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(The Urgent Case for) Middle Neighborhoods, One of the Most Overlooked Assets in America

By Paul Brophy and Frank Woodruff

The recently-released Opportunity Atlas provides fresh evidence that neighborhoods — even blocks within neighborhoods — are determinants of children’s life chances, even when families have similar incomes. Similarly, the Neighborhood Life Expectancy Project shows how disparities in health, block by block, are based on neighborhood conditions.

These new reports are a reminder that the streets we call home — even more than the cities, counties, towns and suburbs we live in — are major predictors of quality of life and life opportunity. Given this growing understanding of how neighborhoods affect life outcomes, why aren’t more policymakers, civic and private leaders turning their attention to them?

One important issue gaining traction in urban policy discussions is the critical role of middle neighborhoods, which may be the most overlooked asset in today’s cities and suburbs.

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National links: Middle neighborhoods — ordinary, important, underfunded

By Jeff Wood

“Middle neighborhoods” are prevalent and important — so why are they ignored? Your bus network may never change, even though changing it would make it better. During campaign season, mayoral candidates shift their focus from downtowns to neighborhoods.

Neither the little guy nor the bigwig: “Middle neighborhoods” are home to much of the US population. They aren’t flashy — most residents make 80% to 120% of area median income — but they’re often strongholds of racial diversity and allow people to be upwardly mobile. Despite their importance, they don’t get the same attention and funding as the poorest or wealthiest places. (Kelly Regen and Stephanie Sung | Next City)

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Philly developers say numbers don’t ‘pencil’ out on city’s latest affordable housing scheme

By Jake Blumgart

Ori Feibush may be one of the more controversial developers in Philadelphia, but few would argue about the one-time City Council candidate’s ability to get projects done in the city. Now the man who brought roof decks to Point Breeze is saying that the voluntary development incentives included in a new zoning bill designed to raise money for affordable housing won’t attract the interest needed to make the policy work.

“We found that there wasn’t any project we were looking at where it would work,” said Feibush, who has developed over 1,000 units of new housing in Philadelphia over the last decade. “Our office looks at more than a dozen properties a week, so we have 100 properties we reviewed from the last couple months and we went back to every one of those and it just didn’t pencil.”

That’s a problem because hopes are high for this new voluntary inclusionary zoning bill — now under consideration by the City Council. The legislation would incentivize developers to pay money into Philadelphia’s Housing Trust Fund in exchange for bonuses that allow larger, denser developments than would be otherwise permitted under zoning rules. The bill is projected to bring $18 million to the Housing Trust over the next five years.

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Philadelphia anti-blight legislation back in action

September 26th, 2018 | The Philadelphia Tribune

By Jake Blumgart

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has given Philadelphia back its favorite blight-fighting tool. In a Sept. 13 ruling, state justices unanimously reaffirmed the city’s ability to force property owners to maintain the appearances of their vacant buildings, reversing a 2015 lower court ruling.

The case centers on the city’s “doors and windows” ordinance, which the Department of Licenses and Inspections began enforcing in 2011 as a means to reduce the number of unkempt, boarded-up buildings in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The regulation intends to serve as a hedge against creeping neighborhood blight. It requires owners on blocks where 80 percent of buildings are occupied to install operable windows and doors on empty structures, instead of just boarding them up.

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Making the Case for America’s Middle Neighborhoods

September 24th, 2018 | Next City

By Kelly Regan, Next City and Stephanie Sung, The American Assembly,
with research by Brianna Williams

Today, nearly half of all residents of U.S. cities live in a middle neighborhood. It’s not a place where real estate is hot, where prices skyrocket and cause displacement. Nor is it a place in distress, overwhelmed by vacancy and neglect. Middle neighborhoods are racially and socioeconomically diverse, historically home to working- and middle-class families. They provide critical opportunities for upward mobility.

Some are stable. Some are threatened by gentrification. Yet many more are at a great risk of tipping into decline.

Neighborhoods are, by nature, constantly in flux. So why does it matter that middle neighborhoods are disappearing?

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