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3 Essential Elements for Building Successful Neighborhoods and Why They Matter

Learning spaces generate agency for communities to develop solutions.

Being the closest living space to people, neighborhoods and their conditions play a determining role in the development of communities. Those that we can call successful are those who promote the well-being of those who inhabit them and work in an organized manner to ensure that their conditions improve in a sustained manner (Moroke, 2016).

"A neighborhood is a geographic area that people share, while a community is a group of people who identify with each other and support each other"

Jim Diers

But what do neighborhoods need to be successful?

In our experience visiting different marginalized neighborhoods and vulnerable communities in our country and other countries in Latin America and Europe, we have learned that they mainly need three things to achieve a solid foundation that will lead them to be successful: 1) decent community learning spaces in which that people develop healthy, close and meaningful relationships; 2) opportunities for agency development of people in the community to identify problems and strengths, make decisions and implement solutions from their perspectives; and 3) constant and consistent support from external actors that allow the community to make the best decisions and obtain resources to execute actions. That is to say: spaces, people and support.

Why is the above important and how to achieve it?

1) Decent community learning spaces:

Why it is important? People in communities need spaces for coexistence to strengthen relationships, share information that is important to people, and fill gaps caused by a lack of resources (North Vancouver Recreation & Culture). These spaces, in addition to serving a social objective, have the potential to become a learning center and thus give people development opportunities and healthy life paths, as happened in Comuna 13 in Medellín with the José Luis Arroyave Library.

How to achieve it? For this, the spaces must be attractive to the community, pertinent for the needs they serve, and relevant for the resources they provide, in response to community interests. When these characteristics are combined, the spaces generate coexistence and encounters that result in the strengthening of ties that translate into community cohesion and powerful and healthy dynamics. The space must be co-designed and co-built with the same community. Let them be the ones to identify based on their interests and needs how it should be, what should happen there and how (Community Development at St. Louis Fed) . Efforts for this to happen will bring us closer to building crowded spaces and sought by the same people with an important learning component.

2) Opportunities for agency development:

Why it is important? No one knows more than the people themselves what they need and how their communities operate; a clear example has been the Favela-Bairro project in Rio de Janeiro, in which working with communities to become agents has been key to its success. In this sense, spaces for collective decision-making based on information and collaborative processes have the potential to develop people's capacities for a continuous and organized improvement of their neighborhoods (IAF), "local solutions to local problems".

How to achieve it? By opening decision-making spaces with and for people, the appropriation of the process and the results is favored. Agency development can be fostered in actions from having the opportunity to interact with neighbors and collaborate with them to solve a problem, to representing the neighborhood in effective decision-making processes in the municipality, fostering the development of negotiation and collaboration skills. In order for this to achieve continuous participation of the people, the processes must be translated into actions that reflect local decisions and proposals.

Favela in Rio de Janeiro before and after working with communities through Favela-Bairro. Photo:

3) Constant and consistent support:

Why it is important? Any sustainable development process requires long-term monitoring. A neighborhood can have a space that allows the development of deep relationships to, collectively, identify problems. But external support becomes an important platform for the development of local ideas that allow an effective use of resources, as well as to maximize efforts, as long as this intervention does not affect people's ownership of the process (Housing and Community Research Unit). There are great ideas that are held back by not having access to information or resources. For example: a community decides that to solve the problem of water shortages they want to build water collection systems but they do not have the information or knowledge of what should be done or how: in both examples in Latin America mentioned above, this collaboration with the communities was key.

How to achieve it? Approaching communities to carry out an analysis and identify needs with them is a good way to do this effectively, always in a respectful manner and with the aim of developing local capacities. As actors external to the community, be it government, civil society or companies, the support must be aimed at people being able to identify and implement efforts to transform their neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods are the most powerful microcosm for the development of a society. With 23.4 million people living in urban municipalities vulnerable to falling into poverty due to social deprivations (CONEVAL, 2018) – mainly concentrated in Ecatepec, Edomex; Puebla, Puebla; Iztapalapa, CDMX; Leon, Guanajuato; Tijuana, BC; Juárez, Chihuahua- in Mexico we have a great opportunity to act effectively and address problems that threaten cities and their neighborhoods.

If we focus on all neighborhoods being successful, where would their communities go?


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