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Improving neighborhood quality of life: The art of the mosaic

If you’ve driven down Minneapolis’ Franklin Avenue or stopped at the corner of University and Dale in St. Paul, you’ve seen the physical evidence yourself.

If you’ve driven down Minneapolis’ Franklin Avenue or stopped at the corner of University and Dale in St. Paul, you’ve seen the physical evidence yourself. Attractive homes, apartments and businesses now line lively streets that were formerly crime magnets.

For 20 years, local community developers have helped improve Twin Cities neighborhoods. But over time, there’ve been signs that these physical improvements alone weren’t necessarily leading to a better quality of life for residents. The neighborhoods looked better, but residents still weren’t able to get ahead.

Nonprofits and funders began to see that helping residents improve their prospects took a whole range of opportunities beyond housing. People needed access to jobs, workforce training, affordable transportation, quality education for themselves and their children, health care and a healthy environment, and the skills and strategies to build wealth for themselves. They also needed to have a stronger voice in development decisions affecting their neighborhood and their futures.

Comprehensive development
Right now, Twin Cities LISC and its many partners are seeding a more collaborative approach to neighborhood revitalization called “comprehensive” community development. Comprehensive development recognizes that people’s well-being depends not just on one thing, but on many interrelated opportunities.

Comprehensive development also recognizes the connections between neighborhood and regional health. If the regional economy isn’t vibrant, it’s harder for potential workers in lower-income neighborhoods to find jobs. Likewise, if residents in one neighborhood can’t contribute to the economic mainstream, the entire regional marketplace suffers.

Increasingly, the boundaries among urban neighborhoods and suburbs are dissolving. If one part of the whole is weak, it weakens the rest of the region. All our neighborhoods have to remain strong to compete with other attractive metropolitan regions.

Over the past few years, we’ve helped five local areas pursue more comprehensive community development: North and South Minneapolis, East St. Paul and the Central Corridor, and along the Blake Road corridor in Hopkins. We identified the most promising community-driven initiatives already under way and are helping them find partners and resources to get projects implemented. Together, these efforts serve as an innovation lab that can help philanthropists and government agencies that invest in development achieve their multiple bottom-lines.

You can already see the great promise of a comprehensive approach in local initiatives like Allina Hospital and Clinics’ Backyard Initiative, a collaboration with South Minneapolis’ Cultural Wellness Center and the residents who live near Abbott Northwest Hospital to improve health in the neighborhood. Or the current momentum in the Native American community along Franklin Avenue to create an American Indian cultural corridor along that street. You can see proof in the transformation of Dale and University from a corner infamous for vice into a welcoming neighborhood gateway, or the new Hawthorne Eco-village on the North Side, where sustainable green community development is fueling neighborhood recovery.

Assembling pieces for a healthy whole
This is not work done with one brushstroke or by one organization. This is the art of the mosaic, where many pieces have to be assembled and held together for the final picture to emerge. Residents and neighborhood stakeholders are articulating their own vision and designing their own planning processes. We’re here to help them put all the pieces in place to reach their vision.

That includes tying their projects into larger, multisector efforts like the Living Cities’ Corridors of Opportunity plan and federal initiatives such as HUD’s Sustainable Communities and Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods.

No one organization, neighborhood, or community can succeed in isolation. A comprehensive approach requires extensive partnerships. Every sector — government, business, nonprofit and philanthropy — has a stake in the outcome and a role to play. The key to success is alignment — of systems, organizations, projects, and people. And at the center of this collaborative web has to be the community itself — driving development plans, taking action, building internal leadership and assuring long-lasting results.

Andriana Abariotes is executive director of the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which has invested more than $373 million and leveraged over $1.3 billion to benefit Twin Cities community development.