As we know very well here in the Inland Empire, California, there is value in undeveloped land. It can provide a blank slate for development, can host renewable energy systems such as large-scale solar or wind power, or can be preserved to let the natural systems thrive. But while we focus on the possibilities of a vacant lot, we sometimes miss the value of our older, more mature neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have established infrastructure, central locations, mature trees, and community pride. Sometimes however, they appear run down and undesirable, a phenomenon that hides the neighborhoods’ true potential and can also indicate hidden problems. Take Riverside’s Eastside neighborhood for example.
The Eastside is one of Riverside’s oldest neighborhoods, established when the City was founded in 1870. It was home to many grove workers during the citrus boom of the early 20th century, and many of their families still live there. The neighborhood is within walking distance of the growing Downtown, close to major (and growing) logistics jobs, and only a few miles from the University of California-Riverside. It’s easy to navigate Eastside streets, along which there are decades-old oak trees. There are also a few large parks, community centers, and access to a Metrolink commuter rail station. In fact, the site Areavibes rates the Eastside as “very livable.” So why isn’t the Eastside one of the most desirable areas of Riverside?
The Eastside illustrates many challenges faced by aging neighborhoods. The median home value in the community is $221,400, which is about 26% lower than the City’s $299,100 median. The average household income for the 92507 area code is $39,564, compared with $55,636 for the City of Riverside, and 33.1% of residents are below the poverty line, compared to 19.1% for the City. Seventy-five percent of residents have a high school or higher education, but only 25% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The Eastside-Downtown area was designed by the State of CA as a Medically Underserved Area, and in 2009 the Riverside County Joint Health Coalition (RCJHC) was formed, identifying many health issues in the Eastside, including a lack of healthy food choices and high rates of obesity and inactivity. Added to this is the fact that connections between the Eastside and other neighborhoods have evolved over time such that the Eastside’s main streets are arterial routes, focused on moving high volumes of cars through the neighborhood at the expense and safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
If issues like these are addressed, residents of neighborhoods like the Eastside will be more likely to enjoy the benefits that a mature neighborhood can provide. Programs such as the Eastside HEAL Zone, a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and the RCJHC, focus on the availability of healthy food and increasing physical activity, especially among children. Community programs can help keep kids occupied and focused on graduating high school and going to college, rather than adding to the already-high crime statistics. Improving connections for cyclists and pedestrians could increase access for those who cannot afford a car. If realized, solutions such as these could add up to a healthier population that has more time to enjoy the shade of those big trees.
What are some other ways to improve the value of mature neighborhoods? What mature and successful neighborhoods exist in your community? Share your thoughts and city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Taylor York. Data linked to sources.