An Urban Humanities Initiative

Inclusion and Neighborhood Resilience

Catalina Freixas, Mark Abbott, Julie Cooper and Jill Mead

“Inclusion & Neighborhood Resiliency: A Methodology for Neighborhood Evaluation” (INR) is a research project that aims to identify characteristics that facilitate long term neighborhood sustainability and/or resiliency. The research team is led by Catalina Freixas (Washington University Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts: SFS) and Mark Abbott (Harris Stowe State University: HSSU) in collaboration with Jill Meads and Julie Cooper. The team is particularly interested in looking at how diversity and inclusion contribute to neighborhood stability, health and vitality especially in the face of spatial, racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, political, economic, and social transitions. Because the principal investigators come from architectural (Freixas) and historical (Abbott) backgrounds, they intend to frame their research in terms of design and historical indicators.

Since receiving their award, the team has selected target neighborhoods in three cities—St. Louis, Detroit, and Cincinnati—initially identified in their grant proposal. Each of the three cities is what urban researchers call a “Shrinking City”—an inner city that has experienced a traumatic decrease in population over the last generation. Each selected neighborhood, on the other hand, has manifested an ability to respond, withstand, or recover from adverse situations. Unlike neighborhoods that surrounded them, Tower Grove Heights in St. Louis, Indian Village in Detroit, and Over the Rhine in Cincinnati were able to thrive in tumultuous times. The research question that Freixas and Abbott have pursued is “What factors or characteristics do these neighborhoods possess that enables them to be resilient to adversity?”

Once the three neighborhoods for case study were identified, an intensive examination of each of the neighborhoods from the perspective of history, design, planning practice, policy initiatives, demographics and socio economic composition was constructed. In their study, the team has utilized a three prong approach: 1) a review of primary and secondary sources, 2) an examination of census trap, GIS, and other archival data, and 3) field work including systematic observations, as well as, stakeholder interviews.

The team is currently analyzing the collected data in collaboration with Meads and Copper. We expect to produce final conclusions by end of Spring 2017.

The original proposal called for four cities: St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Cincinnati. Chicago was later dropped due to budgetary constraints.

Key findings to date demonstrated that the three neighborhoods share the following indicators:

– Prime location

– Accessibility to surrounding communities

– Walkability and access to mass/rapid transit

– Strong sense of place and community

– Active community based organizations

– Diversity of housing stock and price points for both rental and for sale properties

– Mixed land use in proximity to a vital commercial strip

– Park or recreational space

– Variety of educational options

– Racial, ethnic, and sexual preference diversity

– Influx of a new generation or urbanites

Freixas and Abbott will present their findings at the 2017 Urban Affairs Association annual conference in Minneapolis. The ultimate goal of their research is to identify neighborhood resiliency indicators and to determine the applicability of using those indicators to shape effective neighborhood planning practice in a variety of residential contexts.

Catalina Freixas is assistant professor of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.

Mark Abbott is professor of History at Harris-Stowe State University and is director of the Center for Neighborhood Affairs.

Julie Cooper is a Public Policy Professional currently working at Development Strategies.

Jill Mead is a City & Regional Planner and Public Health Professional currently working at Development Strategies.