Money, capacity and planning are key ingredients to good neighborhood development

Successful projects are well-financed, professionally staffed and are driven by a plan that was developed with considerable community input.

As a professional planner, I had the opportunity to work with many different community groups in cities such as Detroit and Inkster, Mich.; Albany, Ga. and Norfolk, Va. Many groups and organizations from churches to community development corporations, to block clubs and community foundations work hard to redevelop blighted urban neighborhoods within their respective communities. Many of these have the best of intentions and are truly committed to trying to make their neighborhoods viable, vibrant places to live, work and play. Unfortunately, too many groups lack the three essential ingredients to successful development: planning, professional staff and financing.

The community foundations provide critical funds to well-organized community-based organizations as they represent a part of the money flow into such neighborhoods. However, rarely are they financing projects at 100 percent, as most require a multitude of funding sources for neighborhood revitalization. The severely distressed neighborhoods complicate the redevelopment process and require a multitude of redevelopment activities and funding sources. Such neighborhoods suffer from a lack of social programs for the residents as well as physical decay of the community’s infrastructure, e.g. vacant an abandoned houses, abandoned and overgrown allies and sidewalks, empty and deteriorating commercial corridors, etc. The complexity of urban redevelopment requires the effective blending of public, foundation and private funds. All levels of funds are needed in the most socially and economically depressed neighborhoods.

However, funding alone does not guarantee success. A well-developed neighborhood plan will identify the priorities and the various phases in a strategic and systematic manner. It will provide costs estimates for the various activities and identify the social and physical needs of a community. The plan is the roadmap to community viability. Good plans also attempt to address the challenges and barriers to successful implementation as well as strategies to overcome such difficulties.

The third key ingredient is professional staff. These are the people who bring the planning and the funding together to execute successful projects. They may have a particular specialization in one or more areas of neighborhood revitalization, but their overall effectiveness is in their ability to manage complex projects that involve multiple players. They are also very effective in identifying and acquiring those skills and talents that they may not possess. Urban neighborhood development requires a plethora of skills: planning, design construction, finance, community organizing, project scheduling, grant management, etc. Professional staff provides the best opportunity for the implementation a community plan.

Successful development will have all three ingredients, money, a plan and professional staff, at the appropriate amount and time. The end result can be new homes on vacant lots, coordinated street, sidewalk and alley improvements, new social programs for neighborhood residents, the demolition of blighted and abandoned structures and an increase in commercial activity. The three ingredients represent the foundation of effective neighborhood development; effective development leads to stronger and more sustainable urban places.

For more information regarding urban neighborhood development or to speak with a Michigan State University Extension educator, visit the MSU Extension website.

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