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Your March Useful Community Plus
March 21, 2024

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Your neighborhood will be more successful the more you strive to include everyone. Sometimes neighborhood leaders think this is counter-intuitive advice; I just spoke with one such leader last week about this.

Her argument was that some segments of the population there just don't deserve as much of a say. She said some people recently have been selling out to investors to rent to out-of-town college students who don't care about the neighborhood. She continued that some of the "young ruffians," which I later learned was her proxy language for non-white teens, really didn't have a stake in the community; according to her, they actually would like to destroy it.

She thought that renters should have less influence than homeowners, and that she should pay more attention to people born in the city than to newcomers. She felt that the small immigrant community should take care of their own problems and challenges and would not appreciate the neighborhood association getting involved in their two-block enclave.

The problem with this is that if you say--or importantly, if you act like--some people can't participate, or don't deserve to be listened to with the same respect accorded other people, those who are excluded will feel less and less loyalty over time. They will begin not to care if they subvert the goals of the neighborhood, and they will become even less protective of the physical environment.

This is a very pragmatic argument. Certainly "whose neighborhood is it?" is an appropriate question when gentrification threatens.

"Who belongs" is an important element of a successful neighborhood watch program.

We're just making the point that when your neighborhood association is tempted to decide who should be involved in its meetings and discussions, you're missing the opportunity to make neighbors out of alienated residents.

This isn't easy stuff. Almost every neighborhood association I can think of in my home town has a hard time attracting renters to its meetings and activities. The only ones that have been at all successful are those that have made it a priority to be intentional and repetitive about inviting renters to their activities and then making those activities happen at convenient times and places.

No matter how difficult it may be to incorporate people with different priorities, ideas, and folkways into your work, it will be worth the challenge to bring everyone into your community dialogue. Questions about how to give preference to long-term residents, low- income residents, elderly homeowners, or any other kind of residents are legitimate discussion in the context of neighborhood planning, but once people are there, we think you should try to include all the residents.

You may have to invent new procedures. I think of Long Beach, which recently made a purposeful effort to incorporate young people of color into the city's budget deliberations. I'm remembering a municipality I worked with recently, where an outspoken disability advocate was appointed to a transportation advisory board. You probably have your own examples nearby.

If "the way we've always done it" doesn't provide for a way for current residents to participate in the neighborhood or community, you will need to find another way.

A couple of months ago I touted one article describing the limits of LIHTC. But it's important for those who were interested to read the follow-up article by Alan Mallach, which describes how the reforms referenced in the first article are inadequate.

Technology can do a lot of cool things for your community. See what you think of how Hamilton, Ontario, used tech to improve air quality.

Read about a car-optional housing development in Atlanta, where two historic homes were preserved while varying types of new housing construction were added on the periphery of a superblock formed around a large communal back yard in the center. Similar developments would require a rezoning or revising zoning district regulations to permit accessory dwelling units. Dig into the sketches and narrative if you have any interest in mixed-income, mixed-race, mixed-size housing development.

You might be curious about how Spokane Valley is going after chronic nuisance properties, defined as a certain number of violations in a defined time period. The city can put the property into receivership, which in simple terms means that they sell the property without the owner’s consent, giving the owner the proceeds after all expenses are paid. Read the article for details.

This month we answered a question about reducing minor traffic accidents in a neighborhood where it seemed like there were a number of common obstructions to sight lines at intersections.

We will return with the next issue of Community Development Plus on April 30. Feel free to reply to this email if you have a comment. For questions, please use the public-facing page to ask your question. We answer them on a page that becomes viewable on our website.

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