Middle Main

A neighborhood just a little off center

The Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a methodology that seeks to uncover and highlight the strengths within communities as a means for sustainable development. The basic tenet is that a capacities-focused approach is more likely to empower the community and therefore mobilize citizens to create positive and meaningful change from within. Instead of focusing on a community's needs, deficiencies and problems, the ABCD approach helps them become stronger and more self-reliant by discovering, mapping and mobilizing all their local assets. It seems to this new resident that the ABCD approach is gaining steam here. Looking forward to working with you, and helping to pioneer a genuine and lasting rebirth here in the City of Poughkeepsie.

It's as easy as learning our ABCD's....

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Comment by Ty Marshal on May 12, 2010 at 9:56am

I hope to see you at the meeting tonight, because we have a lot to talk about. Although I agree with some of your ideas, I disagree with the outlook. Naturally, it would be foolish to dismiss external actors who are willing and interested in investing on Main Street, but like many individuals and leaders of Poughkeepsie's past, focusing on this type of revitalization without building a strong foundation within the community first will only create a repeat of failed past attempts (See: Main Mall)

Asset Based Community Development begins with the assumption that successful community building involves rediscovering and mobilizing resources already present in any community. Successful community development is asset-based, internally-focused, and relationship-driven. The gifts and skills of residents and the assets of the physical community are always the starting place. No plan, solution or organization from outside the community can duplicate what is already there.

Although I agree that engaging City residents who live on the south side, and who "generally have a much higher median household income" can be one benefit to Main Street, we must be aware that all communities are first composed of individuals (both rich and poor), each of which has gifts she or he brings to the group (not all gifts are financial). The best and most creative communities are aware of these gifts and provide opportunities for them to be given.

Asset-based community development is about finding ways in which to create connections between gifted individuals. So to invite people with higher incomes to Main Street (their gift being money I presume) without connecting them to individuals, institutions, or organizations who have other gifts to offer is a short lived solution, and one that would not last. It is finding connections between the various individuals and their gifts that makes lasting impressions.

The biggest obstacle to Main Street revitalization right now is Not "low volume, low income" - that would be an economic obstacle (yes an obstacle, but one of many)...the real obstacles are more involved, have deeper meaning and deal more with our outlook, thought processes and involvement.

Mind you, I'm not trying to knock your ideas - I recognize these things as positives, and it's good to have someone who wants to focus on these things - but I encourage you at the same time to look more deeply within - sometimes it is harder to see the assets/gifts that are right in front of our noses. In my mind, the South Side resident's money is no more important than the senior citizen who picks up trash in front of their apartment everyday - both are assets, both bring a gift to the process. The more assets/gifts that are connected and mobilized, the stronger a community becomes.
Comment by Ty Marshal on May 10, 2010 at 9:46am
Here is a link to a Syracuse University program called "the connective corridor" which established a route from the University area to and through the Downtown area, and areas of cultural and artistic interest. This program was envisioned by current Chancellor Nancy Cantor, and establishes a physical, financial and figurative "connection" between the University and the City.

Comment by Jeremy Doxsee on May 10, 2010 at 9:13am
Hi John,

Outstanding comments. Although I take exception with one thing you said - I actually do want Poughkeepsie to become a college town! I think the net benefits far, far outweigh perceived risks. Any successful small urban downtown that I can think on the East Coast (Portland, Providence, Portsmouth, Keene, Burlington, Amherst, etc, etc.) has a robust college presence. New Paltz would be a shell of itself with the college. What amazes me is how Poughkeepsie has somehow been unable to capitalize on it's proximity to 3 colleges. It seems to me that, until recently, stodgy politicians have spent more time scheming to keep college kids away from our downtown than trying to lure them in. An exampe is that last year, the Common Council finally approved student housing to be located in our downtown. It boggles the mind that it took that long for them to see the light.

Anyway, college administrations will start to reallocated resources to these downtown areas when their clients demand it. That's why it's awesome to see you and Allie (and other Vassar students who have attended meetings) involved and engage in this process. Keep up the good work.
Comment by John McCartin on May 7, 2010 at 10:09pm
Hi everybody.

One asset to consider in all this is the variety of educational institutions situated in and around the city. As a Vassar student, it's hard for me to see the money poured into different programs without wondering how those investments could be situated outside the school's gates. Could the Vassar Entrepreneurs put some of their student funding towards opening a coffee shop on Main Street? Could Marist's fashion merchandising program open a small clothing store on Main Street?

*This would obviously be an uphill battle in terms of the institutions. These colleges have history of reticence to put any resources into Main Street. We would need some risk-taking on the part of the colleges. (At least perceived risk-taking.)

*No one wants Poughkeepsie to be a 'college town,' which would inevitably just be a form of gentrification. I'm bringing this up as one strategy in a constellation of strategies that could be utilized.

These concerns don't change the central question, however: With so much money floating around at these places, how can we divert institutional funds to Main Street? Anyway, it's just one of many things to consider.


P.S. Allie, I just had a small installation going on at 360 Main Street for a week. I'd like to here about this summer's storefronts program. Sounds interesting.
Comment by Jeremy Doxsee on May 7, 2010 at 11:50am
Hi Ty, et. al. Good thread. Not sure if Andrew and Elizabeth deliberately fashioned MMP's efforts in line with the ABCD methodology... If not, the similarities are uncanny! It's always gratifying when you are able to get out there and engage the community. There are so many interesting people and fascinating stories right here on little ol' Main Street Poughkeepsie.

Allow me one thought re. "gentrification". There will always be income inequality - it is embedded in human DNA. And while I certainly agree that any successful community development initiative can't be imposed through external actors, I don't think we should be too quick to dismiss contributions from developers, merchants, and customers who currently aren't found in Middle Main, but may be lured in (aka gentrification). Like anything, it's about striking the right balance. I, for one, would like to engage City residents on live on the south side, and who generally have a much higher median household income, but have largely forsaken Main Street, and reflexively head down route 9 to eat and shop. If we can engage them, and challenge them to take more pride and ownership in their downtown, this can only help.

The biggest obstacle to Main Street revitalization right now is "low volume, low income". Without more people, and more discretionary income, the vacancy rate with stay above 30% - despite our best efforts.

Of course, we will continue our efforts to build capacity with the diverse and amazing resouces that are in place. I just think that, at this point, we shouldn't delimit who or what community development can be. Including rich developers. Our Main Street is 2 miles long. There is plenty of room for everyone.
Comment by Allie Bernhard on May 4, 2010 at 10:19pm
That movie sounds great, I think it would be a nice event to watch it sometime.

A lot of the ideas that you're presenting are actually already in the works -- you mentioned using storefronts, and this summer we are having an Art in Storefronts exhibit, and we are also creating a map of the places, "assets" that are already in Middle Main.

It sounds like you fit right in with the conversations that we've been having! :)
Comment by Elizabeth Celaya on May 4, 2010 at 3:19pm
Hi Ty,
From your ideas it sounds like it will be great to have you on board! We've started working on many of the things you've mentioned - identifying assets and strengths and getting community input on what they want to see. The Rise of the Creative Class is definitely worth a look. I saw a lecture on it once related to crowdsourcing, where they used some really innovative methods to get the community involved in designing buildings and businesses. It really gave the public a stake in the outcome, and created a customer base for the business before it was even open. If we get to a point where Middle Main has an opportunity, I'd like to try out this technique.
Comment by Ty Marshal on May 4, 2010 at 1:30pm
Glad to be here! Thanks!

My hometown of Syracuse New York utilizes an "ABCD" approach...and there is a great film called ABCD in Action which perhaps we could all view sometime...it's a community focused approach, with a bend towards positivity, which I strive for...and have worked on for many years in the upstate region - I'm not sure how I heard about it, but I tend to work within an ABCD strategy with a focus on the arts...

Gentrification is never the answer. I barely waste my time talking about that subject anymore. But be assured that we are on the same page in regards to that subject.

You may also be interested in Richard Florida's book "The Rise of the Creative Class" - which outlines problem solving strategies for regional development and other interesting subjects in regards to community development...

In my opinion it is Art, Technology & Innovation, Neighborhood Values and Culture that revitalize a region...by investing in these things, and involving the community in these investments, the citizens become more upbeat and positive about their neighborhood, take action and get involved...it also makes us feel better about our surroundings, which in turn creates synergy....

Using the ABCD approach, it'd be in our interest to actually take notes on which of these subjects are strongest on Middle Main - is it Art? or perhaps Innovative businesses? What parts of this "district" holds the most value for the neighbors, and why do we hold value in these things? What parts of Middle Main's culture should be highlighted or enhanced? So you see, instead of saying "there's too many convenience stores" - perhaps we could say, there is plenty of available space for innovation and creativity...how can we invite or invest in Middle Main technology incentives? How can we attract creative uses of the storefronts and empty space? So on and so forth...

Another great exercise is getting out maps of Middle Main and having an evening of brainstorming - inviting community members to "add to the map" things they would like to see in or around Middle Main and uses of available space....(you may have already done something like this, as I am just coming on board, but it's a fun and creative way to see the future).

Looking forward!
Comment by Andrew Sawtelle on May 4, 2010 at 10:32am
Thanks for joining Middle Main! Matthew’s told me a bit about you, and we’re glad that you’re interested.

How did you hear about Asset-Based Community Development?

As I understand it, gentrification always sounds like a losing game. A strategy that relies on supporting and continueing economic inequality, instead of looking for ways to build community wealth, is just going to push the problems away. Yes, we need investment in communities, but let's be creative about how we do that.
Comment by Matthew Slaats on April 30, 2010 at 8:43pm
I totally agree with this idea. One of the words that scares me most about seeing a revitalized Poughkeepsie is gentrification. We need to support and build from within in. That is the only way to build a vibrant Poughkeepsie.

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