Hartford Land Bank Invests in Human Infrastructure

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The historic places of the Harlem Renaissance began to change dramatically as community leaders and council members debated how to manage the influx of new families who were, like my family, seeking more affordable places to live. 

Sure to spark a fight, the idea of gentrification—as Strong Towns has noted—is complex and can mean many different things to different stakeholders. Lance Freeman and Frank Braconi’s landmark 2004 analysis indicates that “rather than speeding up the departure of low-income residents through displacement, neighborhood gentrification in New York City was actually associated with a lower propensity of disadvantaged households to move.”

A 2015 CityLab article casts gentrification and displacement as symptoms of the scarcity of quality urbanism. 

“The driving force behind both is the far larger process of spiky reurbanization—itself propelled by large-scale public and private investment in everything from transit, schools, and parks to private research institutions and housing redevelopment,” wrote Richard Florida. “All of which points to the biggest, most crucial task ahead: creating more inclusive cities and neighborhoods that can meet the needs of all urbanites.”

Across the Harlem River in the South Bronx, community leader and urban revitalization consultant Majora Carter has spent 20 years or more navigating these complexities. Carter has talked about “self-gentrification” as work a “low-status” community does to invest in itself instead of measuring success by how far people can get away from their communities.

Carter told an interviewer in 2016 the million-dollar question is how to make a neighborhood better for the people that live there “because…people in our community want[ed] to have the same kind of wonderful communities that anybody else had. And that is one way to instill pride of place in a community. You tell folks, early on, that you deserve to have a great space to live as well.”

Human infrastructure is a term often used by transportation and mobility rights scholar Dr. Adonia Lugo to describe the set of personal relations that help keep communities strong. Sometimes, Lugo argues, supporting human infrastructure is more important than physical infrastructure in creating strong, resilient communities. 

Arulampalam, at the Hartford Land Bank, is investing in people first. It’s a key Strong Towns value, one that Carter amplifies in the South Bronx when she tells low-status community residents their vision and their participation is crucial: “Your involvement here, both investment-wise and also just in terms of how you use these communities, is important, and is valuable.” 

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