The need for a new conceptualization of value in the context of blighted, urban neighborhoods recovering from the foreclosure crisis and decades of neglect
Core cities and urban neighborhoods around the country, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, are dying. This is not a quick and painless death. This is, instead, a slow and steady progression of decline and deterioration. It is a downward progression that often feeds into stereotypes and undermines a community’s pride. There are nine major metropolitan areas, including Buffalo, Saint Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland as well as countless other urban neighborhoods that have experienced significant population loss and urban blight over the past five decades. In some cities, there are three to four vacant properties for every one hundred people. In Buffalo, 13% of all addresses are “undeliverable” according to the United States Postal Service.
The urban decay and blight is both a cause and a symptom of larger problems, such as a struggling public education system, high crime rates, high unemployment, lack of reliable transportation, denial of credit, and health problems. Underlying it all is the legacy of overt and systemic racial discrimination. Over the years there have been many efforts to break the cycle, but none have been truly successful. Some good ideas failed because of lack of funding. Some ideas had plenty of funding, but were simply bad. Some ideas were too short-sighted, and some ideas took too long to demonstrate results.
The missing element of these past-programs is a community discussion about value. The city or neighborhood that existed in 1960 or 1970 is never going to come back to its old self. Like a patient who struggles against an illness for a long time, the patient is rarely the same even after the disease is defeated. A city and neighborhood is the same. In some cases, the city and neighborhood has been crippled for fifty years (half a century). Our value has to be in the future, not the past.