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Community Revitalization: Strategize

Once you have identified the needs and priorities of your community through a community—planning process with resident input, the next step is to develop strategies that respond to those needs and priorities.

Think in terms of strategies focused on place (such as housing and physical revitalization), people (such as financial stability and health) and community systems (such as economic development).   

When selecting your strategies, it is helpful to think about the "sweet spot" between what the community needs, what you and your partners have the capacity to achieve, and what you have the financial resources to accomplish.

Common revitalization strategies include any or all of the below:
 
A woman helps a young girl mix green paint in a plastic bowl

Physical fabric

The physical characteristics of a neighborhood affect its dynamics. There are a variety of urban design philosophies—including  traditional neighborhood development, transit-oriented development, place making and new urbanism—but they all embrace  common principles. Well-designed neighborhoods:
 
  • Include a mix of uses, including commercial and residential areas, schools and open spaces within walking distance of each other.
  • Have a defined "center."
  • Are walkable, with facilities such as benches for pedestrians.
  • Are connected to one another with a system of streets and transit.
  • Feature buildings that are set close to the street, at least in the neighborhood center.
  • Have neighborhood spaces that promote social interaction, with streetscapes and green spaces providing outdoor "rooms" where people can connect.
Revitalization efforts require interventions both large and small in the physical fabric of a neighborhood, such as infill development and new roads. All interventions should be carefully planned so they reinforce these principles.

Not every community is a dense, walkable urban neighborhood; several of the general principles described above also apply to small-town and regional revitalization efforts. A mix of uses, connections between them and public spaces that promote engagement are valuable in any community.
 
To mitigate existing physical challenges, consider:
 
  • Asking your local government to install or repair sidewalks, traffic signals or traffic-calming solutions to make streets more pedestrian-friendly.
  • Working with the neighborhood business and citizens associations to improve landscaping, pick up litter and make public spaces more inviting.
  • Working with local officials and/or landlords to acquire or cosmetically improve vacant and abandoned properties before they fall into disrepair or are demolished, leaving gaps in the physical fabric of the neighborhood.
  • Performing façade improvements on commercial corridors and adding branded signage or banners to give a cohesive and unique identity to the community.

More physical fabric ideas and resources:
 

Neighborhood image

A man wearing black rakes a raised bed gardenYour neighborhood's image is an important concern. It determines how others—including potential visitors, customers, homeowners and investors—view your community and how willing they are to visit and invest. Neighborhoods seen as risky investments due to high crime, low property values, lack of amenities or other factors are less attractive—even if these drawbacks are more perceived than real.  

When no one invests in a community, its challenges become chronic: Low property values discourage investment, while lack of investment causes property values to fall even further. Changing the image of a neighborhood can be key to revitalization.
 
  • Cosmetic improvements can go a long way. Neighborhood cleanup and beautification projects often are low-hanging fruit that can significantly improve first impressions of your community. Consider enhancing landscaping or creating public art at focal points in the community.

  • Neighborhood organizing and engagement helps. If residents feel positive about where they live, they will act as ambassadors to others. Enlist them in planning and executing strategies to improve neighborhood image. They know best what the assets of the community are and are already invested in the neighborhood.

  • Create events that will bring visitors to your community, such as festivals and other celebrations. These events also can generate positive media attention.

  • Share the unique and appealing identity of your community by creating a neighborhood brand. It could be based on residents' shared heritage, the area's distinctive features or local traditions. Determine what sets your community apart and use it to capture attention.
Related ideas and resources:
 

Anti-gentrification strategies

Gentrification is a risk of comprehensive community revitalization. As a neighborhood's physical and market conditions improve, it becomes more attractive to people from outside the community, many of whom are willing to pay more for housing or commercial space than the current tenants can afford. This pressure often results in the displacement of lower—income residents and business owners.

Perhaps your community is already gentrifying, and you are looking for ways to preserve equity and opportunity so that people who have lived there through trying times also benefit from the improvements. Or perhaps market forces have not yet reached your neighborhood, but you want to work proactively to keep planned improvements from leading to gentrification. In either case, the goal is for the benefits of revitalization to be experienced by the people who really need them.

Your neighborhood may be vulnerable to gentrification if:
 
  • It is located near areas that already have gentrified or are in the process of doing so.
  • It is close to downtown, especially with good access to transportation.
  • It has interesting historic or "character" buildings.
  • Property values are lower than in surrounding areas.
From the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement

There are a number of strategies you can use to prevent gentrification or mitigate its effects:
 
  • Preserve existing affordable housing. This ensures residents can stay in place to enjoy the economic benefits that revitalization brings. See the section on housing preservation for suggestions.
  • Encourage your town or city to adopt inclusionary zoning or other policies that require the creation of new affordable units in areas that are becoming more expensive.
  • Push for other real estate developers to enter into community benefit agreements to ensure that the interests of existing residents are protected.
  • Engage and collaborate with multiple stakeholders to present a unified front that speaks up for the community's needs and priorities.
More anti-gentrification ideas and resources:
 
Neighborhood Stabilization: Detroit
NeighborWorks network member Southwest Solutions uses partnerships to build a comprehensive approach to neighborhood improvement in Detroit.

Housing development, stabilization and preservation

Housing that is safe, affordable and of good quality is the cornerstone of stability and a satisfactory life for families in every community. Truly sustainable communities offer a mix of housing types and sizes, affordable to families with diverse incomes. If such a supply already exists in your community, you may need to work to ensure it remains available and affordable. If it does not exist, or there is not sufficient quantity, you or your partners will want to create it. 

Different environmental conditions create different pressures on the local housing markets. In high-value, "hot" housing markets, previously affordable neighborhoods may be feeling the effects of gentrification. In markets with high levels of foreclosure, neighborhoods are burdened with abandoned and vacant buildings.

In most markets across the country, however, there is a dearth of good-quality housing that is affordable even for families with the lowest income levels. Increasing this supply in a way that meets the unique needs of your particular market should be a key part of any comprehensive community revitalization initiative.

Housing strategies may include:
   

Housing development

Know your market
What kind of housing is most needed? Larger units for families? Senior housing? Supportive housing? Affordable homeownership opportunities in places where multifamily rental properties are less common? An analysis of your market and resident input into your community plan should closely inform the housing strategies you pursue.

Identify sources for subsidies and capital
Common federal sources for housing development funds include entitlement programs like HOME, CDBG, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program. Also check with your state housing finance agency for subsidy programs specific to your location.

Build your development capacity
If your organization is not an experienced housing developer, you will likely need to hire staff with relevant experience before taking on this work. Alternatively, you may choose to partner with an experienced developer to achieve your neighborhood housing goals.  See the partnerships section for tips.

Resources
 
A group of teenagers help paint a house 

Market stabilization

In places where foreclosures and vacancies are common, you will need strategies to stem the tide, promote private investment (and reinvestment), and mitigate existing damage.

Prevent further foreclosures:
 
  • Offer outreach and counseling to at-risk borrowers:
  • Provide housing counseling to prospective homeowners to ensure they have the capacity to take on and manage debt.
  • Help landlords prevent foreclosure on their properties (and thereby prevent displacement of renters) with emergency repair loans, outreach and counseling, as well as assistance with loan modifications or refinancing.

Promote new investment and reinvestment:
 
  • Prepare prospective purchasers for homeownership with counseling and connect them to resources such as homebuyer tax credits and financing for purchase-rehab. This will allow you to create a pipeline of qualified buyers.
  • Work with local governments or lenders to connect prospective buyers with REO inventory.
  • Create a neighborhood marketing plan and website to promote homes for sale. See the Buy a Home section of Layton Boulevard West Neighbors' website for an example.
  • Connect with local realtors and offer  tours and information so they learn about available opportunities and the advantages of living in your community.
  • Learn about financial incentives your city or state offers first-time purchasers or homebuyers in specific areas. Take a look at Baltimore's Vacants to Value program for ideas.
  • Acquire and redevelop vacant or foreclosed properties for immediate reuse:
    • Sale to qualified homebuyers.
    • Rental properties. (See our Scattered Site Rental Toolkit.)
    • Lease-purchase opportunities, which offer residents a way to "ease in" to ownership when they need time to build creditworthiness or save up for a down payment.
    • Purchase-rehab.
    • Selective demolition, in cases in which the properties are severely deteriorated.
    • Community land trusts, which create an alternative means to keep housing affordable through nonprofit ownership. (For more information, visit National Community Land Trust Network.)
  • Help potential or displaced renters to understand their financial obligations, clear up troubled credit histories and save for rent deposits. (See our tips for renters.)

Mitigating the effects of foreclosures:
 
  • Enlist residents' help in maintaining the neighborhood property, including their own, and ask them to report violations or nuisance activity associated with vacant lots and buildings.
  • Use your city's or county's code-enforcement mechanisms. Report violations promptly and repeatedly.
  • Ask your city or county to consider financial remedies to fight chronic vacancies. These can include fines (for example, Chula Vista's Abandoned Property Program, which holds lenders responsible for the condition of their abandoned or financially distressed properties, and is cited as a model nationwide), registration fees (refer to Minneapolis' Vacant Building Registration Program) and higher tax rates.
  • Acquire foreclosed properties or facilitate purchase by a nonprofit housing provider so they can be returned to use.
  • Consider land banking and demolition for longer-term solutions.

More housing-stabilization resources:
   

Housing preservation

It often is more economical to preserve existing affordable housing than to build new, especially when there is not much development or property values make it difficult initiate new affordable projects. In gentrifying communities, preserving affordability is the best way to prevent existing residents from being pushed out by rising rents.
As subsidized rental properties reach the end of their affordability restrictions, the owners have several options: They can sell the property to a new owner, convert the units to market—rate rental or refinance and maintain the properties as affordable. The last option typically requires some form of subsidy, since affordable rents do not cover the cost of rehabilitation and operation.

More housing preservation resources:
 
Creating Places of Opportunity: Investing in Neighborhoods
Our special Wednesday symposium at the NeighborWorks training institute in Detroit, Michigan focused on innovative strategies for restoring competitiveness to distressed areas.

Community economic development

The goal of economic development is to attract outside investment into your community and create opportunities for residents to participate in the economic life of your city or region. A vital community offers residents employment opportunities and the ability to obtain daily necessities and access amenities that enrich quality of life.  You can use several approaches to create these conditions, including revitalization of commercial districts, microbusiness support, workforce development, recruitment of new businesses and creation of social enterprises.

Commercial-District Revitalization

This approach, outlined by The National Trust Main Street Center, focuses on the core commercial district ("Main Street") of a neighborhood—both to strengthen local businesses and attract additional investment.

This approach usually employs four strategies:
 
  • Improving the design of the district by making matching grants or loans to property owners to improve building facades and create a unified "look," and through streetscape improvements (benches, trees, sidewalks and crosswalks, trash cans, etc.) that make it more walkable and attractive.

  • Promoting the district by branding it with a new image through advertising, special events, media placements and other tactics.

  • Recruiting and retaining the right businesses, with the help of market studies, a database of available spaces, collections of key information such as traffic counts and initiatives to reduce red tape.  

  • Organizing stronger merchants associations that can coordinate sales hours and promotions and collaborate on other activities. These associations may even form a business improvement district that levies a special assessment on properties to fund programs such as enhanced sanitation and security, promotional activities and façade improvements.
 

Microenterprise Development

This approach focuses on helping very small, often informal businesses (fewer than five employees and often one part—time employee) to develop and grow their concepts.

Key elements in this approach usually include:
 
  • Training microentrepreneurs on business planning and start-up. For example, training may help people with an interest in starting a business think through what kind of venture they could start.  

  • Technical assistance or coaching for microentrepreneurs, generally by people with substantial small-business experience or skills in fields such as law and accounting.

  • Making or packaging loans, often beginning with very small amounts and helping businesses establish a credit track record.

  • Connecting microbusinesses to available physical spaces in which they can operate. Some programs have developed "business incubators" to provide low-cost space integrated with shared services.
 

Workforce Development

A man and a woman glue tiles together to revitalize their neighborhoodThis approach prepares local residents to meet the needs of local employers.

Key elements usually include:
 
  • Conducting outreach to employers to understand their needs, as well as to job-seekers to assess their skills.

  • Completing research to identify growing industries that pay living wages.

  • Matching employers and job seekers.

  • Offering btraininboth ing in basic job skills (for example, literacy, resume writing, workplace norms and expectations). This training may mix classroom training with on-the-job learning.

  • Providing training to job seekers in technical skill areas required for particular jobs (e.g., nursing, carpentry, information technology, etc.).  This training may utilize a mix of classroom training and "on the job" training, in which the program supports the costs to a business to train workers it has hired through that program.

  • Providing supportive services, such as transportation and child care, that make it easier for job seekers to find and hold on to employment.
 

Business Attraction and Support

Ideally, there will be a robust set of businesses in your community that meets needs of residents living there, by providing either job opportunities or access to things the residents require. A business attraction strategy provides an opportunity to look at what you want your community to be. What kinds of businesses would be a good fit? What do residents want to see there? You'll want to think about what businesses are already there that you want to keep and what's not there that you want to attract.

The elements of this approach include:
 
  • Taking an inventory of existing neighborhood businesses and conducting research to determine sectors of the local economy that may grow and produce more jobs if they receive the right support.
  • Conducting outreach to businesses to understand their needs.
  • Taking an inventory of commercial and industrial space in the neighborhood and analyze the neighborhood's strengths and weaknesses as a place for businesses to locate and operate.
  • Targeting specific business types to assist based on the above research.
  • Providing support to targeted businesses including financing, tax incentives, helping to connect businesses to opportunities (such as contracts with the government or other businesses) and specialized technical assistance.
  • Marketing the neighborhood to businesses not currently operating there.
 

Social Enterprise Development

Some community development groups have decided to act as entrepreneurs themselves, establishing businesses that generate profits to support the organization while also providing jobs and serving neighborhood residents. These ventures can also help further revitalization goals by acting as the "first-in" businesses on neglected corridors, sparking new activity and demonstrating the neighborhood's commercial potential to other businesses. Neighborworks Umpqua in Rosedale, Oregon is one such example, creating Umpqua Local Goods & Coffee to provide a market for locally produced products.

More economic development ideas and resources:
 

Financial security

Comprehensive community revitalization is concerned with improving places, but also with improving the well-being of the people who live there. Gaining financial security brings people better stability and quality of life, and enables them to navigate life's events without harm. The first step toward financial security is financial capability—understanding how personal finances work, how to set goals and how to work toward them.

The most effective way to build financial security is to use a multifaceted approach that combines interrelated services, yielding a greater impact than any one service alone can provide. These core services are:
 
  • Financial education to teach participants basic knowledge of credit, budgeting and managing their finances;
  • Financial counseling to help individuals resolve specific issues and challenges in the short term; and
  • Financial coaching to encourage behavior change and the achievement of positive and sustainable long-term outcomes.
Other ways to build financial security include assisting with tax preparation, providing individual development accounts and other savings vehicles, and building the basic literacy and math skills required for participation in job training programs.

More financial security resources:
 
  • Learn more about Neighborworks' efforts to promote Financial Security
  • Financial Coaching: Promising Practices for Successful Programs
  •  Understanding the Skills Needed to be a Successful Financial Coach
  • Innovative Approaches to Building Financial Capability Programs

A toddler wearing a striped shirt plays in the grass at a neighborhood event

Education

Educational and enrichment opportunities are important for the growth and vitality of communities and the children who live in them. Healthy neighborhoods support learning throughout childhood, from the earliest years through college. Typical education strategies include providing early learning programs, afterschool enrichment opportunities, parent engagement and alternatives to public school.
 
  • Early learning programs require quality facilities as well as good instruction and care. Participating in such programs gives young children a better chance of being prepared and on grade level when they start kindergarten, setting them up for success in school from the very beginning.  In addition, having access to reliable, affordable childcare makes it easier for parents to hold steady employment.

  • Afterschool enrichment programs give kids a safe place to stay between dismissal from school and their parents' arrival home from work. Participation in these programs can also boost academic achievement by providing help with homework and, often, life skills.

  • Parent engagement is critical for children's success in school and the future. Parents may want to assist and advocate for their kids, but do not always know how to do so. Parent education and engagement programs help parents guide their children in their schoolwork and at home.

  • In communities where the local public school is not able to offer a quality education, sometimes it is necessary to offer alternatives to public school. These usually include charter or magnet schools, or access to parochial or private schools.
More education ideas and resources:
 

Health and safety

Comprehensive community revitalization initiatives must include efforts to improve the physical and mental well-being of residents. Making the community safer, increasing access to health care and encouraging healthier lifestyles.
 

Community Safety

Improvements in safety come from making the physical surroundings less conducive to crime and from increasing the capacity of community residents to work with one another and with law enforcement to address neighborhood issues that contribute to crime.

The Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) model examines how physical design of a community can make it easier for residents to "police" public spaces and deter criminal activity.
Basic elements of this approach include:
 
  • Increasing "natural surveillance"—the ability of residents to observe what is happening—through lighting, landscape design, and placement of buildings and windows.
  • Clearly differentiating between public and private space.
  • Creating a stronger sense of ownership over space.

CPTED should not be confused with placing a neighborhood in "lockdown" through excessive fencing or razor fencing, security cameras, removal of trees and vegetation, etc. (some research actually indicates that trees tend to lower crime rates).

Consideration should be given to how CPTED measures can be made harmonious with other urban design goals that your community may have, such as creating green space, encouraging connections between residents and improving physical connections between different parts of the community. See the Physical Fabric section for more on these goals.

Illustrated CPTED Guidelines, a detailed guidebook on CPTED principles and how to conduct a CPTED assessment is available here.
 

"Collective Efficacy" and Community Policing

"Collective Efficacy" means the degree to which residents know one another in a community and believe that they can rely on one another to manage neighborhood issues. Academic studies have found that lower levels of collective efficacy in a neighborhood are directly correlated with higher levels of violent crime.

This approach to crime prevention emphasizes the importance of building relationships among residents, and helping residents work together on efforts that help them establish some control over their environment.
Community policing is an approach predicated on a collaborative, trusting relationship between law enforcement and community residents. Key elements of a community policing strategy are:
 
  • Building trust and creating a partnership between the police and community members.

  • Adopting a problem-solving mindset to analyze safety issues.

  • Community policing generally involves a higher level of interaction and communication between police officers and residents than in more traditional approaches.

  • Police work with community members proactively to prevent crime, rather than simply responding once crime has occurred.
The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at the US Department of Justice provides information about what community policing is, and information about the COPS funding program.

Healthy Communities: Partnerships
Housing and health care must work together for communities to move forward and change lives for the better.

Building a Robust and Equitable Health Infrastructure

This approach focuses on improving health services available to residents and to educating communities on how to make best use of them. Some common strategies include:
 
  • Working with governments and local health providers to improve health and emergency services available. This can take the form of improvements in the physical infrastructure of the health system and/or making care more widely accessible (e.g., mobile health clinics, school clinics)

  • Improving access to quality preventive healthcare services.

  • Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care availability and outcomes.

  • Educating residents—especially parents—on a range of health issues they and their children will face, including drug and alcohol abuse, the risks of teen pregnancy, and childhood obesity.
 

Encouraging Healthier Lifestyles

  • This approach focuses on using neighborhood design, advocacy, and education to increase physical activity, make healthier food available, and create an environment with fewer toxins.

  • Strategies to encourage a more active lifestyle include:
    • Adding or improving walking and running paths and dedicated bike lanes.
    • Passing ordinances for more stop signs and sidewalks.
    • Improving parks and providing public exercise equipment.
    • Ensuring children have safe and clean places to play (including parks and playgrounds).
    • Encouraging children to play more actively by reducing time in front of the television or computer.
    • Using a community space for group fitness classes.

  • Strategies to make healthier food options available to residents at all stages of life, and to encourage the consumption of healthier foods when available include:
    • Establishing local farmers markets.
    • Connecting neighborhoods with local farmers through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSAs provide local and seasonal produce, meat, and other products to urban residents. Members of CSAs pay a regular fixed fee in exchange for a portion of the farmer's offerings.
    • Developing urban farms, which provide both fresh food and a center for community activity.
    • Revising school contracts to provide more healthful alternatives and to remove highly processed options.
    • Providing breastfeeding education classes and information on the benefits of breastfeeding

  • Education campaigns can also inform residents on the benefits of healthy eating and active lifestyle, particularly when it comes to avoiding or managing chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

  • Finally, programs that encourage residents to stop smoking have clear health benefits.
More health and safety ideas and resources:
 

Arts and culture

Stories like those featured in "NeighborWorks Works: Practical Solutions from America's Community Development Network" highlight how NeighborWorks network members engage communities through the arts.

Development rooted in arts and culture can achieve several revitalization goals. Public art projects can improve the appearance of the community. Artworks and cultural events can express and celebrate a common cultural heritage that binds community residents and reaffirm shared values. Visual and performing arts and arts-related businesses can bring in visitors from outside the community infusing local businesses with customers and money.

To get started on arts and culture development, survey the related assets in your community. Are there visual or performing artists present? Are there community leaders, both formal and informal, who can help organize events that might create culturally significant bonding opportunities for residents? Look both to individuals and to institutions like local libraries or museums. It is important to establish relationships with artists or cultural leaders so that they understand your revitalization goals and process and you understand their artistic goals and methods, so you can create projects that meet both objectives.

Arts and culture projects might include:
 
  • Murals, mosaics or sculpture
  • Neighborhood festivals or celebrations that focus on shared heritage
  • Youth programming
  • Creation of art studios, galleries and maker spaces
  • Artist live—work housing
  • Deliberate cultivation of arts or crafts-related retail businesses

More arts and culture ideas and resources: