News ArchivesInfoFaxAffordable FinanceInitiativesNonprofit Resourcesresearchmainpage
Neighborhood Development Zones


A "Neighborhood Development Zone" is a concept . . . a new way of thinking about how to approach community development efforts for low income neighborhoods.

The idea is to get away from the old approach of local governments doing "needs assessments" and then funding proposals to address needs.

This "new" approach of Neighborhood Development Zones is actually an old approach going back to the conceptual roots to the community development movement of the 60's. The idea is to build strategies around the assets of a community and the potential for harnessingpotential market driven development.

Each particular Zone effort must be collaborative in nature. It can not be designed as a short-term quick fix. Success will result from many small steps rather than from a few great leaps. A broad vision in program design is needed with an attention to detail in implementation. Successful results will require sustained, multiyear commitments from local governments, the private sector, foundations, and community based organizations.


Poverty is becoming more and more concentrated. Between 1985 and 1997 the number of "distressed" census tracks (40%+ poverty rate) in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county doubled. The communities are concentrated in the older communities in east between the two rail lines serving south Florida (the CSX and the FEC).

Local government redevelopment strategies have largely been a failure at reversing this decline because they have failed to effectively address the barriers that inhibit market-driven redevelopment which include:

* decrepit infrastructure (sewers, water, etc.).
* low appraised values,
* high costs of development,
* high costs of land,
* expensive "brownfield" cleanup,
* expensive lien clearance,
* high relocation expenses,
* the difficulty of dealing with the patchwork pattern of real estate ownership,

It is simply more difficult and more expensive to do development work in these neighborhoods. We need a more holistic approach built around community assets and which mitigate or eliminate the barriers to market driven redevelopment.

First . . . Leadership. Create a Community Based Collaboration

A successful Zone effort will need a driving force . . . there needs to be an entity responsible for monitoring all of the identified tasks and taking steps to insure that they are implemented. Ideally this entity should be an organization with development experience that is based in the community being revitalized. Typically a local CDC (or partnership of local CDCs) would play this role.

The leadership entity needs to ensure that the various community stakeholders feel a sence of "ownership" in the collaborative process. The leadership entity must be entrepreneurial in nature and aggressive accomplishing the tasks and in building new partnerships. Having community based organizations controlling project management helps to ensure this aggressive and entrepreneurial focus. Creation of a advisory or steering committee of some type must be created. The committee would assist in the visioning and implementation process by serving as an advisory board which would bring in expertise, resources, and connections of many experienced persons and institutions.

There needs to be a multi-stakeholder group (MSG) to guide the Neighborhood Development Zone planning and implementation process. The MSG will provide the energy, wisdom and guidance to develop and implement a comprehensive process of continuous improvement leading to sustainable community development. The MSG should be comprehensive in its membership and should be made up of people who care deeply about their community. Care should be taken to ensure representation of the full diversity of the community so that the Zone effort will not miss the opportunity of a true consensus-based process, nor create hostile opponents that have been left out of it.

Next, Create a Community Decision Support Infrastructure

A community-based "Learning Center" capability must be created. The Learning Center would support the sustainable development process by housing sophisticated technology in the form of advanced design and decision support tools like geographic information systems (GIS) and planning simulation and indicators software. The Learning Center also would serve as a sort of "new town hall" -- a physical place that can demonstrate the principles of sustainable development, convene the process, and provide institutional memory. It would be a meeting place, a source for information and technical assistance. The capabilities of the Learing Center could be enhanced by forming partnerships will seek local, regional, and national entities who share our vision and who are interested in collaborating with resources and expertise.

Next, Identify Assets of the Community

Often local government led efforts often start with a "needs assessments". Funding priorities are then based on the identified "needs". A better way is to create coherent strategies around a communities assets. Needs based planning leads to increased dependency and not development.

So called "poor" communities often have significant assets. These include the skills of residents, public transportation, land available for assembly, undervalued market potential, home ownership, job access, rail freight, and rights-of-way, a sense of place, knowledge of the community, and location efficiency.

There must be an effort to pull together a comprehensive "inventory" of zone assets. A Neighborhood Development Zone effort requires an understanding about "what's here now and how does that work". The zone program's first task is gathering information and data about the present state of a community in four system layers - natural, built, economic and social. Computer mapping tools (GIS) are used to help people better see and understand the data. Inventory efforts can be done, in part, through close partnerships with regional planning agencies and universities but the central data warehouse is always readily available to the zone's project management in an easily usable form. This database will have a Geographic Information System (GIS) interface showing the current and potential land uses. GIS mapping of the economic and business layout of the area. GIS permits the spatial mapping of a wide variety of data including Employment statistics, land use patterns, zoning, tax assessments, eligibility for Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Zone incentives, properties and space available for acquisition or rent. Land Use Database: The Zone project team will create a data base of key properties, with as much information about them as can be identified from the public record. The database will include information on:

* Ownership
* Tax Assessment
* Liens
* Zoning
* Water and sewer access
* Demographic information
* other information which would influence development decisions

Next, Vision the a Future

Successful zone programs must start with a visioning process. Stakeholders must first envision the future that they want and then build that vision project by project.

First, identify the broad values to be achieved. Typically a community will be envisioned as economically and socially viable places to work and live where there is stable, affordable housing, a continuum of care of assistance to homeless families and individuals, safe streets and public spaces, access to intermodal transportation systems, provision of quality education, opportunities for people to find good jobs and employers to find good workers, and the renewal of "civic culture" and public responsibility. The goal is to transform the Zone from a fragmented set of residential, commercial, and industrial sites with a reputation as being dangerous and undesirable into a cohesive neighborhood conscious of its tangible and intangible assets and directing its future.

The visioning and planning process will determine what the community wants to achieve, supported by an information system that will identify measures of success and reports back to the community periodically on progress to date. Visioning and planning needs to engage large numbers of people in the community in a process that breaks out of "taken-for-granted" mind sets and defines a new and better future. This type of planning assumes that a comprehensive sustainable development strategy will identify efficiencies and synergies that will make large-scale development less expensive and more feasible than small scale, incremental improvements. Information is the feedback loop that tells the community whether it is achieving the goals outlined in the Plan. Feedback of this sort requires that the community first come to consensus on its goals and priorities; then those goals and priorities have to be translated into measurable objectives. Once this has been accomplished, it is then possible periodically to issue a scorecard on the redevelopment process. How are we doing? Are we on track? Do we need to adjust our plans to adapt to changing circumstances?

The goals identified in visioning process and incorporated into the Redevelopment Plan and turned into a scorecard or "instrument panel" that will permit every community resident to track the project's progress. Periodic reporting on these progress indicators will enhance the ability of community residents to participate in the development process.

Next, Create the Sustainable Development Plan:
Strategy to Achieve the Vision - Exploit Community Assets - Harness Market Forces

the visioning process will result in a Sustainable Development Plan that will integrate all of the elements - from land use to green infrastructure to jobs - into a coherent plan, with projections of capital and organizational requirements. Components include:

* Infrastructure Upgrade Strategy: An analysis needs to done of the current status of the Zone's infrastructure. Many of Miami-Dade County's low income neighborhoods are serviced by septic systems, inadequate sanitary sewers, and inadequate stormwater drainage. Inadequate infrastructure is an major impediment to housing, commercial, and industrial development. This lack is an opportunity to create new lower cost, appropriately-scaled infrastructure which works with, rather than against the environment, and provides other benefits, such as open space and trees. Green infrastructure can also include: micro climate cooling to reduce energy costs and co2; add to the definition of the neighborhood edge; improve value of property; reduce impacts of hurricanes and flooding; recharge potable water supply; and provide neighborhood centers etc.

* Land Assembly Strategy: A strategy will need to be devised to enable the Zone to proactively engage in a land assembly effort. Parcels will have to be acquired and combined in order to facilitate the construction of the new housing, retail, and industrial facilities

* Commercial Development: The Sustainable Development Plan will provide direction for the commercial revitalization of the Zone. It will identify business and job opportunities and will involve new construction, application of new technologies, expansion of retail opportunities, etc. This process itself will be carried out in a way that it optimizes the job and economic benefits for residents.

* Jobs Strategy Development: Urban decay has resulted in a lack of new investment and new jobs. There are not enough good jobs for residents. Welfare reform has compounded the problem by increasing the competition for the already inadequate number of jobs available. The vast majority of new jobs are being created far away in the distant suburban areas to the west. The development of the jobs strategy will be closely linked to the visioning process and the business development strategy. The Strategy will be based on information gather in the following studies
* Housing Strategy Development: Housing development should done in partnership between the private sector (both nonprofit and for profit) and the public sector. All development will be compatible with the broader overall "vision" of the Zone's Sustainable Development Strategy, To be successful the zone's housing strategy must address specific barriers that inhibit market driven housing development activities. The goal is to give developers access to developable parcels with clear title and adequate infrastructure.

* Business Strategy Development: The goal of the any such strategy will be to work with the owners of existing commercial and industrial business to help them to work cooperatively to find new ways to become more profitable. A further goal is to institute a program to market available industrial and warehouse sites in the Zone to businesses interested in taking advantage of the Zone's unique opportunities. New businesses, of course, mean new jobs. The marketing effort will be aided by the creation of two critical information data bases. The Land Assembly Database can be used to help identify properties in the District suitable for sale or rent to businesses moving into the District or expanding existing operations.

* Human Services: A Neighborhood Development Zone will need strong schools, health centers and social service institutions. The Zone governance structure will encourage and support the development of a comprehensive strategic planning process around education and human services to complement the jobs and economic development focus of the core project. This effort will explore the current and potential connections between human services delivery and economic development. Schools and health centers represent a significant component of the community economy; they hire staff and purchase goods and services. Leaders of this strategic planning process are proposed to come from the Community Advisory Committee. The accomplish these goals the following actions will be taken
* Transportation: Intra-community Mobility Strategy. The challenge is intra-community mobility. Some residents, particularly seniors and youth, cannot drive, so such a community-centered transportation strategy is essential. For others, efficient intra-community mobility could make the difference in being able to live a full life without owning a car. The Zone project management will inventory existing intra-community transportation assets and identify barriers to mobility; then explore and evaluate a range of options to enhance intra-community mobility. There are at least three elements of a community mobility strategy:
* Culture and Tourism: Culture is both a value in itself, as an expression of the identity and aspirations of community residents, and a "destination" for people outside the community, including potentially tourists. What are the existing cultural assets in the target area? How can the Sustainable Development Strategy enhance their stability and outreach? To answer these questions the project management team will develop a cultural and tourism strategy. As part of this task the project management team will inventory existing cultural institutions and resources in the Zone and surrounding area. They will explore a range of options for strengthening the cultural life of the community.

Finally, Implement the Plan