Mrs. Brown and Her Neighborhood

Mrs. Brown lives in a neighborhood southeast of the city center on the East Coast, consisting of an area 12 blocks by 8 blocks. Mrs. Brown is in her 70’s, having lived in her neighborhood for 40 years. She knows many people in her neighborhood and is an accepted informal leader. She wants to see her neighborhood change as it has become really run down and has major problems. There are many cars in different stages of repair on the street. Also there is graffiti everywhere.

Most of the homes in the neighborhood are 80 to 100 year old row houses (like townhouses but with each home adjacent to the next). When they were built they were near the city center and very desirable, but as the years passed the homes became run down and the neighborhood became less desirable.  During the past 40 years it became home to mostly poor, and many families who were on welfare and supporting dependent children moved in.  Many of these houses became women led because they were not eligible to draw government support if the husband lived in the house. On the outskirts of the neighborhood are two subsidized government housing complexes. One has 350 units and the other is a 250-unit complex that houses mostly immigrants.

Today the neighborhood has become very diverse ethnically as well as economically.  There are some who are on welfare, others who would be considered working poor, some new immigrants struggling daily to get by, and yet others who hold well paying jobs.  Older people who have lived there for many years occupy some of the row houses. They live on limited income and cannot keep their homes up because they have no support system of family to help them. Other row houses are drug houses occupied by younger people. But because the area is close to the city center, multiple professionals have also bought the old row houses and fixed them up.

The primary businesses are on the edges of the neighborhood with ethnic restaurants and mom and pop business. There are no major grocery stores therefore food is expensive. Because the neighborhood is close to the city center there are high cost restaurants and stores that none of the neighbors can afford.

There are some informal groups (volunteer associations) functioning in the area, including a neighborhood association, which is not functioning very well even though Mrs. Brown tries to keep it going. Most of the other informal groups are built around the specific interests of their participants. At one time an inventory of the peoples assets, skills, knowledge and interests had been taken of people in the neighborhood.

They had a government sponsored five year Weed and Seed program that mobilized the community to make their area more secure. Several businesses came into the neighborhood and had some impact by providing jobs for local people. Gangs had been a major problem before the Weed and Seed program, but recently things seem to be better.

There is a neighborhood elementary school that has low-test scores and 83% of the students are on subsidized lunches. They need tutors to help the children, and Mrs. Brown is one of them.

There are 18 churches in the neighborhood, with only one open during the week. Most churches meet in storefronts and the rest meet in the older church buildings that have existed for many years. The church buildings are generally only used on Sundays. Many of the church members no longer live in the neighborhood. The members are people that lived in the neighborhood but moved to a nicer part of town. They keep coming back because they feel like they belong to their church and do not fit in the churches nearer their homes. Even many of the pastors do not live in the neighborhood and are working other jobs to support their families.

This is a typical neighborhood in most urban under-served neighborhoods. It shows

  • Urban settings are a complex mix of people from many different places
  • The area is heterogeneous as people hold little in common. Senior citizens, immigrants, middle-class professionals, working poor, people on welfare from many different places.
  • Except for the senior citizens people are always moving therefore there is no sense of belonging.
  • There is an elementary school with low scores and 83% ARE on subsidized meals
  • Except for the professionals, few hold jobs and most jobs are at minimum wage with no benefits
  • Most homes are old with the majority needing major repair.
  • There are high crime rates with many people being unhealthy, many with chronic diseases.

What this means is that we  desire to help people understand that they can make a difference in their own lives and than as a neighborhood they can take back control of their neighborhood.

This is what Neighborhood Transformation is all about.

Connecting neighbors who don’t know each other. Then creating a community where there has been none which then leads to neighbors transforming their neighborhood through many small activities which in an aggregate do so.

Stan

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One response to “Mrs. Brown and Her Neighborhood

  1. Wow, Stan, you described our neighborhood quite well. We do not have many immigrants in our neighborhood proper, but there is a good-sized group just on the edge in a set of apartments. We are in the middle of doing that house-to-house survey we have talked about. We should have the results back by early September. Can you give me some thoughts about where to go from there?

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