Residents must see themselves as partners in community revitalization

Residents are critical stakeholders in the well-being of local neighborhoods. As communities struggle financially, the role of residents will become increasingly more important.

Budgetary challenges, caused by a combination of decreased revenue sharing and lower property taxes, have left several of communities in Michigan struggling. Many of these communities were not seeing significant revenue growth even before the Great Recession. Property values in some local units dropped by more than 50 percent. As revenues have declined, these communities have struggled to provide basic services such as police, fire and waste disposal, Detroit being the most obvious case-in-point.

However, even older suburban communities are facing many of the economic challenges that Detroit is attempting to address through bankruptcy, although the scale and magnitude is significantly different. Some are under review by the State Department of Treasury, while others are attempting to work through consent agreements to balance annual budgets.

The new reality is that economic growth will be a challenge for local units whose major source of revenue comes from property tax increases. Many services that residents have historically grown accustomed to may have to be funded by fees and special assessments. Block clubs and neighborhood groups will need to become more active in the maintenance and upkeep of their neighborhoods. Residents must see their role as an active partner in this process. Successful low-income communities will be those where everyone has a role in community revitalization, redevelopment and general maintenance.

According to Michigan State University Extension, neighborhood groups can sponsor annual neighborhood festivals and events to build community support. They can organize neighborhood watch groups to help prevent crime. They can adopt local parks and take responsibility for such efforts as grass cutting and general maintenance. Very organized community groups can seek foundation and other charitable funds to buy playground equipment to help meet the recreational needs of their individual communities. Civic participation will need to significantly increase and all those groups that have a stake in the well-being of local units will need to be active, focused and organized. The new words for community development are partnership and collaboration. The communities that develop partnerships and collaborations will be the ones that will be successful.

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