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One big splash or many small ripples?

Affordable housing and community redevelopment can be seen to have a range in size, cost, and implementation time. At one end of the range would be the large scale development that may or may not have public financial involvement, and can be expected to take 5 to 10 years from initial proposal to occupancy.

At the other end, a series of smaller, individual projects, perhaps under several independent project managers improved over a period of time. Given a 10-year time frame, could the series of smaller projects have a similar positive impact as the large scale development? The large scale project can only succeed with a focused effort from start to finish. History has found that large scale projects tend to focus societal energies. There are many technical details involved with the design (infrastructure, architecture, value engineering, environmental, et al) that can be a challenge to overcome.

Large scale projects will also face significant socio-political and financial challenges, as there will be impacts to the community and local jurisdiction commensurate with the scale of the project. A large project is a large impact, making a significant change to the physical landscape and social character of the area. Whether the project has the positive impact as planned or becomes a “white elephant” of failure, the big splash project does not have much in the way of possible mid-course adjustments.

Improving a neighborhood or community through many small projects, one site at a time, does not attract the societal energy as the concept does not provide for a “focus”. By working within the neighborhood structure and not bulldozing a major portion of it, the impact to the socio-political network is minimized. The disturbance energy is diffused over the time period. Mid-course corrections can be made, as costs, markets, and technology changes.

At the same time, continuity of effort and coordination for the long term is critical, whether an individual organization or several independent groups. Loss of focus and interest can undermine these small scale efforts, resulting in little or no positive impact.

Over time (and this is what it is all about), rehabilitating or replacing 100 units (residential or commercial) in an area can have the positive impact of a 100 unit project, without the large scale impacts or changes in transportation and utilities to a neighborhood. It would appear to be a matter of focus.