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Community Development

Understanding the Challenges of Neighborhood Change

Photo: Courtesy of Juan Sisinni

We at Data Driven Detroit (D3) define neighborhood change as “economic or physical changes that could substantially affect the composition and culture of a community.”  Neighborhood change can impact residents and business owners alike by altering the culture of a neighborhood or causing business environments to shift. That’s where Turning the Corner (TTC) comes in. TTC was part of a national research project coordinated by the Urban Institute in multiple U.S. cities, and through it, we  worked to identify Detroit communities that might be vulnerable to neighborhood change. The goal was to help residents have informed conversations before it’s too late, and to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive economic recovery in Detroit.

Throughout the project, we talked with residents, business owners and community organizers to connect their experiences and communicate elements of neighborhood change that aren’t always apparent in data points.

D3 spoke with more than 60 longtime residents and business owners in North End and Southwest Detroit. During these interviews, we explored their beliefs, values and motivations related to their neighborhood, as well as any changes they see. At the core of their stories is a cultural shift in their communities. As one resident put it, “It feels strange, like I’m not displaced but I am somehow.”

Working from data analysis and the stories that people shared, our work identified five themes associated with this concept of neighborhood change: social advantage, housing stability, crime, business and protective activities. These indices were combined to create the Neighborhood Change Index.

Using this index, D3 can help residents better understand their communities and more effectively plan for future possibilities. For example, in a community with low housing stability (one with many rentals and sales), residents might focus their conversations on housing programs to promote stability. A neighborhood that has high rates of tax foreclosures could mobilize tax foreclosure prevention programs. Communities with high crime rates could focus on advocating for increased patrols.

Neighborhood change can be a challenging for any community. TTC gives residents tools that can help them target efforts related to neighborhood change. It also allows communities on the periphery of significant neighborhood change to understand and plan for factors that could potentially impact their future.

Stephanie Quesnelle, Research Analyst, Data Driven Detroit, [email protected]

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