Yes! Neighborhoods Matter!

Caroline Neilsen

Caroline Neilsen, City of La Crosse, Community Development Administrator

In the protests across the country, we’ve witnessed the frustrations of families and youth of being trapped in cycle of poverty, where violence is part of everyday life. In the La Crosse area, we too have large income inequalities whereby the poverty, crime, is largely concentrated in a few neighborhoods. So what?  Does it matter where you grow up in terms of your life outcomes? Do attempts to create more economic equalities and opportunities in our neighborhoods matter?

Results from a new study recently came back with a resounding, YES, neighborhoods matter. Harvard University researchers Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren found that children who grow up in some communities have better odds of escaping poverty than similar poor children elsewhere. (New York Times Article, Study)

“Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood matters,” stated Mr. Raj Chetty. The study looked at more than five million children who families moved from poor neighborhoods to better neighborhoods. The study found that every year a child spent in a better environment, improved their chances at upward mobility and potential to earn more income.

Improving the neighborhoods where poor children grow up in isn’t easy however.  Long-term, powerful economic forces have led to a situation where wealthier families have consistently moved out of the city of La Crosse and lower-quality housing and lower-income families have concentrated in a few areas.

And so our community finds itself at a critical stage too- do we continue pressing forward with initiatives such as La Crosse Promise, community policing, housing re-development, neighborhood-based programs, which aim to improve the quality of life in the poorest La Crosse neighborhoods? Do we continue to attempt a “whole of government” approach to finding joint-governmental solutions to these complex issues? Or do we remain siloed in our departments, our respective organizations, thinking we can go it alone or continue to do what we’ve always done and expect different results?

To successfully address these complex issues, we must build on the positive momentum that’s started. Creating meaningful cross-sector partnerships, with an open mind, is the only path forward to ensuring that families, no matter their income, can move to this beautiful city to find better opportunities and upward social mobility.