Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spotlight On: Holistic Community Revitalization

How Holistic Community Revitalization Works, Purpose Built Communities 

Recently, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity highlighted an approach to community change that has produced significant results for children and families.  In 1995, local police called the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia a "war zone." The area had a $35 million annual drug trade, a crime rate 18 times higher than the national average, chronic unemployment, and a failing school where only five percent of fifth graders met state standards for math. Over the past two decades, however, East Lake has adopted an innovative approach to community transformation called Holistic Community Revitalization.  Because of this approach, the East Lake neighborhood is now a thriving, mixed income area with both the “physical infrastructure and community support that families need to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.”

According to Purpose Built Communities, rather than tackling problems like rising crime rates, failing schools, or declining property values in isolation, a holistic approach addresses challenges – in education, housing, recreation, transportation, and community services – in a carefully planned, thoughtfully coordinated way. This coordination leads to better outcomes for children and families in underserved communities, like East Lake.The following are some of the essential components of a successful holistic community revitalization effort:

  • Single-purpose, local lead organization to sustain the initiative over time and keep partners working together toward the shared long-term vision
  •  Neighborhood focus to deliver a deep and lasting impact on a defined neighborhood rather than minimal impact across an entire city
  • Cradle-to-college educational continuum to ensure that children learn, thrive, and are prepared to compete successfully in the workforce of tomorrow
  • Mixed-income housing to build a healthy, sustainable community of choice
  • Regulatory flexibility to deliver solutions that address unique community needs
  • Time, plus patient, long-term commitment of resources to achieve meaningful, sustainable outcomes
  • Collaboration and partnerships to accelerate progress and realize efficiencies offered by best-in-class for-profit, nonprofit, and public sector partners
  • Commitment to results, assessment, and improvement to ensure that the initiative continues to deliver on the initial promise, as well as respond to the community’s evolving needs and opportunities
Initially, when the groundbreaking revitalization effort began in East Lake,  the East Lake Foundation organized a group of dedicated residents, as well as public and private partners, to engage in a planning process that would result in a healthy, sustainable community. The revitalization effort transformed the area by:
  • Replacing dilapidated public housing with best-in-class, mixed-income apartments that draw a diverse mix of families
  • Fostering “Cradle-to-college” educational opportunities by replacing a failing public school with a public charter school that serves students from age three through grade eight. 
  • Restoring the private East Lake Golf Club to excellence so that it now hosts an annual pro golf tournament. (Proceeds from the club and the tournament benefit the East Lake Foundation)
  • Building a second golf course for public play, which also serves as home to The First Tee® of East Lake, a year-round life skills and golf instruction program that helps children develop values, life skills, and academic success
  • Attracting diverse commercial development, including a grocery store and two bank branches, as well as the East Lake Family YMCA
Since the success of the holistic community revitalization in East Lake, other communities have sought to replicate the effort. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina, the Bayou District Foundation in New Orleans planned a holistic revitalization of the Gentilly community.Today, a thriving residential community has replaced the former Saint Bernard Parish housing community site and new K-12 schools are now in the works. 

For the East Lake residents, the community transformation has exceeded their wildest expectations. Children attend schools in which 99 percent of fifth graders meet math standards. The former "war zone" has seen a reduction in violent crime by over 95 percent. The revitalization continues to deliver measurable economic benefits. 

Miracle at East Lake, East Lake Foundation  
Holistic Community Revitalization, Purpose Built Communities

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