to see how the Lupton Center (our training and consulting arm) can work with you to create a flourishing neighborhood in your place.