Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Transitional Neighborhoods a.k.a Neighborhoods that don’t matter

Transitional neighborhoods are places that are either making a transition to middle class stability or gentrification or they are slowly declining and showing significant signs of stress. These neighborhoods are not poor or crime ridden enough to receive state and federal funding but not stable enough to self-support their own initiatives like middle class neighborhoods. The problem is that these neighborhoods make up most of Baltimore City and I suspect maybe your city as well.

So as a planner how do you tackle a neighborhood that has real issues but will receive no funding to address those issues and generally lacks community support? The burden or working class or working middle class neighborhoods is that they often work the hardest to support themselves and their families. If there are no fires within a community, the issues of today will be put on hold until they become the problems of tomorrow.

Not that residents of poverty stricken neighborhoods have more time then the working class but when your personal safety is always in danger, you will make time to demand a better quality of life. On the opposite end of the scale, middle class neighborhoods often have the most luxury of time due to having more flexible jobs and more active retirees. As a planner the neighborhoods that you deal with the most are the ones that are the most active, which tend to be lower class and upper class neighborhoods. All the other neighborhoods, usually transitional neighborhoods are often overlooked.

I grew up in one of these transitional neighborhoods. At one point the issues of the neighborhood became problems and planners stepped in to prevent the neighborhood from having permanent systemic problems. Fortunately at the time the last legs of the neighborhood association was still kicking to grab the attention of planners. Today, the association is almost non-existent and with no fires in the neighborhood, the direction of the community seems to be blowing in the wind. Since government intervention is often complaint and community response driven, government is very reluctant to step in plan for the needs of a community without having dependable sources in the community.

As planners we cannot force our ideas on communities. We tried that in the 1950’s through 1970’s. It was called Urban Renewal and it didn’t work for residential communities. So if no one is crying for help in these neighborhoods, how could you knock the city for focusing on other neighborhoods since we know the city has bigger fish to fry. It’s hard arguing to the city that they need to focus on the streetscape of one of its main streets when other city neighborhoods are on the losing end of the war or drugs.

While it is understandable that the city with it’s limit resources has to focus on problem areas and protecting it’s middle class tax base, it’s hard to swallow that they have to do this by ignoring all their other transitional neighborhoods. As these neighborhoods goes, the city goes. These transitional neighborhoods are where the bulk of the city lives. If they continue to be overlooked then so will the city. And if these neighborhoods feel that they do not matter then the same will be felt of the entire city.

A structural change needs to occur to make all neighborhoods voices be heard. How do you get a community to be heard when it does not speak? Well, I’m not sure. But if you have a answer, I would be interested to hear from you.


Anonymous said...
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Swamp Thing said...

That's a great question. Wildlife habitat work is the same - the funds go to 2 types of places: those who clamor most loudly for it, and those where the greatest impact can be made, regardless of price.

But of course, 50% of land/neighborhoods are in the middle, and receive nothing, and remain mediocre.

The only thing I can point out is that success is contagious. A marginal/transitional neighborhood is likely to become interested in government programs (Main Street USA is a great example) when a nearby neighborhood successfully implements the program. That's how we get a fair # of previously uninterested landowners in the door, "Yeah, I was driving past Mr. Smith's farm and saw that project y'all did...what if I wanted to do something like that?"

But you are right - the pressure has to come from the grassroots in these "marginal" areas. Otherwise it's basically doomed to fail.

BC Planning said...

I never thought of the natural habitat like that but I guess the same dynamics would apply. When I worked in development review, I remember there were a number of natural habitats that were halfway preserved that really werent benefecial to the environment.

I hope success does beget more success. Main St, like you said is/could a good example of that. I guess at the end of the day it's still an education process and no matter how much facts and figures you can give to a community, entity or assocation the best way for them to learn is to see it for themselves.

cdennis said...

This is so true! As I read this Blog from 2009, I realized this blog represented exactly what I have faced for the past 7 years. As a community activist, I have worked to turn around a fragile community called Lockwood in Charlotte, NC (label by the city). This community had no voice and no way to express the creative visions that lived within it. When I saw the potential of people who wanted to make a difference, I knew that the community could make a change. We have been successful, but still have a long way to go. Even though we have faced many obstacles, we have always focused on the opportunity of having the most admire community to live work and play in Charlotte.
•Putting in God FIRST – By putting God first wipes away our differences and find the commonalities that make us who we are and how we should treat each other.
•Stop Calling our Neighborhoods the “HOOD”. Perception is reality. What we call ourselves will become our reflection. Leaving It Behind was birthed on this principle. We had to change the mentality to be able to change the reality.
•Build diversity under the power of inclusion and impact of exclusion. We have to close not only the diversity barriers of color, but also the diversity of social and economical structures to find common ground. This completed the circle of Putting in God FIRST.
See how a few committed individuals were able to turn around a fragile community.

Note: See the full article:

Six Years of working in the community: