Fluctuating property values, stagnating wages, the transition of the economy from manufacturing to services, and numerous other factors have helped cause communities across the country to fall into disrepair. While authorities at the city, state and federal levels continue to debate over how best to support America’s underserved communities, there are many steps local leaders could take to inject new life into their neighborhoods.
Focusing on the three pillars of physical infrastructure, local residents and economic development, here are some of the most effective community revitalization strategies:
Revitalizing physical infrastructure
The quality and appearance of a place can have a significant impact on the mental health and happiness of neighborhood residents, meaning many people might simply want to live in areas that are aesthetically pleasing. Whether that means creating an abundance of greenery or a colorful downtown area, enhancing the physical appearance of local infrastructure could help attract and retain residents, especially those willing to pay higher rents to live in places they enjoy.
Here are some of the best ways to revitalize physical infrastructure:
- Focus on natural beauty: Living in areas with clean, fresh and green public spaces has become a top priority for many people. In several neighborhoods, there are often numerous spaces that can be converted into parks, sports fields or recreational areas. Unused parking lots, for example, offer community leaders an incredible opportunity to create open-air green spaces conducive to walking, jogging and other outdoor activities.
- Revamp neighborhood schools: Investing in both the physical and educational quality of neighborhood schools not only could help children learn the skills they need to experience success as adults, but it could also help convince families from outside the neighborhood to buy property and become community members. Investing in paint jobs, playgrounds, books and field trips are all methods that can help revitalize the quality of local schools.
- Fix and build safer roads: Roads are often the main artery connecting local communities to larger towns and urban centers. They also serve as a physical marker of the quality of a neighborhood. Community leaders should focus on paving over potholes, covering cracks or adding sidewalks to make roads more usable and walkable, while working with nearby municipal authorities to increase public transit access.
Generating greater individual purchasing power
The number of goods an individual is able to buy with their income often plays a significant part in the health of local communities. By providing people with greater access to capital (either through the creation of better-paying jobs, access to credit or some other means), they could be better able to purchase goods from local businesses, potentially creating a healthier flow of resources throughout the community and propping up local businesses.
Here are some of the strategies local community leaders can implement to help increase individual purchasing power:
- Offer affordable housing: Communities that provide affordable housing options to low-income individuals and families can help reduce high rent prices, lowering their monthly expenses and giving them more resources to spend on other goods. Affordable housing schemes might include housing tax credits, rent controls and subsidized housing, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA).
- Identify credit options: Community residents with low income or bad credit scores are sometimes unable to obtain the loans needed to invest in property, start a business or pursue an education. While standard personal loans can be difficult for these individuals to obtain, there are other options available for which residents might not even know they qualify. Community leaders can work with residents to help them identify suitable lending options.
- Teach critical job skills: Community leaders can play an important role in teaching neighborhood residents critical job skills that might make them more marketable to employers. Hosting regular training sessions to teach computer, interview or technical skills can help individuals get access to steady employment and income. Funding scholarships for classes, degrees and certificates at local universities and trade schools can also help enhance their educational pedigree.
Developing the local economy
Ultimately, local economic development plays an essential role in the revitalization of communities. A vibrant cohort of local small businesses not only could create employment opportunities for existing residents (thus boosting individual income and promoting long-term residency), but it might also spur a healthy circulation of goods and services that provides for the material well-being of everyone.
The following strategies are available to local leaders to encourage community development:
- Diversify the local economy: Many communities in recent decades have suffered economically due to the loss of a significant employer — like a large manufacturing plant — and have struggled to adapt to the new economic conditions. Community leaders can encourage economic development by taking advantage of home-grown opportunities, like converting hollowed-out former factories into microbreweries or restaurants, which leaders in Bend, Oregon, accomplished to great effect, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Attract entrepreneurs: Budding entrepreneurs usually take great care in deciding where they want to set up shop, typically focusing on areas with low costs of living and easy access to metropolitan centers. Community leaders should improve and showcase the advantages they offer to small businesses in order to better attract entrepreneurs who might bring business, jobs and economic activity to the local area.
- Invest in downtown storefronts: Entrepreneurs also usually prefer to start businesses in areas that are physically attractive and have high foot traffic. Focusing community investment on revitalizing the local commercial district by providing funds for landscaping, high-tech lighting, new paint jobs and more could help leaders not only bring entrepreneurs (and their resources) to their downtown area but could also attract more customers, which could, in turn, encourage other businesses to move in.
Neighborhood revitalization is a complex series of projects and investments that usually requires the participation of numerous private sector leaders, local government officials and other stakeholders to achieve success. However, there are numerous steps local community leaders can take to breathe life into their neighborhoods and make them happier, healthier and more prosperous places for residents to live.
At Comerica Bank, we provide customers with a range of community development investment options to help them achieve their neighborhood revitalization goals.