Local municipalities will ring in this New Year with reorganization meetings that welcome newly elected and re-elected officials. Our local representatives will be quickly oriented to the difficult challenges of local government. On every municipality’s plate is the task of responding to issues of blight. Blight can manifest itself in numerous ways, including delinquent taxes, dilapidated or vacant structures, declining commercial districts, crime, complaints, and a displaced sense of community.
As we turn our eyes to the coming year, we offer suggestions to optimize the public efforts to keep our communities vibrant and strong:
• Take time to look backwards before moving forward. Big and small victories are scored against blight every day. Sometimes these advancements are the result of concerted public efforts. Other wins are effectuated by outside events and forces. All wins deserve a moment of celebration and reflection. What steps and resources did the municipality dedicate to solving the problem? Were the efforts effective and efficient? What assets and resources do we have? What resources do we need? An evaluative process can help to identify strengths and prioritize needs.
• Plan strategically for the future. Most communities traditionally approached blight from a complaint-based response system. Although complaints remain the primary driver of municipal responses, efforts to address blight in a more strategic manner are bearing fruit throughout our region. Inexpensive and accessible technology allows municipalities to map and track blight easily with nothing more than a smart phone and a database. Strategic planning can be low-tech too. Create a priority list of problem properties and work to develop a comprehensive game plan for each. Alternatively, identify a block or a neighborhood to either improve or stabilize in 2016. A targeted approach often builds momentum and provides focus to municipal efforts. It also creates efficiencies with code officials and other professionals assisting in the efforts.
• Develop alliances to achieve your goals. Municipalities cannot fix the problem of blight entirely on their own. Non-profit organizations, community development corporations, developers, mortgage companies, other municipalities, state and federal politicians and agencies, judges, and residents all have an important role to play. Cultivating those relationships now will help in the fight against blight, as well as other community building initiatives. Building a coalition of allies expands resources, financial and knowledge based, to respond more effectively to blight in its various forms.
Strategic approaches to neighborhood blight allow our municipalities to move beyond the case-by-case approaches and to advance toward more frequent tangible results and sustainable outcomes.