On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods

On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods (2016), edited by Paul C. Brophy, and published by The American Assembly and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, aims to stimulate a national dialogue about middle neighborhoods. Presented in a series of case studies and essays by leading policymakers, community development professionals, and scholars, this volume explores the complex web of communities transitioning—for better or worse—across the US. The shrinking middle class as well as growing income segregation and inequality in the US is the backdrop for this publication.

Authors of On the Edge provide ideas for action and advocate for new and innovative community, housing, and education policies to better support on-the-edge neighborhoods and create opportunities for the millions of people who live in them.

Subsequent to the book’s publication, two national working group meetings have been held to advance a middle neighborhood movement and build support for a Community of Practice. “Building Advocacy for Middle Neighborhoods” in Cleveland, OH (2018) was a follow-up to the “Action Agenda for a National Movement” working group meeting in Baltimore (2017).

Table of Contents


David Erickson, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

David H. Mortimer, The American Assembly


Paul C. Brophy, Brophy & Reilly, LLC

  1. The Middle Neighborhood Movement, 1970–2000
    Joe McNeely, Community Development Consultant
    Paul C. Brophy, Brophy & Reilly, LLC
  2. The Case for Intervention in Middle Neighborhoods
    George Galster, Hilberry Professor of Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
  3. Demographics and Characteristics of Middle Neighborhoods in Select Legacy Cities
    Ira Goldstein, William Schrecker, and Jacob L. Rosch, Reinvestment Fund
  4. Is the Urban Middle Neighborhood an Endangered Species? Multiple Challenges and Difficult Answers
    Alan Mallach, Center for Community Progress
  5. Homeownership and the Stability of Middle Neighborhoods
    Alan Mallach, Center for Community Progress
  6. Strategies to Improve Middle Neighborhoods
    David Boehlke, czb planning and The Healthy Neighborhoods Group
  7. Using Place-Branding Strategy to Create Homebuyer Demand for Middle Neighborhoods in Legacy Cities
    Marcia Nedland, Fall Creek Consultants
  8. The Healthy Neighborhoods Program: A Middle Neighborhoods Improvement Strategy
    Mark Sissman, Healthy Neighborhoods, Inc.
    Darlene Russell, Greater Milwaukee Foundation
  9. Understanding Middle Neighborhoods as Vital Parts of Regional Economies
    Robert Weissbourd, RW Ventures, LLC
  10. Rebuilding From Strength as a Strategy to Safeguard Middle Neighborhoods in Detroit: A Philanthropic Perspective
    Wendy Jackson, The Kresge Foundation
  11. Preservation in Middle Neighborhoods: Promising Results in Ohio
    Cara Bertron, Preservation Rightsizing Network Nicholas Hamilton, The American Assembly, Columbia University
  12. Local Public Policy and Middle Neighborhoods
    Henry S. Webber, Brown School of Social Work and Washington University

About the Editor

Paul C. Brophy is a principal with Brophy & Reilly LLC, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in economic development in older industrial cities, mixed-income housing, neighborhood revitalization, and currently serves on the Adjunct Faculty of the Urban & Regional Planning Program at Georgetown University. Mr. Brophy has been involved with the challenges facing older industrial cities since 1970 as a public official, a practitioner, an author, and a professor. A critical basis for his work were his ten years in city government in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1977-1986) where he was director of housing and then executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. A leader in the Renaissance II initiatives of Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri, Mr. Brophy’s work included downtown revitalization, the reuse of vacant steel mill sites, and the strengthening of the City’s neighborhoods. For his work in Pittsburgh, he was named one of the “savviest municipal issuers” by Institutional Investor magazine, and “The Best of the New Generation” by Esquire.

From 1988-1993, Mr. Brophy was president and then vice chair and co-CEO of the Enterprise Foundation founded by Jim and Patty Rouse. While in these executive positions, Mr. Brophy worked with community groups and local governments around the nation to develop thousands of units of housing for low and moderate-income families, and to improve neighborhoods. In 1994, Mr. Brophy established his consulting firm. His practice centers on the creation and implementation of strategies to improve the economic health of older industrial cities. Through his relationship with the Goldseker Foundation, Mr. Brophy has worked with Johns Hopkins University in developing and implementing the largest redevelopment project in Baltimore in over two decades – a mixed-use development immediately north of Johns Hopkins Medicine. He is currently advising Washington University in St. Louis on a number of strategic initiatives. He worked closely with Mayor Jerry Abramson in Louisville on Park DuValle, one of the most successful mixed-income residential developments in the nation.

Author Bios

Community development expert Joe McNeely, the urban affairs author and professor George Galster, and the Detroit-based philanthropic leader Wendy Lewis Jackson are among the esteemed authors in this volume who believe that increasing our understanding of middle neighborhoods will enhance the discussions underway nationally and locally about improving distressed neighborhoods and coping with gentrification.

Cara Bertron is the chair of the Preservation Rightsizing Network, which works in legacy cities to preserve local heritage and revitalize the built environment. She has completed preservation-based planning and revitalization projects in numerous cities, including Seattle, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Charleston. Her work includes innovative historic resource scans, citywide preservation plans, and neighborhood community development projects with a focus on equity and data-driven decision making. She was the principal author of the Action Agenda for Historic Preservation in Legacy Cities.

David Boehlke has 40 years’ experience working in neighborhoods and assisting community-based nonprofits in more than 100 cities, especially places with declining populations. He uses “Healthy Neighborhoods” as an organizing concept to understand and direct community stabilization. The concept looks at what is working successfully and what is undermining stability. It identifies community assets and proactive ways to re-build the “demand” side of neighborhood investing while greatly strengthening resident involvement. As a consultant he works through czb planning in Alexandria, Virginia, and through The Healthy Neighborhoods Group in Ithaca, New York.

Paul C. Brophy is a principal with Brophy & Reilly, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in economic development, and neighborhood improvement in legacy cities; the management of complex urban redevelopment projects; and the development of mixed-income housing communities. Brophy has been a senior advisor to the Center for Community Progress, a senior scholar at the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis; a senior advisor to Enterprise Community Partners; and the chair of the Legacy Cities Partnership. Prior to the formation of Brophy and Reilly, LLC, Brophy was the co-CEO of Enterprise Community Partners. Prior to that, he held executive positions in Pittsburgh city government working on economic development, and downtown and neighborhood improvement. Mr. Brophy holds degrees from LaSalle University and the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author of three books: Neighborhood Revitalization: Theory and Practice (1975); Housing and Local Government (1982), and A Guide to Careers in Community Development (2001).

George Galster earned his Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T. and now serves as Clarence Hilberry Professor of Urban Affairs at Wayne State University. He has published 145 peer-reviewed articles, eight books, and 34 book chapters on a wide range of urban topics. He has been a consultant to the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Justice, and served on the Consumer Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. The Urban Affairs Association placed him on their “Service Honor Roll” in 2014 and awarded him the “Contributions to the Field of Urban Affairs” prize in 2016.

Ira Goldstein is the president of Policy Solutions at Reinvestment Fund. His research focuses on various aspects of housing and economic development in America’s cities. Prior to joining Reinvestment Fund, Goldstein was Mid-Atlantic regional director of fair housing and equal opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. For more than 25 years, Goldstein has been a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses focused on housing policy and social science research methods and statistics. Goldstein holds a Ph.D., M.A., and B.A. from Temple University.

Nicholas Hamilton is director of Urban Policy at The American Assembly, Columbia University’s bipartisan policy institute. There, Hamilton leads the Legacy Cities Partnership, a national coalition working to revitalize America’s legacy cities. His work focuses on economic development, governance, and civic engagement. Mr. Hamilton’s previous architectural and urban design work for the firm Davis Brody Bond included the master planning and design of U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad as well as laboratory and teaching facilities for Columbia and Princeton Universities.

Wendy Lewis Jackson is co-managing director for the Detroit Program. She co-leads The Kresge Foundation’s efforts to revitalize Detroit and to strengthen its social and economic fabric. Her work supports organizations providing economic opportunity for low-income people and addresses the needs of vulnerable children and families. Prior to joining Kresge in 2008, she was a program director for Children and Family Initiatives and executive director for education initiatives at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She taught at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, and has co-authored and assisted in the publication of several reports and publications that address community needs and problem solving. She is an American Marshall Memorial Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States; the Association of Black Foundation Executives named her an Emerging Leader in 2008. She earned a B.A. in political science and communications from the University of Michigan. She also holds an M.S.W. in social work from U-M, with a concentration in community organization and social policy and planning.

Alan Mallach, writer, scholar, practitioner and advocate, has been engaged with the challenges of urban revitalization, neighborhood stabilization, and housing provision for 50 years. A senior fellow with the Center for Community Progress, he has held a number of public and private-sector positions, and currently also teaches in the graduate city planning program at Pratt Institute in New York City. His publications include many books, among them Bringing Buildings Back: From Vacant Properties to Community Assets and A Decent Home: Planning, Building and Preserving Affordable Housing, as well as numerous articles, book chapters, and reports. He has a B.A. degree from Yale College, and lives in Roosevelt, New Jersey.

Joseph McNeely is a nationally known expert and consultant on community development and a veteran community organizer. He is currently president of Metroscape Development, a real estate development firm focused on Baltimore City. From 2006–2015, he served as the initial organizer and first Executive Director of the Central Baltimore Partnership. In the early 1970s, he was the founding executive of Baltimore’s South East Community Organization (SECO) and Southeast Community Development Corporation before serving at the national level in the Carter administration. He then was the president of the national Development Training Institute for 20 years. From 2006–2012, he also served as co-facilitator of the Weinberg Fellows program for nonprofit executives at the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center. He has written extensively on community development, including a textbook in the field published by Columbia University Press, Community Economic Development and Social Work (2014). He has taught graduate courses on community development at several universities in Maryland, New York, and Ohio. Mr. McNeely, an attorney, lives in Baltimore, is the father of twin daughters, and is married to Patricia Massey, a successful real estate developer in Baltimore City.

Marcia Nedland is a consultant on market rebuilding strategies and evaluation for neighborhoods and small cities. Through Fall Creek Consultants LLC, Nedland works with neighborhood associations, nonprofits, foundations, financial institutions, and local governments throughout the U.S. on neighbors’ goals for equitable and market-sensitive revitalization. She also teaches, writes and speaks on these topics. Nedland is known for market analysis, planning models and strategies related specifically to attracting homebuyers to, and cultivating the image of, transitional neighborhoods. Nedland is the co-chair of the Community of Practice for the national Middle Neighborhoods initiative.

Jacob L. Rosch is a research associate at Reinvestment Fund. His research focuses on residential housing markets, intersections between health and housing, and education. Prior to joining Reinvestment Fund, Mr. Rosch spent six years as a researcher and consultant advising educational institutions in K–12 and higher education. He holds a B.A. with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.P.P. from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Darlene C. Russell brings more than 15 years of nonprofit experience to her role as a foundation program officer. In addition to participating in the discretionary grant review process, she manages the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative and serves on several nonprofit advisory committees. Prior to joining the foundation in January 2011, Russell worked with a number of organizations to help increase college access to students in the greater Milwaukee area. In her role as senior outreach consultant at Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, she worked to help low-income, first-generation college students access post-secondary education by partnering with nonprofits that helped students and families prepare and pay for college. She graduated with a B.A. in community leadership and development from Alverno College and earned an M.S.M. in management from Cardinal Stritch University.

William Schrecker has been a research analyst at Reinvestment Fund since 2013, with much of his work focused on residential real estate analyses. His recent MVA projects include Baltimore, New Orleans, and Wilmington, DE, with past research including Houston, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. Mr. Schrecker holds an M.B.A. from the Fox School of Business at Temple University and an M.S.W. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Mark Sissman served the Enterprise Foundation for 14 years as president of the Enterprise Social Investment Corporation (“ESIC”). Under his leadership, ESIC was the nation’s foremost syndicator of low-income housing tax credits. In January 1999, he joined Bank of America as senior vice president. Mr. Sissman was the Deputy Housing Commissioner for Baltimore City. For 11 years, he has served as president of Healthy Neighborhoods, a Baltimore community development intermediary and CDFI organized by financial institutions, foundations and neighborhood organizations to improve neighborhoods by increasing home values, rehabilitating homes, and marketing neighborhood assets. Sissman was president and chief executive officer of the Hippodrome Foundation, the local partner for the redevelopment of the abandoned Hippodrome Theater, a $70 million, 2,250-seat world-class performing arts center.

Robert Weissbourd is president of RW Ventures, LLC, an economic development firm that applies sophisticated market analysis and business planning to develop products and enterprises to drive inclusive growth in neighborhoods, industries, and regions. He serves or has served in executive positions at Shorebank Corporation, as an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Center, chair of the Obama Campaign Urban Policy Committee, and on the Obama Transition HUD Agency Review Team. He brings over 30 years of experience leading economic development work in dozens of cities and scores of neighborhoods. He is also a frequent author, public speaker, and lecturer on a broad range of urban markets, housing, business, and economic development issues. He has testified on these issues before federal, state, and local legislatures as well.

Henry S. Webber is the executive vice chancellor for Administration and Professor of Practice at the Brown School of Social Work and Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. He has been a leader in equitable regional development and neighborhood improvement efforts in Chicago and St. Louis. He writes widely on issues of neighborhood change, the role of anchor institutions in community development, and segregation.


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 a 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.

Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Founder and Chairman, CityView

“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.”

Nancy Cantor, Chancellor, Rutgers University, Newark

“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.”

Tom Barrett, Mayor, City of Milwaukee