Monday, October 29, 2007

Case Study: “Don’t Move: Improve!”

While completing this week’s reading I got excited about the “Don’t Move, Improve” community revitalization campaign that was mentioned in the excerpt from Towards Sustainable Communities. This campaign was a grassroots community response to white flight and urban decay in the South Bronx. Residents and local activists united to address issues of healthcare, daycare, economic education, housing, the environment, transportation, and development. Since its inception, the campaign has successfully channeled millions of dollars of investment into the South Bronx community. In addition, the campaign has aided in the construction of thousands of affordable housing units and financial assistance for local small businesses.

The revitalization of PS 64, formerly a public school building in the South Bronx, is an example of how successful this community group was in their efforts to restore the South Bronx. Residents and non resident cultural groups organized with the non profit organization CHARAS, to reclaim, restore, and revitalize the PS 64 school building and turn it into a community and cultural center, which they called El Bohio. The creation of El Bohio Community and Cultural Center is one of many other visible products of the “Don’t Move: Improve!” Campaign. This campaign is an example of how residents can use grassroots organizing to create a sense of community. As it is explained in Toward Sustainable Communities, creating a sense of place and developing connections between people in a community involves ensuring that the physical environment brings people together and creates a peaceful, secure community that residents can be proud of. The “Don’t Move: Improve!” campaign got residents involved in improving the physical environment in their community, which created a sense of place that went missing after the financial resources relocated to the suburbs and left the South Bronx to suffer in urban decay. With community and cultural centers as well as locally owned small businesses, residents could be proud to call their South Bronx community home. Furthermore, by investing in the community, residents and community groups have insured that the streets are safer and more peaceful. Revitalized and restored buildings replace spaces that can be potentially used for illegal and dangerous activity with spaces that encourage healthy cultural and community activity. El Bohio Community and Cultural Center in the South Bronx is only one of the many buildings that the “Don’t Move: Improve” campaign has restored.

This community revitalization campaign was particularly interesting to me because I think that it incorporates much of our discussions about the importance of grassroots organizing. Furthermore, as a resident of the South Bronx myself, I think that these examples of successful community grassroots organizing are extremely relevant - I think that its pretty clear how this example applies to my own neighborhood. With this campaign, residents were empowered by the opportunity to take control of their community. Residents and non-resident cultural groups reenvisioned their community and then they took action. They not only changed the physical character of the community, but they also changed developed a healthy sense of place within their community. This case study reiterates the undeniable fact that community development, restoration or revitalization works best when the actual community is involved. Who can better dictate what a community should be then the people who live in it?

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