Neighborhood Economic Resilience

Assessment reports post COVID-19 in Minneapolis, MN and Hackensack, NJ

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By: Jeb Brugmann — Founding Principal, Resilient Cities Catalyst

In the first lockdown months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I shared a macro-level perspective on the economic resilience challenges that would be highlighted in the United States, and in other countries with chronic and growing geographic income disparities. The assessment focused in particular on conditions in thousands of chronically distressed U.S. low-income neighborhoods, which the ensuing pandemic would further lay bare.

Within that context, in May 2020 I began preparing a framework for assessing economic recovery challenges and resilience-building opportunities at the individual neighborhood scale. That work continues. Here is a brief update.

The first principle we’ve applied for such an assessment is to anchor the economic analysis to existing community-driven development plans and initiatives. These plans elevate the issues of greatest local priority and action readiness. The first use of an economic resilience assessment therefore is to clarify how underlying and changing economic conditions could facilitate or hinder development of the community’s ambitions.

In May, Ron Harris, Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Minneapolis, MN (USA) invited Resilient Cities Catalyst (RCC) to prepare the first such assessment, focusing on the City’s 38th Street District neighborhood. In that neighborhood, community leaders including City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins have been working with residents and City planners to prepare their own strategic development plan. RCC’s 38th Street assessment, therefore, had two aims.

  • First, to take measure of how the pandemic was exposing and increasing the neighborhood’s household and small business economic vulnerabilities, identifying areas of potential cascading economic harm, failure, and loss that could set back the achievement of the community’s vision — and how these might be addressed.
  • Second, the assessment identifies areas of community economic potential to help further inform the design of plan-related initiatives for a post-pandemic forward bounce.

Just as we began the work, George Floyd was brutally murdered by police officers in the heart of the neighborhood, which searingly epitomized the systemic injustices faced by residents of chronically distressed neighborhoods throughout the country and much of the world. Since that day, events have only further highlighted the extent to which economic resilience in any distressed neighborhood — and in any economy with significant income and wealth disparities — requires extending attention to the connections between economic, social, health, and justice vulnerabilities and systemic failures.

Indeed, as cities and neighborhoods have struggled to find a foothold in advancing their recovery efforts in the face of resurgent COVID-19 case counts, many have also been struck by additional crises: the explosion in Beirut; election year violence in La Paz and Kampala; food shortages in Johannesburg and Nairobi; hurricanes and flooding in cities along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and the U.S. Gulf Coast; wildfires burning west coast U.S. communities to the ground. We are witnessing the degree to which economic health and future economic resilience is deeply intertwined with efforts to reduce a wide range of vulnerabilities.

For this reason, RCC research associate Amelia Smyth and I now hope to expand the range of data-supported topics that we will consider in future neighborhood economic resilience assessments. Where possible, future assessments will further explore linkages between economic conditions and local health, public safety, hazard exposures, and educational outcomes, and with neighborhood organization capacities. We also hope to focus further on local housing markets and on the potential role of large employers that are located both within the area or that employ substantial numbers of local residents.

As economic restraints are re-imposed in cities due to surging case counts, the need for place-specific economic resilience assessments that provide timely support to the work of community leaders is becoming ever clearer. Assessments and recovery planning at this very local level empowers both communities and governments to factor differences in neighborhood vulnerabilities and in their opportunities to build greater and more resilient local economic futures. The contrasts between the above 38th Street District assessment and the Main Street Hackensack (NJ, USA) assessment, shared here, illustrate that point — and why neighborhood and district-level recovery and resilience planning is an essential cornerstone of any robust local and national recovery.

Download our latest reports below:

Neighborhood Economic Resilience Assessment: Main Street Corridor — Hackensack, NJ
Neighborhood Economic Resilience Assessment: 38th Street District — Minneapolis, MN

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