Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Labor Day Open Thread: What Do Successful Lower Income Neighborhoods Look Like?

It’s Labor Day weekend in the United States, and I’ll be taking it off, returning next week. In the meantime, I’ll leave this open thread for your discussions on what successful low income and working class neighborhoods would look like in our cities.

This was a topic that came up during conversation over Asian food with Brendan Crain, the founder of the wonderful and sadly no longer published Where blog. Everyone has a idea of a what a successfully revitalized but gentrified neighborhood looks like: Starbucks, high end salons, shoppes, swank restaurants and bars, new condos, etc. But for more struggling lower income areas of our cities, what would successfully revitalized neighborhoods that didn’t end up displacing the current residents look like?

You hear people talk a lot about the surprising economic life in Mumbai’s slums and other places around the world. But I’m more thinking of mature cities in advanced countries.

Your thoughts?

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Topics: Urban Culture

39 Responses to “Labor Day Open Thread: What Do Successful Lower Income Neighborhoods Look Like?”

  1. grindelwald says:

    There was an article in the paper in Memphis concerning a major redevelopment taking place in a poverty and crime stricken part of town. They are tearing down an abandoned apartment complex to build a town center urban development. Its not a slum area, but it certainly isnt prosperous.

  2. SUP SUP says:

    Old north st. louis

    Cherokee street st. louis

    just to name a couple.

  3. DJ says:

    I like to see food options, banks, sidewalks, schools, and a rec or community center. I don’t like to see multiple cash checking businesses and empty storefronts.

  4. John says:

    I’m going to avoid the question and suggest that low income residents would benefit more from a mixed income neighborhood than a revitalized low income neighborhood. Many parts of the north side of Chicago, and even South Evanston where I live, have a wide range of housing types and price points that allow for people in different stages of life and income levels to enjoy the same neighborhood amenities.

  5. visualingual says:

    Northside in Cincinnati may be an apt example here. In some ways, it’s a hip neighborhood but, in many ways, it slants toward a lower-income population. I think the relative success of Hamilton Ave., its main retail strip, lies in the organic variety of small businesses, from Shake It Records to restaurants like Honey and Slim’s, to tattoo parlors, thrift stores, and dive bars.

    Physically speaking, it’s not the most attractive street, but it full of businesses that cater to the different wants and needs of different neighborhood residents, as well as some that are city-wide destinations. When you compare its retail diversity with Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine, you can see that the Vine St. stores tend to cater to a narrower clientele; that strip feels less organic and diverse.

    Hamilton Ave. seems to be a strip that caters to hipsters, families, those with disposable income and those without. It feels genuinely eclectic and uncurated. I’m not sure that Northside is the perfect example of what you’re thinking about, but it seems like a fairly good one.

  6. Kevin says:

    I think parts of Hamtramck, MI fit this description. It has always been a working-class city withing a city (surrounded completely by Detroit and Highland Park). It is certainly dealing with many of the issues that plauge Detroit (unemployment, abandonment, crime) but has managed to maintain a strong commercial district, diverse community engagement and attracts a lot of new immigrant families as well as suburban hipster transplants.

    Things that make the neighborhood attractive and stable include:

    Dense walkable neighborhoods within walking distance of quality, essential retail (groceries, butchers, laundromats, etc…)

    Low rents for decent housing

    Strong religious institutions

    Proximity to large providers of entry-level employment (GM plant, American Axle plant, several large auto suppliers)

    Tolerance of diversity (26 languages spoken in a city of 23,000 people in just over 2 sq mi)

  7. John Morris says:

    Cool, you should have more open threads of this type.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    Washington Heights and Inwood are a pretty good example. Crime is low, there are thriving commercial districts, the main streets are busy until late at night, crime rate is low. Rents are high because it’s Manhattan, but by the standard of any other Manhattan neighborhood they’re not so bad. One problem is the lack of nearby jobs; people have to commute to Midtown, so average commute time is long.

    Harlem is doing well from another point of view – it has all those extra jobs that Washington Heights doesn’t have. However, because the perceptions that the neighborhood is improving preceded the actual improvements, people began to speculate on housing there, raising rents even before white people started moving in. Another problem is that Harlem’s primary street, 125th, is so congested walking is faster than taking the bus or a taxi; there’s no east-west subway anywhere near.

  9. Milosz says:

    Houston has great examples all over the city. You’ve got immigrant enclaves from North Houston to Fort Bend County.

  10. Erik says:

    The Riverwest neighborhood in Milwaukee springs to mind. It’s mixed income, to be sure, but skews lower and has a fair number of vacant homes. It covers a fairly large area and has many amenities, with restaurants, bars, parks, neighborhood retail. Industrial jobs are not far away and connectivity to surrounding areas is fairly good. Someone more familiar with the area can give better insight than I could.

  11. I’d have to say Newport Kentucky. To some extent Covington, Bellevue, and Dayton Kentucky as well, but Newport seems to have the best scale in my opinion. While I wouldn’t say it’s “re”viatalized necessarily, it’s fairly stable. Monmouth Street, the main commercial street, is full of fantastic and well kept multi-use buildings, with local stores and restaurants that cater to the lower income clientele. The surrounding neighborhood has its share of issues, but they really put their best foot forward on Monmouth Street. It has a very “real” feel too it that’s hard to capture in ritzy districts that have nothing but art galleries and coffee shops.,-84.491279&spn=0.006071,0.009763&z=17&layer=c&cbll=39.090464,-84.492527&panoid=KdPW4_an2_M1wGVY4Nhlfw&cbp=12,303.81,,0,3.02

  12. DB says:

    I think the model for a success, has to be a mixed income neighborhood. A purely low income neighborhood implies that anyone with the means to live elsewhere has chosen to do so. I would define the ideal as an area that is affordable enough to meat the needs of low income households, while appealing enough to attract middle income households that could choose to live elsewhere.

    I agree with John that Chicago’s Far North Side is the best example I know of that meets this criteria. I live in Edgewater, which offers an extremely affordable cost of living without sacrificing any amenities. I think the same could be said about Uptown, Rogers Park or Albany Park.

    I don’t know if this is just a temporary stage on the road to gentrification. It will be interesting to see if this area can maintain their diversity or if they will eventually look like Lakeview and Lincoln Park.

  13. Joe says:

    Ditto on Cherokee Street in St. Louis.

  14. I think several parts of New York City meet the mixed income, vibrant neighborhood criteria. Places I know personally include the West Village, the East Village around Tompkins Square Park, Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn and Jackson Heights in Queens. Also the Upper West Side of Manhattan around Columbia University. I’m sure there are many others.

    Many of these communities consist of lower income people who have been there for a long time, bought in when prices were lower or have rent stabilized apartments, plus more affluent people who can afford to move there now.

  15. AC says:

    I just moved to Crown Heights in Brooklyn (from Madison, WI) and it’s a pretty “successful” neighborhood. Granted, Crown Heights is a fairly big neighborhood and parts are still considered dangerous. But the western border has tons of restaurants, bars, shopping, and other amenities that cater to a mixed income crowd. The proximity to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum, and transportation options make it a great place to live. Some gentrification seems to be spilling this way (via Prospect Heights) but it seems like a lot of the business are owned from within the community.

  16. K says:

    Revitalized vs never really de-vitalized I think might be a key distinction here. A lot of the areas cited (and surely numerous others) are definitely relatively successful urban neighborhoods, but how much is this a continuation of what previously existed? Not to say these areas haven’t seen improvements over the years, but I feel like most retained at least some sense of a functional community even at their nadir (even if considered rough ‘hoods by others at the time). What about a completely failed neighborhood that has been rebuilt to a functioning urban working class area? I’m sure there are some examples, but I’m not sure if they are quite as common as stable low income areas.

  17. Alon Levy says:

    K, Harlem was completely dead 20-30 years ago. The black middle class left in the 1970s, leaving the neighborhood with crime, dilapidated buildings, and no business investment. It then came back in the 1990s – though, as I mentioned above, people think it came back even more, pushing rents up even as the neighborhood remains poor.

  18. BrianTH says:

    I’ll just echo the other mixed-income posters above. I think as urban populations across the U.S. start growing again, it will basically be impossible to have a decent low-income neighborhood that doesn’t attract at least a good percentage of middle-income people as well. Which is fine with me.

  19. DaveOf Richmond says:

    Some good examples in the above postings. I know a little about Cherokee St in St. Louis and it seems like what you’re looking for – affordable rents, available shopping, people on the sidewalks, crime not too bad, jobs relatively close by. Does The Hill neighborhood in StL fit as well, or has that become too expensive?

    Alon (or anyone), are you familiar with Greenpoint in Brooklyn? I walked down Manhattan Ave a couple of years ago and there were many shops/people on the sidewalks, and it seems to be somewhat protected from overly aggressive real estate speculation due to the lack of a direct subway link to Manhattan.

  20. Tim says:

    I think South-East Austin is a great example. I live in a neighborhood of homes ranging from 2600 square feet on large lots to 800 square feet on small lots. There are probably an equal number of four-plexes and duplexes in the neighborhood. A trailer park is across the road. Enough of the four-plexes are kept up badly that it keeps the housing affordable, but a very active neighborhood watch has almost completely eliminated crime in the neighborhood so it’s one of those rare neighborhoods that feels safe, but where you can rent an apartment for $400/month.
    The neighborhood is centered around a park with a skatepark that borders the local elementary school.
    There’s a Super-Walmart within walking distance and an HEB within a quick bike ride on a network of trails. We could be better served by commercial (especially as the second most populous zip code in Austin), but we have more tacquerias than check cashing places or liquor stores so the balance doesn’t seem too out of whack.
    I do worry, though, because there has been very little attempt to preserve the low-income residents and there is development going on a bit north that could easily spread. Many of the homeowners in my neighborhood bought extra lots which could allow infill that could help keep prices down, but we have a McMansion ordinance that will ensure the infill is not dense even though the neighborhood is over 50% four-plexes and duplexes.,+Austin,+TX&sll=30.423809,-97.735748&sspn=0.30789,0.577469&ie=UTF8&hq=Mabel+Davis+Park,&hnear=Austin,+Travis,+Texas&ll=30.220212,-97.741885&spn=0.009178,0.018046&t=h&z=16

  21. Joe says:

    Combining some points of several post… the Hill in St. Louis is probably one of the best examples of “never really de-vitalized”. It has a very stable, very loyal, working class population that attracts people from all over the city to its (in)famous restuarants.

    As far as price goes… unless you’re living in Central West End, Lafayette Square, Grand Ave, or Soulard…. you can always find affordable housing in any St. Louis neighborhood.

  22. George Mattei says:

    One item that has a huge impact on residents that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the environmental quality of the buidings and the neighborhood in general. Is it near land uses like factories or landfills that create a lot of pollution? Do the homes have issues with lead and asbestos? Does the water supply or air contain heavy amounts of mercury or lead? You can’t expect a young child to be raised in an environment that’s toxic and succeed.

    My company builds affordable housing, and we do a lot of rehabs of pre-war homes. Almost all of them have some mix of lead & asbestos. The average cost for the remediation on a house that just has modest amounts of these materials is $6,000 to $8,000 per house. Some can be much more. Most low-income families can’t afford that kind of cost. There are some grants out there to help, but there is no comprehensive policy to identify the homes that pose a risk to the residents and to remediate them.

    I have always thought that a national policy to systematically test and remediate homes that have lead and asbestos would be a great benefit to many families and the neighborhoods they live in.

  23. George Mattei says:

    Another item not mentioned was good schools.

    I happen to believe that schools are primarily a product of the socio-economic profile they bear, and research backs this up. So if you have schools where everyone is low-income, it’s much less likely to succeed. This means we need diversity of incomes in our neighborhoods.

  24. Patrick says:

    In Boston, I can think of two different examples along the spectrum, both in the shadow of Logan airport. The first, South Boston, or “Southie,” is definitely on the way up. Despite some of the depictions of the neighborhood in film (Good Will Hunting, The Departed) that emphasize the grittier side of things, Southie has long been home to a healthy number of middle class families including cops, firefighters, teachers, and workers for the nearby shipping container port, Edison power plant and fishing industry businesses.

    I have family in Southie and when I visit, the health of the neighborhood is evident through the numbers of children walking to school, the heavy utilization of the public parks and Carson Beach, and the busy commercial district around Broadway. For a neighborhood portrayed as unsafe in film, there are an awful lot of old ladies out walking about that don’t seem worried about their security at all.

    The high school on G street is a strong anchor, as are some of the churches.

    Two generations back, my family lived in the housing projects that fill the distance between the JFK/UMass T station and the core of Southie. Those projects are still there and housing new low-income residents, not far from the gentrifying areas. You can see the subtle signs of gentrification creeping in with increasing rents, higher concept restaurants, etc., but a working-class ethos remains and does not seem to be evaporating.

    The second is Jeffries Point near Logan Airport. A working class immigrant hub these days, there is some gentrification going on with the incredible waterfront views, but a walk up and down the streets finds healthy businesses in the Latino immigrant tiendas, mercatos, etc.

    Jeffries Point has better rapid transit access than Southie, and may therefore attract more car-free (by choice or not) residents.

    Trulia puts the average price per square foot for housing in Boston at $633, while in Southie it is $347 and in Jeffries Point/East Boston it is $147.

  25. Mauricio L says:

    Based on observations from visits only, but South Philadelphia would seem to fit the description: family-oriented, beautiful and historic, local businesses catering to locals (with exception like South Street and the philly steak war zone), social cohesion. Would you agree?

  26. pete-rock says:

    In Chicago, the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods might fit the bill, although I haven’t been through either of them over the last couple years. They’re both first-generation immigrant neighborhoods, almost exclusively Hispanic. They are also home to vibrant commercial districts and a solid stock of affordable working-class bungalows, two-flats and three-flats that allow their owners to live comfortably while saving for the next home. True, the neighborhoods still have their share of problems, like crime/gang activity, and a general lack of jobs. But I’ve always thought both neighborhoods were great ports of entry for immigrants.

  27. Alon Levy says:

    Dave: I’m not very familiar with Greenpoint, other than hearing about it as a new hipster destination, with scarring gentrification.

    Looking up its demographics as of 2000, I don’t see it as a low-income neighborhood. It has median household incomes in the low and mid-30s, which is working-class, not poor. It’s not the same as Harlem, where the median household incomes are in the teens and low 20s.

  28. dan says:

    I’d like to echo visualingual’s example of Northside in Cincinnati. My husband and I live in Northside, and it is a pretty great example of a mixed-income neighborhood that skews more towards the affordable side of the spectrum. Part of that is because of the diversity of housing stock – the neighborhood has apartments over storefronts, fairly grand homes from the turn of the century, as well as lots of smaller homes built at varying points in the 20th century. The neighborhood’s never going to become entirely gentrified because too much of the housing stock is small.

    As for comparing Northside to Over-the-Rhine, Northside’s development in the past three decades has been far more organic for two reasons: 1) Northside never detoriated to the degree that OTR did. Most of the buildings on the commercial strip of Hamilton have been occupied for most of the time, so an entrepreneur wanting to take a building and spruce it up has to spend far less than they would if they were fixing up an abandoned building in OTR; and 2) the scale of Northside buildings and the neighborhood itself means that individuals, entrepeneurs, and families have an easier time of making changes and having a positive impact on the neighborhood. It’s a lot easier to restore a two-story house than it is to restore a 4-5 story Italianate building with a storefront.

    OTR needed more planned development because just a few rehabs here and there wouldn’t make an appreciable dent in the neighborhood due to its size and condition. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get large scale developers to completely rehab a building but do it modestly and gear it towards lower to lower-middle class people; there’s not enough money in it.

  29. Sean K. says:

    Not too many franchise establishments, but with locally-owned businesses being the norm. The buildings are well-maintained because there’s a sense of ownership and place. Social cohesion is strong. The majority of the residents are people of faith (not necessarily dominated by an one faith/religion). A lot of bike riding and walking. Obesity is fairly unusual. Neighbor interaction is common (e.g., sports, card-playing, sitting on the porch, etc.). Low incomes dominate, but middle and upper income people are scattered-in because its quality-of-life is appealing to them.

  30. I have a similar story as AC; I recently move to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The neighborhood has quite a bit going for it; its well served by transportation and its diverse in both ethnicity and class, but its also undergoing some gentrification much like many other Brooklyn neighborhoods. Like Crown Heights, there are a few parts that some might consider ‘dangerous’.

  31. Alon Levy says:

    The majority of the residents are people of faith

    You’ve just denigrated anyone who’s nonreligious. In what way does faith make low-income black and Hispanic neighborhoods better than low-income Asian neighborhoods?

  32. Well Paid Scientist says:

    What’s “successful”…

    Pilsen has problems, though the residents do have a toe in the door of the American Dream, there are plenty of shops, and they can leave their houses at night. If that’s the basis of success, then yes.

    If not having to step around passed out guys on the sidewalk, or living in something better than a hundred & twenty year old laborers house (good bones maybe, but everything else?), or having a decent public high school, is “success” then Pilsen does not pass.

  33. Sean K. says:

    Hello Alon Levy, Thank you for your direct feedback. Let me respond…

    You introduced a variable in your response that I did not have in my piece, that I should have; that is “race”. If race is a factor that facilitates social cohesion (i.e., enhanced relationships), then I say it’s a positive factor in making for better neighborhoods. Faith is also a factor that can enhance social cohesion. This doesn’t “denigrate” anyone who is not of a particular faith (BTW….”everyone” is a person of faith, but that’s another discussion). I would caution you to not assume that by my bringing-up up the word “faith/religion” that deductively this means denigration (or any other negative motive) at play. It certainly wasn’t intended in my case.

    Mr. Renn’s provocative question “What Do Successful Lower Income Neighborhoods Look Like?” cannot be adequately answered if we focus exclusively on the physical appearance of the neighborhood. What makes for a successful neighborhood must include the quality of relationships. As Hillary Clinton said “It takes a village”. I agree with her. If a person’s faith persuades them to “love thy neighbor”, then their faith promotes a healthy and successful neighborhood. I hope this helps you understand where I am coming from. Thank you again.

  34. Alon Levy says:

    Sean: yes, faith can be a factor in social cohesion, and it certainly has for many ethnic enclaves in the US. But it’s not the only one. In societies that have been secular for many decades, they’ve replaced religion with other forms of community. For example, in Scandinavia unions have become a substitute for church. In France, Japan, and Korea, they have different value sets, but nothing as famous as Scandinavia’s union membership. In those countries, people love their neighbors as much as or more than in religious countries like the US and Poland.

    The same is true for race. Most communities define their cohesion based on shared ethnicity, but there are also thriving diverse communities, for which diversity contributes to more rather than less cohesion. Some American suburbs are stably white/black; they’re all middle class, but they’ve persisted in having integrated housing and schools for decades. And some urban neighborhoods manage to be multiracial and mixed-income with actual integration going on; I think Queens has a few.

  35. Pete from Baltimore says:

    I agree with the commenters that stress the importance of mixed income neighborhoods. But i think that mixed income neighborhoods arent anything new. A lot of the old fashioned blue collar neighborhoods had a lot of econmic diversity. You might have a construction superintendant making $60,000 a year living on the same block as a teacher making $40,000 and a laborer making $15,000. And the laborer’s adult daughter might live around the corner and make $ 50,000 a year working in an office.

    Whats happened recently is that many of these old fashioned neighborrhoods have been gentrified by singles and childless couples. When the newer couples have kids they move out.

    When i was a kid there was a wide range of incomes in my neighborhood. But while nobody was very poor. nobody was very rich either. And more importantly , the families that were well off didnt live a drasticly different lifestyle than the other families. For the simple reason that they might have 4-6 kids[ i lived in a heavily Irish Catholic neighborhood]. So the wealthier families didnt go around in BMWs.I really didnt notice much difference in lifestyles between any of the families.

    To me the most important thing is for a neighborhood to be family friendly and kid friendly to families of ALL incomes. Too often gentrified neighborhoods turn into playgrounds for college graduates to play around in until they get married and have children. They thus have an artificial feel about them. There is very little age diversity.Many gentrified neighborhoods are pretty much post -college dorms.

    When i first moved into Baltimore in the early 90s my neighborhood in South East Baltimore was somewhat diverse and there were still some blue collar jobs left.Sadly that has changed.

    I would love to see more neighborhoods have a combination of offices AND factories. As ive commented before , the age of the huge factories in cities is almost over. But i think that there is still a place for smaller workshops.

    I would also like to see more neighborhoods with public transit systems that are nice enough for the wealthy to use. But also cheap enough and convenient enough for blue collar workers to use as well.

    There will never be complete equality.And there doesnt have to be. I live in a 1,200 sq ft rowhouse .So does my neighbor. Theres is much nicer because its been rehabbed. But theres also cost $300,000 while mine cost $45,000. That to me is a good thing. We both live on the same block despite our different incomes. Its not a case of rich people living in huge houses in one part of town and lower income people living in crappy apartments “on the other side of the tracks”.

    In short i think that a good neighborhood would have less hip resturaunts and more good schools.And that even childless couples would feel a connection between themselves and the local school.

    I am childless and single but in the 90s i still knew all of the kids and thier parents in the neighborhood.So i spent quite a few days volunteering fixing up the local Cathlolic school.despite the fact that i am childless and Protestant.The local Catholic school was simply a neighborhood institution. Now i dont know any of the few kids left in the neighborhood.About 95% have left.

    Children and families are the cement that keep a neighborhood together.

    For what its worth i dont think that a low income neighborhood HAS to have crime.Nor is it required to look crappy.

    I myslef would simply like to live in a neighborhood like the one that i used to live in .Where i know all of the local kids and thier parents.And where a laborer like myself can buy a guy who makes $100,000 a year, a beer at a local bar.

    I like living in a neighborhood where people that make $200,000 a year live next door to people that make $15,000 a year. Not only does it make the neighborhood more interesting. It also mean that i dont have to travel to another neighborhood to find work [ i work in construction].

    I would end by saying that the most important ingredient in any neighborhood is the people. This may seem obvious. But many urban planners seem to forget this.Good people make good neighborhoods. And it doesnt matter what race they are or income they have.But they need to feel in control of thier neighborhood. Instead of feeling like the thugs are in control

  36. Pete from Baltimore says:

    I would add to my previos comment by saying that if a neighborhood wants to have a diversity of incomes it also has to have a diversity of homes and shops.And any newer wealthier residents have to learn that tolerance goes both ways. Too often gentrifiers try to get the local Dollar stores and thrift stores shut down so that tey can be replaced by botiques.

    There should be room enough for all kind of stores

  37. Wow, thanks for all the great comments people. I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend.

  38. Greg says:

    I first have to make the distinction between low income and poor. Many low income people have basic values that promote civic virtues like work and responsibility. Poor people do not have those values (or have never been exposed to them) and as such will always bring down any attempts at renovation due to anti-civic habits. Local governments can only do so much. Good neighborhoods start with solid values that center around education and hard work. Desirable retail and services follow areas where these values are strong.

  39. CBBriggs says:

    Grocery, public library/community center/park, tree-lined sidewalks, hardware store, bank

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