By Stephen Langford
It was almost seven weeks ago that our team came together and began our project in developing greater community cohesion and resilience in Midtown, Savannah. In Savannah as a whole, approximately 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line. However, in neighborhoods like Midtown where residents have been experiencing disinvestment and false hope for decades or even entire lifetimes, nearly 1 in 3 residents live below the poverty line.
Lying immediately east of downtown Savannah, with no geographic barriers preventing encroachment of higher income individuals and families seeking more affordable housing in unique neighborhoods, Midtown is now the next logical area to be revitalized, developed, and swallowed up by the growth machine of urban renewal.
As new residents with their own respective norms and values begin moving in buildings and spaces throughout the neighborhood both public and private start getting fixed up here and there. As the value of these individual properties increases, the the value of surrounding properties start to grow as well, which then leads to increased property taxes and higher rents for surrounding residents.
Eventually, this leads to residents being priced out of the neighborhoods they were raised in and raised their families in. At best, their voices are drowned out by those who are more confident and secure in their economic and social standing, and the culture that they helped build is all but erased and forgotten.
10 week project? No big deal – We got this…
So while looking into how to best address these issues – how to best include not just the concerns and needs, but also the interests and values of as much of the community as possible – we came across a few frameworks that aligned well with the scope of this project. Please follow the links for each if you would like to read more. They’re all pretty awesome.
Placemaking is based on the idea of re-imaging public spaces as the heart of the community while strengthening the connections between members of the community and the spaces they share. As a process, it focuses on engaging and collaborating with as many community members as possible to identify different needs and create both vibrant and diverse public spaces. One particular approach, Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC), emphasizes the use of less expensive and less labor intensive projects to bring energy and life into community spaces.
Monday Means Community
Monday Means Community is a monthly community event in Savannah, led by Emergent Savannah, that aims to facilitate conversation and awareness on issues that might not be paid adequate attention in today’s messy and fast-paced life. Each month, the folks at Emergent Savannah track down locals from all across the greater Savannah area, and even some out-of-towners, that might have some interesting perspectives on that month’s particular topic and bring them in to join in and lead the discussion as a panelist.
Build A Better Block
Build a Better Block is a non-profit that seeks to educate, equip, and empower communities and leaders to focus attention on the built environment to better promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. Better Block also places specific emphasis on thinking small. Their belief is that 100 small projects can be accomplished much more easily and more effectively than even attempting one large project, which will require significant time, money, and political traction.
100 Resilient Cities
100 Resilient Cities is an organization dedicated to helping cities build the resilient infrastructure needed to be able to withstand the dynamic shocks and stresses associated with dense populations, whether physical, social, and economic. Depending on the city, stresses might include high unemployment, an overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system, endemic violence, or chronic food and water shortages, and shocks might include earthquakes, fires, floods, etc. In addressing both stresses and shocks, a city becomes more capable of responding to adverse events, and therefore, is better to deliver basic functions in both good times and bad, to all people.
Hester Street is a non-profit design firm that was created in order to improve the physical environment of underserved communities in New York City. Through including residents of the communities from the get-go in a participatory planning and design process in order to transform public spaces in parks, schools, and affordable housing developments, Hester Street encourages community members to have a hands-on role in developing their own vibrant and diverse communities. With the success of their approach, Hester Street has now expanded in offering planning, design, and technical assistance to community-based organizations, governments, and other agencies throughout the U.S.
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)
More of an overarching concept than a specific framework, ABCD is a bottom up approach to community development that focuses on a community’s assets and strengths rather than its deficits and problems. It focuses on recognizing what it is that makes a community unique, and encourages members of the community to not just recognize those strengths and abilities, but build on them. In order to do so, it requires an extensive interview process to identify assets, or access to and collaboration with a community leader who is already well connected with the community.
To conclude, each of the above mentioned case studies involves engaging with as many community members as possible to have the best understanding of the issues and as many hands as possible working together to alleviate these issues. They focus on building stronger connections among community members, raising awareness, and the local residents who are building the community.