The Hope Community
You wouldn't believe the changes this place has seen. Fifteen years ago this part of the city was one of the worst spots in Minneapolis, a city block devastated by years of urban flight and drug wars. The block contained five crack houses, the housing stock was dilapidated, crime was high, and property values had bottomed out. The difference today is startling. Behind nine rehabilitated houses there are community areas, a playground, and resident gardens. Property values are on the rise and residents' hopes for a stable community that will provide a nurturing environment for children and adults alike are being realized.
Instrumental to the recent turnaround is a local community development corporation (CDC), Hope Community, Inc. In the late 1980's, as the neighborhood declined and homeowners sold their properties for one dollar just to get rid of them, Hope Community began purchasing houses. The organization's intention was to create affordable rental units that would engender stability and community to combat the rampant problems of the neighborhood.To achieve this end, they purchased houses in proximity to one another on a single block and began rehabilitating and renting them.
The children's playground
The common area
The open space developed gradually. Deanna Foster, Executive Director of Hope Community, says of the early days, "There was one neighbor who always had barbeques. When all the houses had fences around the backyards, she'd holler to all her neighbors to come over. They could see her, but they could only get there by going out their front doors and walking to her front door. So, by watching this sort of thing, we started figuring out the uses and functions a common space would perform."
In developing the space, Hope Community used principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and defensible space - not by bringing in experts, but based on how they saw people living. They pulled down the fences that had separated the back yards, creating a context of a larger open green space. They built walkways where people walked, they constructed a pavilion area on a concrete pad left from an old garage, and they built a playground and a garden with resident planting plots. In so doing, Deanna Foster says, they created both physical spaces and social relationships.
The community pavillion
As Hope Community Inc. acquired more properties, the common area grew; money that would have gone toward building fences was earmarked for improving the space. As the community grew, the community area became the center of the community.
There are no gates or physical barriers preventing access to the common area from the street, but it is clear that the space is not a public park. Drawing on principles of CPTED, visual cues establish privacy, promote safety, and discourage crime. For example, according to CPTED principles, every space should have an occupied house facing it, and Hope Community puts screened back porches on all the housing they develop. This arrangement facilitates interaction between the neighbors, ensures that the open spaces are transparent to observation by the residents, and allows neighborhood children to come and use the play areas.
The renters are low-income people, and very diverse; residents speak English, Spanish, Somali, and Hmong. But, says Foster, the family lives are stable because the kids are happy. The extraordinary diversity found on the block causes little tension because of the bonds formed in the common areas, and the stability in family life translates to stability on the block - the renters never want to leave. Foster reflects, "There is a spirit of calmness and relationship here, whereas out on the street it is frenzied and frightening." She attributes much of the togetherness to the children in the development. By providing safe spaces where young people learn to play creatively and independently, the residents at Hope Community are raising children who already consider themselves to be community leaders, and who exhibit the confidence and networking skills necessary to be successful.
Hope Community is currently developing ten more residences, some of which they plan to sell to homeowners. With property values rising, they want to save the area from gentrification, and are considering using a hybrid of a land trust to keep the land in the hands of the people who have helped create the community. The successfulness of the development is leading to bigger projects for the Hope Community, like rehabilitating a nearby city park. Foster believes the commons communicates a message. "The pavilion says we get together, the walkways say we are connected, the playgrounds say we care about our children, there are flower beds everywhere that are planted with the help of a lot of volunteers. The commons is advertising for community."
All Photos courtesy of Hope Community, Inc.
Hope Community has achieved a great success in an area many had given up on, and shows how an organized and managed common area for residents can foster a sense of community in a very troubled urban area.
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