We need to help some of our neighborhoods change — with purpose

Loranne Ausley, Tallahassee Democrat – Opinion

We know that the starting line isn’t the same for everyone. The bottom line is that “place” matters as to how well we live, and how well our children live. 

Poverty and place are inextricably connected; children who grow up in struggling and impoverished neighborhoods have different outcomes than those who grow up in healthy neighborhoods. This is not a theory – it is well documented and is the basis for a new strategic focus in organizations ranging from our local United Way to the statewide Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Tallahassee is a community of neighborhoods. Most of us are defined by the neighborhood we live in, and the sad truth is that too many of our neighborhoods are not healthy. According to Whole Child Leon’s recently released report, nearly half Leon County families with children under the age of 5 are living in poverty. These numbers are even higher in neighborhoods like South City, where 68.5% of families live in poverty.

Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta based nonprofit, is working in partnership with 18 American cities to transform struggling neighborhoods like South City into healthy, vibrant neighborhoods. By focusing at the neighborhood level on mixed-income housing, a cradle to college education pipeline and community wellness, Purpose Built is creating pathways out of poverty. In cities like Atlanta, Birmingham, Spartanburg and Columbus, Ohio, crime rates are going down, and graduation rates are going up because of a strategic, intentional focus on place.  

For the past two years, a broad cross-section of our community has been working to bring Purpose Built to Tallahassee. The newly created South City Foundation serves as a “community quarterback” organization, which will drive these efforts by engaging South City residents, and leveraging resources to implement this long-term revitalization strategy:

  • The Tallahassee Housing Authority is leading the housing component, which will include a complete rehab of the Orange Avenue apartments.
  • The Leon County School Board has taken the first step in creating an education pipeline starting with Hartsfield Elementary.
  • The South City Foundation has received private and public support from individuals, organizations, as well as Leon County and the city of Tallahassee.

Let’s be clear: The type of change we are talking about is not easy, which is why a partnership with Purpose Built would be so valuable. Purpose Built provides a dedicated community advisory team that will open doors to funding partners and a wealth of best practices and lessons learned from communities who have traveled this path before us. 

We know there will be naysayers, and challenges along the way, but we also know that nothing worth doing is ever easy. Purpose Built has been getting it right in communities much like ours across the country for two decades. 

Tallahassee is on the cusp of being invited to become the 19th Purpose Built Community in the U.S., and with that designation comes great opportunity and great responsibility. I believe our community is ready to seize this opportunity and to put in the hard work to transform and revitalize South City into a place that offers every child and family the opportunity to thrive. 

Loranne Ausley is the Co-Chair of the South City Foundation (www.southcityfoundation.org) and represents District 9 in the Florida House of Representatives.

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