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Neighborhood marketing: building on strengths to change perceptions

A home in Flint, MI

The Grand Traverse Downtown neighborhood is just west of downtown Flint, MI. Centrally located, the neighborhood is surrounded by colleges, cultural and recreational establishments and a recently reclaimed natural wetland park. Despite these amenities, those unfamiliar with the area tend to associate it with the crime and disinvestment that once plagued downtown Flint.
Wetlands in Flint, MI

Two thousand miles away, Roseburg, OR, also is facing lingering perceptions of high crime. In reality, committed neighbors and neighborhood organizations have worked with the police department to achieve a dramatic decline in crime in the neighborhood. Residents who live there appreciate the community’s friendly neighbors, proximity to shopping, recreation facilities, and ease of walking and biking.
Like Grand Traverse and Roseburg, communities across the country are looking for ways to tell their true story and capitalize on their assets to attract new residents and increase investment. NeighborWorks America’s Neighborhood Marketing Program is helping them do just that.
The program’s first round launched in 16 communities in 2012 and helped participating communities launch new branding initiatives, form new partnerships and ultimately change perceptions. Based on that success, a second round of 17 participants has been added, thanks largely to funding from lead partner Wells Fargo Housing Foundation. Other supporters include Capital One Foundation and Citi.
“The program is bringing together diverse stakeholders – residents, realtors, business, government – to define a new brand,” says Paul Singh, senior manager for community stabilization at NeighborWorks America. “The funding from our supporters is making it possible for grantees to promote the positive aspects of their communities and attract and retain residents, business and investment.”
Genesee County Habitat for Humanity in Flint and NeighborWorks Umpqua in Roseburg are two of the second-round grantees.
Finding common ground in Grand Traverse
Grand Traverse logoMargaret Kato, executive director of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, says one of the early objectives of its neighborhood marketing initiative is to address long-time residents’ concerns that an influx of new, younger residents would result in neglect of their own interests or limit their input into the future of their community.
Instead of avoiding new neighbors, existing residents are making a conscious effort to make neighborhood meetings more inclusive by moving them from place to place within the community and focusing some events on welcoming people rather than solving problems. The events are helping the residents build relationships and learn about shared interests.
Meetings and other events are just one aspect of neighborhood marketing in Grand Traverse. The others are collaboration with other stakeholders toward a common goal, re-design of both educational materials and the physical environment (such as working at the block level on landscaping and exterior lighting), and renewed investment in affordable housing.  One facet of the program involves recruiting one or two quality landlords to acquire poorly maintained rental properties.
Fortunately, the organization and the community have a history of success to build on, including a collaboration to revive the Spring Grove wetlands, which is now a thriving center for all sorts of outdoor activities.
Playing up strengths in Roseburg
The Roseburg neighborhood and NeighborWorks Umpqua took a slightly different approach in their marketing campaign. The organization worked with residents and neighborhood organizations to conduct NeighborWorks America’s Community Impact Measurement survey to determine both internal and external attitudes. While the survey revealed some concerns about crime, homelessness and drug activity, it also revealed a widespread belief that the community has a great deal to offer, with 73 percent of respondents saying they were satisfied or very satisfied.
Mickey Beach, chief operating officer for NeighborWorks Umpqua, explains: “We’re located on a beautiful and reflective section of South Umpqua River, which is known for its wild and white water stretches and is also a world-class fly-fishing river. It’s walkable and bikeable, and near recreation facilitates and shopping areas.” He adds that the area also has diverse and historic housing that is affordable. NeighborWorks Umpqua  has preserved and rehabilitated numerous residential and commercial properties in the neighborhood.
To engage the community in the development of a brand for the downtown and surrounding neighborhood, Neighborhood Umpqua and its partners held a branding charrette (a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions). Community members were invited to drop in at a local church to share ideas for the brand and logo and record what they liked most about the downtown area. More than 100 people participated. Based on ideas expressed at the charrette, the group selected a new name for the district – The Heart of Roseburg – as well as a logo. A Facebook page was created, as well as videos in which residents shared personal stories and opinions.
With support from the marketing consultant provided by NeighborWorks America, the community developed a “brand promise” that embodies what Roseburg offers: “A warm and welcoming place, the Heart of Roseburg is bursting with new creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. It is a place where a storied history is the perfect backdrop for increasing creative endeavors, including some of the area’s finest new restaurants, breweries, tasting rooms and shops. Discover something new each time you visit the Heart of Roseburg, a rising star in Southern Oregon.”  
Simply put, Beach says, “We will focus on re-branding the neighborhood as a quirky, interesting, family-friendly, and safe place to live and work.”

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