Just few years ago, a conventional approach to redeveloping St. Michael’s drive was still feasible. The collapse of the real estate bubble, and with it, the collapse of many other elements of the growth economy, gives us the opportunity to engage in a different kind of redevelopment. Communities around the world are using another model of economic development, based on the capacities of local residents -- ‘development from within’ -- that is suited to St. Michael’s Drive and to the current state of our economy.
But first, let’s review the conventional model for contrast. A typical redevelopment project of the past few decades brings resources, customers, residents, and cultural patterns from outside of the area. Often, local residents welcome the changes, benefiting from increased job opportunities, housing choice, property values, safety, and urban amenities. But just as often, there are serious unintended consequences of gentrification, that leave locals priced out of housing, under-qualified for new jobs, and excluded from new cultural activities.
How can we get started with the ‘development from within’ model in the St. Michael’s area?
First, we need to engage local leaders, and invest in their personal capacities. We need to fund them to lead small groups in the discovery and mapping of local assets and needs. We need to start new community economic organizations, and we need to build neighborhood centers to host cultural and economic activities. All of this work should be planned and implemented locally, with as much self-determination as possible. And the question of scale is vital: groups should be organized geographically, and should be sized to emphasize personal relationships.
In the St. Michael’s area, it quickly becomes apparent that most of the work under this model will happen away from St. Michael’s Drive, in the neighborhoods, with a smaller effort on the part of St. Michael’s Drive small business owners and employees. You could visualize the work like this: small groups of neighbors outside of the commercial strip join together to strengthen their personal capacities, their economic opportunities, and the physical places. Over the course of years, they build up the strength to converge on St. Michael’s and transform it economically and physically, in their own image. This is a model of community economic development that truly addresses the social justice and sustainability issues that every redevelopment process raises.
Each nearby neighborhood needs a new type of community organization that combines the roles of a community center and a small business incubator. And each neighborhood needs a small civic and commercial district, located towards the St. Mike’s side of the neighborhood. The neighborhood center should have an outdoor public space, a meeting hall, and a few blocks of small storefronts for new business startups. The configuration of these organizations and public places should be determined by the neighborhoods themselves.
This approach to community development is described in much more detail in the “Neighborhood Handbook for Second Street and the Triangle District Neighborhoods”. You can download a copy at www.rwup.org, on the Publications page.
Originally published in the Green Fire Times, September, 2011.