There are cynics who think nothing changes and nothing works, especially in regards to crime.
They are wrong. Things change and some things work. Case in point - the New Orleans neighborhood of Hollygrove.
A year ago I wrote about Hollygrove where we introduced SafeGrowth. New Orleans balances a famous, and infamous, history. A high crime rate and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy tilt one way while Bourbon Street delights and French Quarter cuisine tilt another.
Then there is Hollygrove - among the poorest and highest crime neighborhoods - a place where a quarter of the population never returned post-Katrina (exacerbating problems of abandoned, boarded-up homes).
I've just returned from Hollygrove. I am very impressed.
Much was already underway in the Hollygrove community by the time SafeGrowth showed up. Then my talented colleagues at Louisiana AARP, along with some terrific residents and service providers, thought they'd try SafeGrowth to improve conditions.
Early days were difficult with many setbacks - a recent double homicide being the most notable. Obviously much work remains though wins seem more frequent and long-lasting (sustainable) than last year.
Community activities are on the rise. A new walking club is forming and Night Out Against Crime events are bigger than ever. I talked to residents who told me they now clean their own streets and pay for their own streetlights when they cannot get the city to do so (all the more remarkable considering this is an impoverished neighborhood, not a middle-class suburb!)
A few much needed access fences are now in place. The week I arrived residents were celebrating removal of a blighted and abandoned home. New cultural groups are emerging (the hallmark of 2nd Generation CPTED) such as the Hollygrove "Originals" who raise funds for social events in the neighborhood.
This week AARP Louisiana staff helped organize community planning sessions and safety audits. We walked the streets and surveyed conditions with residents, many whom I met last year (their passion and perseverance still continue to impress me). Also present in the workshops were police, clergy, and service providers.
On the final day planning sessions we targeted a central street and some open-space areas. I was amazed at the inventiveness and practicality of the proposals for moving forward.
It takes decades of neglect to sour communities into poor, crime-infested neighborhoods. That's why rehabilitating them takes time.
It's clear to me that in high crime communities like Hollygrove, there are three legs of neighborhood turnaround:
1. Coordinated and collaborative help from service agencies
2. Coherent, integrated planning process (e.g. SafeGrowth), and
3. The momentum, passion and persistence to carry on.