Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

New Book From Strong City Describes ‘Stories of Neighborhood Transformation’

As part of Strong City’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration, we are releasing a book describing how our organizing strategies have supported community-led visions for neighborhood change. The volume, titled Building Blocks: Stories of Neighborhood Transformationwill be available soon and can be pre-ordered right now. 

As part of Strong City’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration, we are releasing a book describing how our organizing strategies have supported community-led visions for neighborhood change. The volume, titled Building Blocks: Stories of Neighborhood Transformationwill be available soon and can be pre-ordered right now. 

Since our founding in 1969, Strong City has employed a holistic, “place-based” approach to community improvement: Local residents identify priorities, challenges, and assets, and we provide hands-on assistance as well as technical and logistical support backed by deep experience.Building Blocks explores how Strong City used its time-tested approach to help residents achieve their goals in a diverse group of Baltimore neighborhoods. With our support, these communities overcame significant struggles to emerge, typically after a decade or more, as places of greater opportunity and prosperity for legacy residents and newcomers alike: 

  • In Barclay, we provided a wide range of supportive services in our role as community advocate and intermediary between neighborhood residents and a socially responsible developer charged with creating mixed-income housing and community spaces.  
  • In Harwood, we took a comprehensive approach: facilitating block projects, training resident leaders, strengthening the local school, supporting youth in need of positive activities, and stepping in to operate an abandoned recreation center.  
  • In Remington, we supported the formation of a new, energetic neighborhood association that sought to revive a sense of civic purpose, and we also worked with a community-minded builder who revived a vacant warehouse and created needed housing.  
  • On the York Road Corridorwe worked with resident leaders and Loyola University Maryland to nurture a coalition of neighborhoods bridging one of Baltimore’s toughest racial and class divides. 

In each of these cases, Strong City played a vigorous but supporting role – always working toward goals set by residents themselves, never presuming to “fix” a neighborhood or to impose an outsider’s view of what should be done.  

“Neighborhood organizing is slow, painstaking work requiring great patience and persistence,” says Strong City CEO Karen D. Stokes. “What this book does, for the first time, is describe for a general audience how Strong City has supported communities in creating the change they want for themselves.” 

In telling the stories of these neighborhoods, Building Blocks also shares the lessons we have learned over 50 years of doing this difficult but ultimately rewarding work: 

  • Although each neighborhood’s strengths and challenges are unique, there are common themes that can be transferred from place to place.  
  • The role of trained community organizers in strengthening disinvested communities is critical and should be supported with philanthropic and government funding.  
  • Organizers help people establish group goals and strategies and take collective action to build power and make lasting impact.  
  • Racial divisions and past and present structural racism need to be identified and addressed head-on.  
  • Even small tangible, physical improvements are indispensable to creating a sense of power and effectiveness.  
  • Real, sustainable change in disinvested neighborhoods is possible, but it requires patience, persistence, and a commitment to collective action.  

Klaus Philipsen, author of the book Baltimore: Reinventing an Industrial Legacy City and the popular “Community Architect” blog, calls Building Blocks “a must-read for anybody who is willing to engage in the long haul of community restoration. … It provides a blueprint for the steps needed to stabilize and restore ‘middle neighborhoods’ or turn around disinvested communities. 

Building Blockspublished by our partner Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press, will be published in the coming weeks and made available at Strong City’s headquarters in East Baltimore, by mail, and at a bookstore near you.