Why Middle Neighborhoods Matter

In many cities, up to forty percent of residents live in middle neighborhoods, representing a major source of municipal fiscal health. Middle neighborhoods are a category of neighborhoods that are neither clearly healthy and thriving, nor overtly distressed; they are neither adequately serviced by the market and supportive public policies, nor are they beneficiaries of large-scale philanthropic support. On the edge between growth and decline, middle neighborhoods are generally affordable, stable, and safe. These neighborhoods have played an important role building opportunity and prosperity, and yet they are often overlooked. And in the face of colliding demographic, socio-economic, and market changes in cities and regions across the country, middle neighborhoods are steadily disappearing.

Establishing the Foundation for a National Middle Neighborhoods Movement

In 2015, The American Assembly and the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank initiated an investigation of middle neighborhoods, to raise awareness and increase understanding of these neighborhoods. Some findings of their research efforts concluded that:

  • Little is being done to fortify the places where the majority of working and middle class families live and work—and an ounce of prevention is far less expensive than the pound of remediation needed once a neighborhood has declined.
  • In some cities, middle neighborhoods are home to more than half of its total population, representing a significant portion of the local tax base.
  • A large percentage of people of color live in middle neighborhoods. Because homeownership has long been a primary driver of intergenerational wealth in the U.S., eliminating disparities in homeownership is one of the most powerful ways to narrow the wealth divide and its disproportionate impacts on African American families.

Around the nation, policymakers, community leaders, and researchers are mobilizing a groundswell of support to reverse this trend of the disappearance of middle neighborhoods. Early results thus far are promising. Owing to the efforts of a growing community of practice, there has been substantial progress documenting and sharing strategic interventions that stabilize and strengthen middle neighborhoods in cities across the US. Current efforts include determining next steps to broaden and diversify a national movement and our upcoming event.



More information forthcoming

Learn more »

On the Edge

On the Edge By The American Assembly

Edited by Paul C. Brophy


  • Henry CisnerosFormer Secretary of U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Founder and Chairman, CityView

    “Many attributes define the health of cities – economic strength, unemployment levels, cultural amenities, and physical attractiveness – but they all should manifest themselves in quality places to live. In that sense, sustaining decent, safe, and livable neighborhoods is the most basic purpose of a city. Preserving and enhancing a city’s middle neighborhoods is not peripheral strategy; it must be at the heart of efforts to strengthen a city. Paul Brophy has assembled a group of experts who have effectively identified the challenges, underscored the importance, and offered solid prescriptions for capitalizing on the urban assets which are the middle neighborhoods.”

  • Nancy CantorChancellor, Rutgers University, Newark

    “Is America a land of opportunity anymore? Can families who strive for educational achievement, home ownership, job security, and healthy lives, find a place in our cities today? Middle neighborhoods, the subject of this terrifically thoughtful volume, sit critically in the center of that landscape. The essays in this volume speak convincingly from the force of on-the-ground experience that middle neighborhoods can spearhead the broader effort to recapture America’s opportunity map. It is a must read at a time when it is too facile to give up and too urgent to wait to invest.”

  • Tom BarrettMayor, City of Milwaukee

    "Anyone familiar with American cities will recognize middle neighborhoods. They are important components of diverse and changing urban settings. This book offers enlightening observations, analysis, and advice on middle neighborhoods that are useful to policy-makers, academics, urbanists, and city residents."