Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Middle Neighborhoods

August 24, 2016

Policy makers in America have long understood that the quality of life in neighborhoods—or the absence of it—matters a great deal in shaping the lives of children and adults living in city and suburban neighborhoods. This understanding translated into clearing slums in the 1950s and 1960s, to improving distressed neighborhoods via community development corporations later in the 20th Century, to seeking communities of opportunity in today’s policy environment.

This volume is about a type of American neighborhood that has been largely absent in the long-standing discussion about America’s neighborhoods—those neighborhoods in America’s cities and suburbs that are not in deep distress, but are not thriving either. Rather, these are neighborhoods that are between deep distress and a healthy, stable condition—neighborhoods we have labeled “middle neighborhoods.”

This volume aims at stimulating a national dialogue about middle neighborhoods. The volume is divided into four sections. In the first section, authors trace earlier efforts to stabilize these neighborhoods, describe the demographics and characteristics of this category of neighborhoods in select cities, and make the case for why middle neighborhoods matter in America’s cities and suburbs.

The second section describes the challenges that face middle neighborhoods and the importance of homeownership in them. The third section describes initiatives that are currently underway in cities to strengthen middle neighborhoods with a particular focus on Detroit, Milwaukee and Baltimore. The authors of chapters in this section are very close to the ground and offer sound practical examples and advice on how to strengthen middle neighborhoods.

The final section is focused on the policy and program changes needed at the local level to provide support to those working to improve middle neighborhoods. Particular detail is paid to mechanisms that balance physical improvements with preserving the historic character that helps to make many of these neighborhoods attractive in the marketplace.

The authors in this volume hope to reinvigorate a discussion about improving middle neighborhoods in America’s cities and suburbs as a complement to the discussion underway nationally and in many local settings about improving distressed neighborhoods or coping with gentrification.

From the Preface by Paul C. Brophy, Principal, Brophy & Reilly LLC