Ferguson…Baltimore…Charleston…these are places that will be forever cemented in our minds as victims of community breakdown. But, before you think the same tragedy couldn’t happen in your city, think again. The factors at play in those three places are present in every American city.
The simple reality is that our communities are divided and we all know it. For example, my hometown of Kansas City has very clear dividing lines that separate thriving communities from blighted ones. Though these communities are not far from each other, they may as well be different worlds. Educational outcomes, incomes, quality of health, etc. all differ greatly across these divisions.
It is these divisions that helped fuel the chaos in Ferguson and Baltimore. Entire communities felt they had no stake in their city, so they reacted in some highly negative ways. Many of our cities have all of these same ingredients, which is why it is increasingly important that we find ways to reach across to our less fortunate communities and help them become vibrant places once again.
A key driver of blighted communities is abandoned homes. Abandoned homes are like a cancer. They take an otherwise thriving neighborhood and start it down the road to blight as they spread through a community. The process of community decline usually begins for a reason that residents can’t control: loss of opportunity. This, in turn, leads to vacant properties, which draw in crime, decrease everyone’s property value, and scare away investment.
Vacant homes also lead to a vicious cycle that makes it difficult for even the most conscientious citizen to help restore a community. As homes go vacant, they fall apart, attract copper thieves, bring in squatters, and cause more people to move out. Thus, providing security in vacant properties helps stop the bleeding so that these communities can begin to heal.
Reaching across to create community change is a long process, but the good news is many organizations are beginning to take notice. For example, one of my partner companies, COPR Security, is launching a campaign to donate a system to secure vacant homes in America’s most troubled cities. In partnership with Habitat for Humanity, COPR is reaching across to provide communities with the most vital first ingredient for community change: security.
So, the next time you fear your community might suffer the same kind of breakdown as Baltimore or Ferguson, why not get about the business of changing that by reaching across?