ICAN director: It Takes a Village to Create True Neighborhood

Editor’s Note: Rosten Callarman is the new executive director of ICAN (Interested Citizens of Abilene North). He replaces the Rev. Andrew Penns, director of Curtis House Cultural Center and pastor of Valley View Missionary Baptist Church. Callarman previously was housing navigator for Abilene Hope Haven

By ROSTEN CALLARMAN

Founded in 1994, Interested Citizens of Abilene North serves as the neighborhood association for the Carver and Stevenson neighborhoods. Our work has included much of the traditional work of neighborhood associations, things like community advocacy and organizing, neighborhood watches and cleanups, and community gatherings and celebrations. Through these efforts and the efforts of others like us, our neighborhoods are safer and stronger than when we started. 

Rosten Callarman

Now we are ready to write a new chapter in our organization’s history, and the most important words in this new chapter are “holistic neighborhood revitalization.” Across the nation we are seeing amazing work taking place in once blighted neighborhoods around city centers. Though the work is always contextualized to the particular place, three key components stand out as necessary for holistic neighborhood revitalization to take place.

The first component is high quality mixed-income housing development. The healthiest neighborhoods have a variety of housing options, everything from single-family homes to higher density properties like duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, bungalow/cottage courts, and apartments. This variety helps create diversity—not only economic diversity, but also racial diversity and generational diversity—which all adds to the overall health and stability of the neighborhood.

The second component is economic development. Healthy neighborhoods are places where the neighbors can make money in the neighborhood, spend their money in the neighborhood, and where folks from outside the neighborhood can come spend their money as well. The more times a dollar is spent inside the neighborhood before it leaves the neighborhood, the greater the overall economic benefit to the neighborhood. 

The third component has been the core of ICAN’s work since the beginning: community development. It is also the most important piece moving forward. Housing development and economic development without community development is a recipe for gentrification. While gentrification can lead to attractive neighborhoods, the higher cost of living that it creates inevitably pushes our legacy neighbors out of the neighborhood. Neighborhoods are made up of neighbors, so if we lose those neighbors who have historically made up the core of Carver and Stevenson, then ICAN has failed at its work.

Though these three components may seem to be efforts that stand alone, combine them together and a picture of what I will call “the village” begins to emerge. Most of human civilization has been made up of these villages. Some of these villages have been rural, autonomous economic entities in and of themselves. Some of these villages have been urban, like the five boroughs of New York City. You could be born, grow up, live, and die in the village and have all of your needs met inside of the village. Housing, food, education, employment, medical care, civic engagement—all of these basic human needs were available within walking distance of your home. Sometimes several of these resources were available within the home. This is a huge part of why we enjoy visiting cities built before the late 19th century. Before the invention of the automobile, there was no reason to build cities any other way. After more than a century of radical experimentation with alternatives to the village, we are starting to see just how much we have lost. 

This is our goal for our neighborhoods, to recreate the village, the independently sufficient economic system that is far less fragile than this modern invention that we now call “neighborhoods.” If we succeed, ICAN hopes to offer any experience and insight that we gain in Carver and Stevenson to other neighborhoods across Abilene, especially the low-to-moderate income neighborhoods whose residents are far more negatively impacted by the loss of community and resilience perpetuated by the loss of the village.

Top photo credit: “neighborhood-cleanup-day-22” by baothienngo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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