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LISTEN: How To Fix Broken Neighborhoods

beecher terrace

Nearly 1,000 local leaders and neighborhood revitalization advocates from across the nation are in Louisville this week for the annual NeighborWorks America Community Leadership Institute.

The event brings community builders together to brainstorm ways to improve neighborhoods. They'll tour a handful of Louisville neighborhoods and examine the best methods to address challenges such as housing vacancies and public safety.

Among the city's visitors will be Michael Schubert.

Schubert operates his own consulting firm that focuses on neighborhood revitalization. He'll give several presentations during the event.

Schubert is also the former commissioner of housing for the City of Chicago, and he authored the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidebook for cities looking to apply for the departments Choice Neighborhood grant. That program is funding the current effort to create a plan for redeveloping Russell and the Beecher Terrace housing project.

His strategies have been implemented in New Albany's Midtown neighborhood and Shelby Park in Louisville.

WFPL's Jake Ryan spoke with Schubert in Louisville.

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What is your take on the concept of revitalization?

Michael Schubert: It is a complicated concept, but I also think it's kind of simple. We have to understand how neighborhoods work as social places, as social systems and we have to understand how they work as markets. A lot of times, we make the work harder than it needs to be. We fail to focus on the assets and strengths that are in the neighborhood, and we focus on the deficiencies. We usually come up short when we do that. I think it makes a lot more sense to focus on positives and strengths.

How do you find those strengths, and how do you pinpoint what is a strength?

MS: I think the way you find strengths is you talk to people, first of all. You ask them why they like being there, which is a very different question than what's wrong with the neighborhood.

When is a neighborhood revitalized, when can you say the work is done?

MS: I think, like many things, there's a momentum and there's a tipping point, and we can see in story of neighborhood decline that when we look backwards we can see that there is a tipping point. I think there is a tipping point when neighborhoods get better, and I think part of that tipping point has to do with the neighborhood image and how people understand the neighborhood image, and they start to define this as a place that's getting better, or "it's OK," and then they start acting on that. When the neighborhood starts getting perceived as getting better or as a safe place or as a good place, it builds on that definition and it continues to get better.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.