Marketing resident attraction/Re-positioning neighborhood revitalization practice
In an entry yesterday about neighborhood festivals as an element of neighborhood planning and economic development, I commented that how DC elected officials organize "neighborhood services" is more about political consideration than it is about neighborhood improvement.
Basically the idea is that a true "Department of Neighborhood Services" would focus on building the capacity of citizens and organizations to help themselves and their neighborhood, rather than infantilizing them, and making them dependent on "the government" to fix every little thing. But that there would be plans, programs, systems, etc., to help stabilize, maintain, and improve neighborhoods.
We don't do this in DC.
(A related point I make is that neighborhood-based schools are a fundamental element of strong neighborhoods and should be a centerpiece in planning, and not the sole responsibility of school systems. See "Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors.")
There is a fair amount written about building neighborhood capacity. One book, although I have a problem or two with it, is the book Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way by Jim Diers. Generally there is the approach of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and the organization's various publications, such as City-Sponsored Community Building: Savannah’s Grants for Blocks Story which describes an approach not unlike the one spearheaded by Jim Diers in Seattle.
I write from time to time about Live Baltimore, the national best practice example of focused residential attraction to Baltimore City, through marketing and the provision of various incentives.
But it isn't a solely top-down phenomenon. The services and promotions are provided for the most part by volunteers, coordinated and supported by the relatively small staff of the Live Baltimore organization.
Chris Merriam and Stu Sirota at BikeMaryland's Tour de Port in 2009.
Each year they have two major events, one focused on neighborhoods in the western part of the city and the other focused on eastern neighborhoods. This year's Spring events focus on West Baltimore and they have a number of programs scheduled:
• On Wednesday, April 11, Live Baltimore will pop up smack dab in the middle of downtown for a rooftop cocktail party in Pigtown. Close to everything, this area will highlight Pigtown along with Barre Circle, Hollins Market, Ridgely’s Delight and Union Square.
• On Wednesday, April 18 homebuyers will be introduced to the Northwestern areas of Medfield, Remington, Reservoir Hill and Wyman Park at a dessert happy hour hosted in Hampden, home to a bevy of eclectic art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.
• On Wednesday, April 25, Live Baltimore will pop up in Glen for a backyard barbeque to spotlight the Cheswolde, Cross Country, Fallstaff and Mount Washington communities of single-family homes, spacious yards and tree-lined streets.
and the first bike tour of multiple neighborhoods (Hampden, Medfield, Remington, Reservoir Hill, Wyman Park), led by an acquaintance-colleague, Chris Merriam, who has organized a bike promotion advocacy group, BikeMore, for Baltimore City.
The thrust of Live Baltimore is a perfect example of the kind of neighborhood improvement activity that can be coordinated through a Department of Neighborhoods--resident attraction to neighborhoods that need assistance with such. Obviously, DC neighborhoods like Dupont Circle or Chevy Chase or Georgetown or Inner Capitol Hill don't need assistance, the regular market works just fine. But other areas of the city aren't so lucky, and they need some help.
From a Live Baltimore press release:
In recent years Live Baltimore has become known for their bi-annual Buying into Baltimore events. Buying into Baltimore West in May and Buying into Baltimore East in September help potential homebuyers divide and conquer the city’s real estate opportunities while offering an incentive worth $4,000. A homebuyer must go under contract within 90 days of the Buying into Baltimore event. This incentive, like all Baltimore City homebuying incentives available, requires a buyer to earn a Homeownership Counseling Certificate. This process is simple; homebuyers need to attend one group counseling session and one individual counseling session. Live Baltimore hosts two group counseling sessions, led by city-certified counselors prior to the Buying into Baltimore events.
“As the experts on Baltimore City living, we go through a checklist of sorts to determine what neighborhoods are on the brink of being discovered, what sort of lifestyle they offer and then we use our resources to connect homebuyers with the neighborhoods that match the lifestyle they’re seeking” explained Steven Gondol, Live Baltimore’s Executive Director. “We look into the area’s home sales which should be stable if not increasing; is there a neighborhood association or voice that takes care of the community; last but not least we also look for a desirable main street feel with walkable access to shopping, entertainment and dining options.” Live Baltimore has carefully selected the most promising communities on the West side of town to highlight during their pop-up events this April, giving homebuyers a chance to mingle with potential neighbors, learn more about the home-buying process and get a feel for life in these areas.
Recently, DC provided some incentive payments to encourage people to live near transit. But that should be incentive enough, although the idea of financial assistance is to make the housing more affordable, since housing near transit usually costs more. See "Washington, D.C. Offers $12,000 to People Who Move Near Work" from Good Magazine.
But where DC needs to focus its scarce resources is on promoting resident attraction in those neighborhoods where extra normal assistance is required on an ongoing basis.
DC did do a "City Living" Expo in 2003, but it was a one-off event that was never repeated. And more neighborhood-focused programs have never been developed.
Creating a "Department of Neighborhood Services" focused on true neighborhood (residential and commercial, although for the most part these programs tend to focus on residential issues, because other programs tend to support commercial revitalization) is a way to do develop and deliver programming and support systematically, support that focuses resources where they are most needed, while building the capacity of residents and organizations to be effective.