When I first wrote about the question of blight (here) , I said I’d offer some follow-up thoughts. I have’t yet circled back around to the topic yet, but a morning walk with one of the dogs left me thinking about the opposite of “blight” — vibrant urban communities.
During our travels, we’ve stayed in busy city neighborhoods in the Bronx, New York and Jamaica Plain, Boston. This block of Centre Street offers a pretty good example of my basic point today.
It has a spiffy little restaurant. In fact, it has several of them.
But it also has a dentist, a lawyer, a barber, a pet supplies shop, a travel agent, and a general goods store. Within a couple of blocks, you can find a grocery market, a bike shop, several more down-to-earth eateries, a beauty shop, a physical therapist, a co-op bookstore, a tailor, and a small park.
(though maybe not a parking space – but that’s okay because it’s possible to get around on foot and public transit here)
Also critical – this neighborhood, known as Hyde Square, has housing options that support an economically diverse, multi-ethnic community. All of these components add up to a desirable, livable area for a range of people.
“Blight” as a term gets applied to dilapidated housing or commercial building stock. Blight, however, really ought to refer to communities barren of cultural vibrancy and relational vitality.
When we talk about revitalizing areas, too often we see a focus on creating playgrounds for the affluent – rows of upscale restaurants, renovated apartments with high-end countertops and appliances, and boutique-y shops that cater to suburban browsers. We fail to focus on the web of everyday interactions and transactions that make living possible and desirable.
Hyde Square has a rich variety of public space and private space, a necessary (although not sufficient condition – we’ll keep looking at that) condition for avoiding “blight.”