Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

More systematic equity and revitalization planning as an imperative and opportunity in the suburbs: Northern Virginia

My writings on equity planning and social urbanism have been centered on DC, but with a soupcon of consideration of Hispanic areas of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland. 

-- "Social urbanism and equity planning as a way to address crime, violence, and persistent poverty: (not in) DC," 2021 
-- "An outline for integrated equity planning: concepts and programs," 2017
--"Equity planning: an update," 2020
-- "East County, Montgomery County, Maryland: Council redistricting spurs ideas for revitalization | Part 1 -- Overview," 2021

A couple years ago I wrote a piece on Pontiac, Michigan, a majority black small center city in Oakland County, Michigan, which has languished economically for most of my life--I lived in Oakland County as a child, and went to Pontiac Schools in 6th and 7th grades--and how I failed to consider that the County, one of the richest in the nation, never developed a focused revitalization program for Pontiac. 

-- "Pontiac Michigan: a lagging African American city in one of the nation's wealthiest counties," 2022

Also, related is how Hennepin County Minnesota engaged in a place-based investment strategy for Minneapolis out of recognition that outmigration and property value decline there put the county's revenue streams at risk.

-- "A County and Its Cities: the Impact of Hennepin Community Works," Journal of Urban Affairs,  2008. 

Which infuses two articles outlining a revitalization strategy for St, Louis, and a brief follow up:

-- St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 1: Overview and Theoretical Foundations," 2021
-- "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 2: Implementation Approach and Levers," 2021
-- "Revisiting St. Louis revitalization planning in the face of population shrinkage," 2023

Inside NoVA reports, "Report: As Northern Virginia prospers, some neighborhood conditions worsen," that the wealthy communities of Northern Virginia have communities that have and continue to lag.  They don't report that there aren't systematic programs to address this.  From the article:
In between the sprawling lawns of Loudoun County and the riverside lofts of Alexandria lie clusters of struggling, predominantly non-white neighborhoods that are increasingly left out of the success and prosperity experienced by Northern Virginia as a whole, recent research notes.  In fact, conditions in some of those neighborhoods — called “islands of disadvantage” — have been in decline for years. 

According to a new report by the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, poverty, rates of people without health insurance, educational attainment, job opportunities and overcrowding all worsened in those neighborhoods between 2013 and 2021. 

At the same time, the report notes the economic progress seen in some areas was also accompanied by gentrification and displacement of people of color. “What is otherwise a healthy and wealthy area is also home to areas of concentrated disadvantage,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, lead author of the VCU report. “This is not something that is widely known, that people are living in deep poverty just a short distance away from the McMansions and golf courses.” 

The report, “Lost Opportunities: The Persistence of Disadvantaged Neighborhoods in Northern Virginia,” compares census data from 2009-13 and 2017-21 for Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria to understand the social and economic changes the region has experienced over time.
Like what I've written about Montgomery County in relation to East County and Oakland County in relation to Pontiac, counties like Fairfax and Loudoun ought to think about equity planning and social urbanism approaches in systematic ways as a solution to endemic poverty in their communities.

Unfortunately, US economic development planning is more about "trickle down" rather than focused approaches to addressing low income pockets within otherwise successful areas.

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