Example Of Research Paper On Community Engagement In A Gentrification Program
Type of paper: Research Paper
Topic: Community, Gentrification, Project, City, Neighborhood, Engagement, Focus, Stakeholders
There is no doubt that gentrification is part and parcel of modern city planning. Many large cities in the United States have initiated gentrification programs across several neighborhoods as part of city development projects. Gentrification definitely has its set of benefits. First of all, gentrification leads to a reduction in the continuous decline of some areas thus leading to their stabilization (Atkinson & Bridge, 2005). In addition, houses that were unoccupied become occupied after a gentrification project thus reducing the rates of vacant houses in the city. Local councils also benefit due to an increase in local fiscal revenues that result from the new and reformed houses that obviously fetch more money. The uplifting of neighborhoods through gentrification also leads to a reduction of crime in certain areas. Gentrification also leads to an increase in the social mix where people from various cultures, races and ethnicities come together (Atkinson & Bridge, 2005). In addition, the initiation of a gentrification project in certain area often encourages and also increases the viability of more development in the gentrified area (Bornstein, 2010). However, gentrification also several negative impacts. The greatest or negative impact is that it leads to the displacement of individuals. Gentrification leads to an increase in rent prices in a given area and some of the former inhabitants may be unable to keep up with these high prices and they may consequently be displaced (Atkinson & Bridge, 2005). Displacement may be accompanied by several other psychological impacts including stress, and former inhabitants may, in fact, start holding grudges against the new occupants and may start to resent them. Resentment can obviously lead to a conflict between the original inhabitants and the current inhabitants, most of who are from the middle class. This may even lead to increased crime, for example, the former inhabitants who may be arguing that they are simply taking way what is rightfully theirs. The local services provided to the neighborhood may have to be altered due to the relative prices increases.
These negative consequences may elicit heavy opposition to any gentrification plans. It is, therefore, crucial that city officials, who may be having plans to gentrify some neighborhoods to come up with an adequate plan to ensure that the process is carried out smoothly.
Community engagement is the key to a successful gentrification project of any neighborhood. This paper aims to provide a comprehensive community engagement plan for a gentrification project that will not only ensure that the project is smooth and that it enjoys the support the community, but it will also ensure that it is sustainable as the community members will provide viable input that will lead to the elimination of potential negative consequences such as massive displacement of people.
In this particular gentrification project, city neighborhood planners must shift away from the common practice whereby they just initiate projects without involving the local community. If the gentrification project is to be done smoothly and if it is to face minimal impediments, it needs to have the support of the community and this can only happen if the community feels that it is totally involved in the project (Bornstein, 2010). The community, in fact, acts as the greatest impediment to a gentrification project and city planners may waste a lot of time and resources trying to overcome these impediments offered by the community and even in the end, the project might not work (Bornstein, 2010). Therefore, it is important to stress once again that community engagement is key.
The importance of social inclusion or community engagement in shaping how neighborhoods grow or change and develop is crystal clear, but the larger question is how to put this knowledge to work in a practical context (Snyder, 2006).
The first step to community engagement is to identify key community stakeholders. In every community, there are individuals, groups or entities that play an accentuated role. These individuals, groups or entities act as representatives for the other community members. Therefore, when it comes to key matters affecting the community, having the support of these stakeholders essentially translates to having the support of the entire community (Fraser, 2004).
Therefore, the first or method of community engagement is to identify key community stakeholders. The planners of the gentrification program need to identify these stakeholders and then call them for a meeting, for example at the city council offices (Rinner & Bird, 2009).
The city planners should then fully lay out their gentrification program or plan to these community stakeholders and explain the projected time line of the process, the particular activities that will be involved in the gentrification and the projected outcomes of the entire process. At this particular first meeting, the input of the stakeholders is not needed. It is up to the city officials and planners to make a good first impression on the initial stakeholders. During this particular meeting, the stakeholders should be provided with physical plans for the project to go home and maul over with the rest of the community members that they represent (Rinner & Bird, 2009). As mentioned, the city planners must make it a priority to make a good first impression to these stakeholders. Even on presenting these plans for the gentrification project, the key element or point of emphasis should be on the projected benefits that this project will have on the immediate community (Rinner & Bird, 2009).
The next step or method community engagement is the collection of quantitative data from the community members. This involves going to the community and collecting the perspectives, the views and even the recommendations of the actual residents or members of the neighborhood that is to be subjected to gentrification (Fraser, 2004).
It is impossible to gain the views, the perspectives and the recommendations of every single community member. In addition, it may also be quite impossible to transverse the entire neighborhood collecting the views of random members. In such a situation, the recommendation is to establish focus groups. Focus groups will consist of representatives from the different subsections of the community occupying a given neighborhood. There is a very high likelihood that the community will be comprised of people of varying cultural backgrounds and even varying races and in order to ensure that the input of each is considered, focus groups comprising of members drawn from each of these subsections would be recommendable (Rinner & Bird, 2009). These focus groups are different from community stakeholders because they will be made up of ordinary community members who are likely to be impacted the most by the project. The focus groups will represent an array of diverse array of economic and ethnic backgrounds. It is also important that the city planners encourage the focus groups to be composed of people who are actually longtime residents since they are the ones how are likely to be more knowledgeable on the community, its needs and its concerns.
However, it is the previously identified community stakeholders that will play a key role in forming and bringing together these focus groups. The key community stakeholders obviously know the immediate community very well and convincing the entire community to organize itself into the focus group will be a relatively easy affair (Herzfeld, 2010).
The city planners should then conduct formal forums and official group sessions where the planned gentrification protection will be discussed exhaustively. The perfect place to conduct such meetings will be City Hall.
During these sessions, each of the focus groups will be expected to bring to the table the interests of their representative community. Each section of the community definitely has its fears about the proposed project. Many may be worried about the economic implications and impact of the project on their own lives, for example, house prices, rent, and prices for the provision of social service amongst others. The focus groups will table all these fears to the city planners and city planners must be prepared to provide timely responses in order to remove any fears about the coming project (Herzfeld, 2010).
This method of construction focus groups has already been applied in real situations and has been found to work, and the local council should learn from this. A case in point is a gentrification project that happened in South West Toronto in a neighborhood known as St. Christopher. In this particular neighborhood, a total of 200 volunteers from the immediate community living in the area volunteered to take part in the focus groups and represent their community’s interest in this gentrification project (Snyder, 2006). Forty-four of these volunteers were actively involved in the gentrification project while thirty-nine participated via the neighborhood focus groups. The latter took part in active discussion with the local council that was responsible for the gentrification project. The local council though that this sample was sufficient not only because of convenience in terms of number but also because of its ability to reach the residents in all the regions of the chosen neighborhoods (Snyder, 2006). In addition, focus groups also engaged in active discussions with service providers to assess the changing needs of the community and the effect gentrification program would have on social services provision in the new neighborhood.
Inadvertently, this level of community engagement in St. Christopher in South West Toronto proved to be a success because critical community issues were addressed and taken care of before the launching of these official project. Even when the neighborhood was upgraded, the benefits hugely outweighed the negative consequences and in fact the project did not result in the massive displacement of people or even massive opposition and repercussion from the community members; an occurrence that would have probably been witnessed had community engagement not been a key element of this particular project.
Community engagement has the ability to transform the gentrification project from one that resembles a neighborhood planning where the actual residents have no say to a community development process that is meant to benefit all community members (Fraser, 2004). The current community in the specific neighborhood already possesses some key assets, and there are already some community organizations that are doing an exemplary job but the unfortunate thing is that the two entities are not connected. Therefore, engaging the community through the gentrification project translate into the connection of the community assets and organizations and in the process lead to the sharing of resources and the overall energize of the community (Fraser, 2004).
The other method of community engagement is the creation of community action teams. It is not the intention of the city council to see many people from the community get displaced or even some of the community heritage projects and object destroyed. The community action teams will be focused on issues such as cultural preservation as well as the preservation of other sites and objects that form the identity of the immediate community. For example, it would be improper for a gentrification project to make construction plans on a piece of land that was previously used a playing ground for neighborhood kids. Even if the project is meant to upgrade an entire neighborhood, there are nevertheless places that should remain untouched, and children playgrounds are a perfect example.
The engagement of the community, as well as social inclusion, are important elements of any development project involving the community. The likelihood of a project succeeding is accentuated when the community is actively involved in the project and when their input and recommendations are involved in the plan. As observed, there are several methods of community engagement and the primary ones including identifying of key community stakeholders and convincing them, the creation of community focus groups and their involvement in active discussions about the project, the collection of raw qualitative data from real community members where they give their views and recommendations and finally the creation of community action teams that are will be involved in the implementation of the project and who will ensure that key community sites and objects are not destroyed. Therefore, for any city council that hopes to implement a successful gentrification project, community engagement must be the most important element.
Atkinson, R., & Bridge, G. (2005). The new urban colonialism: gentrification in a global context.
Bornstein, L. (2010). Mega-projects, city-building and community benefits. City, Culture and Society, 1(4), 199-206.
Fraser, J. C. (2004). Beyond gentrification: Mobilizing communities and claiming space. Urban Geography, 25(5), 437-457.
Herzfeld, M. (2010). Engagement, gentrification, and the neoliberal hijacking of history. Current Anthropology, 51(S2), S259-S267.
Rinner, C., & Bird, M. (2009). Evaluating community engagement through argumentation mapsöa public participation GIS case study. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 36, 588-601.
Snyder, Leigh (2006). Neighborhood Change & Building Inclusive Communities from Within: Bringing People Together First: Gentrification Dynamics and Inclusive Communities in South West Toronto September.