The Washington Times reports on a new program proposed by the Obama administration to transform poor neighborhoods across the nation. The initiative, which builds on the Hope VI model, will concentrate action and funding on urban neighborhoods and coordinate investments ranging from public transit to new housing, early childhood education, farmer’s markets, and school reforms:
The HUD budget request Congress will consider in coming months says the program will seek to transform poor neighborhoods into “functioning, sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation and access to jobs.” …
“The goal of the program is to demonstrate that concentrated and coordinated neighborhood investments from multiple sources can transform a distressed neighborhood and improve the quality of life of current and future residents,” the administration argues in the budget, also saying the initiative “would challenge public, private and nonprofit partners to identify neighborhood interventions that would have the largest return on federal investments.”
If only there were a neighborhood in Tulsa where something like that is already happening? Oh wait – there is!
Community development efforts in the Eugene Field neighborhood are transforming what it means to live there, although new housing investment remains lacking. (The area is home to three public housing complexes, one run by Tulsa Housing Authority, one project-based Section 8 community owned by CAP, as well as a church-owned community. Overhauled services and investment are needed at all three.)
Despite the absence of new housing investment there (or perhaps because of), grassroots and people-driven efforts are springing up successes for the neighborhood. Cindi Hemm, principal of Eugene Field elementary, has dramatically boosted enrollment and test scores in her short time at the rebuilt school. The Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative is bringing the community into the school and making it a safe place to enage. Last fall, CAP opened a brand new early childhood center for children ages 0 through 3 right next door. Global Gardens is bringing back the concepts of fresh produce, sustainable agriculture, peace, and empowerment to the young children of the neighborhood. (And, in turn, those children are bringing those ideas home to their parents.) The Westside Harvest Market is bringing back affordable groceries and a sense of community ownership.
That kind of grassroots driven energy is attracting attention and opening up the possibility of building success upon successes. The city has shown interest in building a streetcar system that runs south through downtown and across the river into the neighborhood. There’s some murmuring that the area may be ripe for some new housing models. And coalitions such as the community school’s site team, the Westside Community Coalition, and others are working together to make the area safer and healthier for those that call it home.
I have just one quibble with the article. The reporter writes that Angela Glover Blackwell, of the advocacy organization PolicyLink, believes:
Her vision for a “choice” neighborhood would include high-quality housing that is built with complete sidewalks to encourage walking and is near public transit lines, things that are taken for granted in better-off communities.
Actually, “better-off communities,” especially newer ones, rarely feature complete sidewalks or sit near public transit lines. From an urbanist perspective, we should do a better job of making sure all neighborhoods have sidewalks and transit access so that people have choices other than the car and so that our development is more sustainable. But from a social justice perspective, we need especially to ensure neighborhoods like that at Eugene Field offer a range of options that allow residents to move around and succeed.