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Urban Planning Fri Jun 25 2010

The Importance of Mobility

Here's a useful follow-up to my previous post, which touched on the influence of segregation on crime and the subsequent lack of political will to attack the problem. The country's most diverse zip code--which is in Seattle--gives planners, activists, and entrepreneurs an idea of what makes a healthy neighborhood, "positive mobility" [via Citiwire]:

It's a big (though frequent) mistake, says Weissbourd, to think of neighborhoods as static places, with a set character to defend at all costs. Even some well-intentioned community development groups make that error, he suggests, constantly working to expand local affordable housing and social services when the growing poverty in America isn't in cities at all -- it's now in suburbs.

The secret to strong neighborhoods, Weissbourd argues, is positive mobility -- understanding that neighborhoods are in constant motion, turning over with people and businesses coming and going. "Neighborhoods need to attract the residents, the businesses, the investments they want -- or they're dying," he insists.

Does the city's planning regime--the zoning ordinance, public transportation plan, etc.--encourage this mobility? Or does it encourage stasis?

This also sounds a bit like a justification for gentrification; but the conclusions are drawn by studying the most diverse--ethnically and otherwise--neighborhoods, not just those with the highest "quality of life". Are we too in love with our neighborhoods, and too willing (or too able) to use the law to keep them from changing?


R.A. Stewart / June 25, 2010 5:19 PM

My quick and cynical answer is that the city's planning regime favors neither positive mobility nor stasis as such, but maximum profit to the powerful and
the connected. If we resist change in our neighborhoods, it could be partly because we've learned to expect that when change is imposed on us, it's not going to be change for the good -- we'll eventually end up with either a neighborhood we can't afford to live in any more, or a neighborhood we wouldn't want to live in any more.

Dennis Fritz / June 27, 2010 8:20 PM

I think the danger is that while the concept of "positive mobility" may be legitimate, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be used to justify gentrification, just as you suggest. This wouldn't be new. Look at the original idea behind the TIF program, and you can see it wasn't such a bad idea. However, it quickly becamse corrupted and used for everything but its original intended purpose.

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