You’ve seen one hood, you’ve seen them all

I am perhaps the only tourist who intentionally seeks out the “bad” neighborhoods in each place I visit. I’ve been through the worst parts of Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, Gary and Detroit. I’ve walked through all the wrong parts of Chicago, Springfield, East St. Louis, St. Louis and Kansas City.

And, as I walked through what was perhaps the “hood-lite” of Kansas City, I realized that the sight of boarded up houses, trash-strewn streets, drug dealers loitering on the corner, and shuttered business districts no longer leaves an impression. The poor neighborhoods and decaying industrial zones of the cities and towns I’ve visited are all beginning to blend. For sure each place has it’s own character, its own reasons for falling into decline, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they are abandoned and broken communities, and that they need a concerted effort on the part of the entire community to make them whole again.

Of course turning around a city in decline is no small undertaking. It takes time to encourage business development and create jobs. Failing schools need funding and skilled teachers. Cities that are losing population need to decide to either contract or develop a plan to attract new residents. And it requires the political strength from city leaders to not be swayed by special interests and cries of NIMBY.

But it can be done. Places like Flint, Mich., have taken dramatic steps towards revitalization–including bulldozing large portions of the city and returning them to parkland. Cities like Little Rock, Indianapolis and Toledo, among others, are following suit.

That said, simply redeveloping a neighborhood is not a solution either. Often redeveloped communities tend to seek higher-income residents, forcing those who had lived in the low-income neighborhoods into other lo-income parts of the city or on the street. While visiting Detroit, an acquaintance told me about the problems of the redevelopment along the city’s Cass Corridor. High-end condos and rotting homes are plentiful–more modest homes for the middle class are largely absent. Merely relocating the poor is unacceptable.

Understandably higher priced homes mean more money for the tax base. But a vacant and pretty home is just as useless to a community as one that is vacant and dilapidated. A thriving community is one that takes into consideration the needs and contributthose at all income brackets.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper