by Gregory Saville
With 267 murders last year, Detroit has a city population of 700,000 and murder rate 8 times the national average. It suffers a decimated tax base and in 2013, the largest city bankruptcy in US history. Naturally, you might associate it with crime, racial inequity, and blight. But would you associate it with urban innovation and rebirth?
With a renaissance of late, a lively downtown Detroit looks far different than a decade ago. And while that transformation is triggered by large, corporate reinvestment, it is the inner and outer suburbs where much of the blight and crime originates. How, I wondered this past week on project work in Detroit, does a neighborhood reinvent itself?
Then I met Pastor Barry Randolf at his Episcopal Church in the Lower Eastside neighborhood of Islandview. Not only has Islandview begun transformation, but Pastor Barry and his team have grand visions for the years ahead. Our task was to teach the SafeGrowth program in the neighborhood and work with our new friends at the Restorative City initiative.
New initiatives have fertile ground in a place like Islandview thanks, in no small measure, to Pastor Barry. He leads his church with programs like a community garden, a tea manufacturer, T-shirt design company, landscaping company, an employment program, a bike repair shop, mentorship programs, media production workshop, audio/video production, and others.
SPEARHEADING LOCAL LEADERSHIP
Not only does the church provide opportunities for jobs and work, but it also spearheads a community development corporation to build and purchase affordable housing (213 units in the neighborhood thus far). Pastor Barry told me that he and his team locate small numbers of market-rate housing across from well-designed, affordable housing to help stabilize and diversify the neighborhood. They then hire local residents to work with builders and learn the skills of construction.
Pastor Barry’s work is widely featured in local media and we were thrilled to offer our SafeGrowth tools to Islandview’s considerable toolkit. For me, the Islandview story illustrates the value of local organization and the power of competent neighborhood planning. As we say in our SafeGrowth Vision Statement, the successful 21st Century city will be based on a linked network of self-governing and self-learning neighborhoods.
When it comes to designing out crime beyond superficial security strategies, urban development and community-building like this digs at the roots of crime. With apologies to E. F. Schumacher, small truly is beautiful. Thanks, Pastor Barry, for the reminder.
by Gregory Saville
It was November 22, 2017, and a sidewalk sign just went up outside a Denver coffee shop. It read: “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2011”. The neighborhood exploded in outrage and the latest Internet meme was born. Realizing his massive gaffe, the owner dumped the sign, apologized, and has suffered a PR disaster ever since.
Gentrification is an ugly word these days. In SafeGrowth we spend much time in troubled places facing reinvestment and redevelopment. What can be done about crime prevention efforts and gentrification?
GENTRIFICATION IS NO JOKE
The cycle is well-known. Older neighborhoods suffering blight and crime turn into run-down wastelands. Groups looking for affordable spaces - artists, students or working class folks - move in and begin to fix them up. They build play areas for kids, bocce ball courts for elders and handball courts for kids, or gazebos in parks for weekend barbeques. Residents patronize local Mom & Pop stores. Artists set up studio lofts and paint interesting murals in alleys and eventually open spaces to showcase their art.
Richard Florida once described this process glowingly and called such groups Cultural Creatives who end up bringing a new life to old neighborhoods.
Then the new life evolves into a cultural economy that triggers waves of consumer spending, especially by real estate investors looking to capitalize on the “cool factor”. Reinvestment displaces low-income apartments as rents increase to accompany investment.
Ultimately the Creatives are forced out, and the area becomes the latest wealthy, unaffordable hangout for Hipsters.
It is called gentrification and it is the real estate version of hostile architecture. In his latest book Florida no longer speaks so glowingly of the process and now claims Creative Class migration ends up becoming a winner-take-all game that makes things worse.
A recent study on gentrification by the Federal Reserve Bank says:
"In its early phases, gentrification may not result in displacement, but over time, in the absence of protections, tenants may be forced to move."
The study concludes that gentrification often leads to exclusionary displacement unless careful planning and protections are put in place. Even in places where cities try to protect affordability, some owners install “poor doors” for low-income residents and other doors for the rest (a practice recently outlawed in New York City).
Obviously we must be vigilant. In SafeGrowth our motto “To-For-With-By” proclaims that we work with residents and enact strategies by residents versus to or for them.
In our new SafeGrowth book Mateja Mihinjac describes the SafeGrowth principle called Neighborhood Activation. It shows how we navigate through the gentrification conundrum because, ultimately, all those engaged in crime prevention and urban redevelopment must be careful to do no harm.