The Dynamics of Neighborhood Change

The only constant is change. External forces such as local political transitions, economic trends and shifting culture require those of us who work in neighborhood revitalization to be nimble, to be adaptable and to be completely dedicated to the potential of every person who lives in the areas we serve.

From East Lake–the first neighborhood in the Purpose Built Communities Network–to one of the newest, Grove Park, it is clear that with each victory comes new challenges. How do we stay focused on our mission despite the tension created by the unintended consequences of success?  For example, when our schools perform well, how do we ensure they continue to serve the children in our neighborhoods? How do we maintain a healthy mix of housing options to support the upward mobility we are enabling? How can we advance racial equity as our neighborhoods change?

When we hear and reflect on results in other neighborhoods, we can make decisions to help us get it more right in the long run. No matter where a community quarterback organization is along the timeline–from just forming to the most established–we can learn from each other. That is the power of the Purpose Built Communities Network.

The transformation of every neighborhood looks different, even two within the same city like East Lake and Grove Park in Atlanta. Yet across all geographies, there are truisms that hold. Perhaps most important is the role of relentless, constant, meaningful community engagement. Without the partnership of residents, the changes we propose will fall flat. How this is carried out looks different in each neighborhood. In many places, Network Member organizations are physically located in the areas they serve, and hire people who represent the neighborhood on their staff. Resident representation on boards, planning committees and other decision-making bodies is a common approach, as is discovering ways to document and celebrate the history, culture and potential of the community.

Because there are always opportunities, new struggles, and changing context to our work, we look forward to continuing this dialogue in a few days at the annual Purpose Built Communities conference in Orlando.

Listen to Danny and Debra discuss their partnership and individual challenges on “Closer Look” on Atlanta’s NPR station, WABE.

Daniel Shoy, Jr., is President and CEO of The East Lake Foundation and a member of the East Lake Foundation Board. Debra Edelson is Executive Director of the Grove Park Foundation and a member of the Grove Park Foundation Board.