Revitalizing Neighborhoods through Social and Economic Integration: Central Cities Have Been Losing Upper-And Middle-Income Households to Suburban Communities in Recent Decades. Although Some Urban Neighborhoods Are Once Again Flourishing, This Trend Is Not Universal
LeVeen, Jessica, Partners in Community and Economic Development
Many city communities still suffer from concentrated poverty, blight and private sector disinvestment. The question of how to revitalize these areas persists, and city officials, community development corporations, and the private sector continue to debate the appropriate strategies for addressing the problem.
New strategies for urban revitalization
Ill the past, revitalization strategies focused on improving the opportunities for the low-income residents living ill underserved communities. Although individual households have benefited, these strategies have not succeeded in improving the economic composition of the communities as a whole, nor has the private sector provided the outside investment essential for growth.
A different approach to urban revitalization takes advantage of renewed interest in urban living to encourage economic and social integration. Out-migration from
cities was originally driven by expanding highway systems, the availability of housing, and better school systems. The result was a declining economic base that coincided with changing racial composition in the central cities, as many white households moved out to the suburbs leaving a concentrated low-income, minority population. However, a growing suburban population, highway congestion and the rising cost of living have diminished the relative benefits of living in the suburbs, and some households are now rediscovering urban neighborhoods. These households are recognizing the convenience of urban living, the amenities associated with cities and the historic character of certain neighborhoods. Folding these new residents into existing communities is one approach to urban revitalization.
This strategy works to increase job and income opportunities for existing residents while simultaneously encouraging in-migration of higher income residents. The goal is to achieve greater economic diversity that will spur additional public and private investment needed to revitalize an entire community instead of helping just one family at a time.
Diversity strategy offers benefits, raises concerns
Studies indicate that increasing economic diversity in central cities brings both fiscal and social benefits. The most obvious fiscal benefit is a higher property tax base as higher income households purchase more expensive homes or add value through renovation. Higher income households will also support existing retailers and draw new businesses, increasing commercial property tax and sales tax revenues.
Social benefits are also associated with this strategy. Research suggests that the presence of middle--and upper-income households can help reduce social isolation in inner city communities. Higher income households can help build social structures in neighborhoods by reinforcing mainstream values and thus offset problems associated with concentrated poverty such as crime, drug abuse and illiteracy. Greater social capital in a community may also help lower income residents connect with employment opportunities outside of the immediate neighborhood, However, realizing these social benefits requires extensive social interaction between the new and the old residents, and this is often hard to achieve.
A strategy focused on increasing economic and social diversity also raises significant concerns. The biggest is the possibility that existing residents will be replaced by the new, higher income households. Displacement can occur if existing subsidized housing units are demolished to build market rate units or if new households moving into a neighborhood drive up rents or housing prices to such an extent that housing, including property taxes, is no longer affordable for the existing residents. Residents may also be displaced when landlords opt to sell rental housing for conversion to owner-occupied housing.
Gentrification, which usually refers to the economic and racial changes in a neighborhood associated with the in-migration of higher income households, is often seen in a negative light because it can lead to displacement. …