America’s Middle Neighborhoods: An Action Agenda

On the Edge: America's Middle Neighborhoods, a book edited by Paul C. Brophy, aims to stimulate a national dialogue about middle neighborhoods. Presented in a series of case studies and essays by leading policymakers, community development professionals, and scholars, this volume explores the complex web of communities transitioning—for better or worse—across America.   

Just as gentrification can out-price long-term residents, a failing middle neighborhood can have devastating trigger effects on its city, jeopardizing municipal budgets and increasing appeals for federal and state support.  Whether property values skyrocket or plummet, residents are at risk of being forced out.  Too often the heaviest toll falls on the middle class.  When nieghborhoods fail, large numbers of modest-income households, many of whom are people of color, lose wealth due to home price decline, widening the wealth gap of the nation.

 

Establishing the Foundation for a National Middle Neighborhoods Movement

Since the book’s publication, The American Assembly (TAA) has organized convenings in cities across the United States to facilitate author presentations aimed at informing audiences and determining the potential scope for future work. Convenings have been paired with strategic meetings among elected officials, urban policy experts, community development practitioners, and researchers. These outreach activities, summarized in an attachment to this proposal, have been organized to:

  • Help practitioners, policymakers, and advocates active in the fields of city governance, city planning and community development understand that improving neighborhoods is a distinct area of practice, research, and investment.
  • Build public awareness and understanding, including bipartisan support, around the important role middle neighborhoods play in stabilizing communities and the urban economy.
  • Create long-term initiatives and partnerships to advance the field of middle neighborhood improvement.

With nearly half of all urban residents currently living in a middle neighborhood, participants have unanimously agreed that we need to do more to stabilize and strengthen these vital urban assets before it is too late.

 

An Action Agenda

The American Assembly is organizing a Working Session in November 2017 designed to consolidate and nurture support for a middle neighborhoods movement. The meeting will bring together leading authorities to address in structured discussion how best to advance Middle Neighborhoods in research, practice, and policy. These three distinct areas have emerged as central to the successful future of these neighborhoods.

1.  Research. On the Edge highlights what we know about middle neighborhoods, but that knowledge only scratches the surface. Early evidence indicates that middle neighborhoods are more racially and economically mixed than either strong or distressed ones.  So how can protecting this neighborhood diversity lead to stronger cities overall.  In an effort to deepen understanding about the characteristics and trajectories of middle neighborhoods. A preliminary research agenda has been developed by a half a dozen interested researchers. The meeting will establish the Consortium and allow it to structure a detailed research agenda with priorities, roles, and responsibilities clearly identified

2.  Practice. Middle neighborhoods that succeed do so because of targeted action by practitioners. Providing actionable steps for neighborhood developers, residents associations, community development corporations, and others is critically important. TAA is currently facilitating an interdisciplinary Community of Practice for activists, lenders, and others focused on middle neighborhood support will identify the requisite tools, data, stories, and approaches required to advance on the ground support and achieve impact.

3.  Policy/Legislation. As noted at a congressional briefing about middle neighborhoods in May 2017, issues under discussion include how federal action might encourage more local investment to boost the economic vitality of a neighborhood.  But is natonal legislation viable or would local or state initiatives be more feasible or achieve greater impact?  Participants will address these questions as part of an inquiry into the potential scope for a middle neighborhoods urban policy strategy.  Particular emphasis will be on exploring how private financing can be incentivized by a government subsidy or tax credit.

 

The American Assembly
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212-870-3500 - americanassembly@columbia.edu