Poverty and Place: A Review of the Science and Research That Have Impacted Our Work 2019

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Over the past ten years, Purpose Built Communities (PBC) has helped local leaders launch 27 neighborhood revitalization projects across the country. They have an additional 50 projects in development. Given the nature of their work, PBC considers it critical to stay as informed as possible regarding the science and research in fields that can inform their practice.

The purpose of this document is to share the science and research from recent years that have influenced their efforts. It is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, but rather an overview of selected research that has influenced how they approach their work. This paper is not intended to be an explanation or defense of their specific approach. Instead, our goal is simply to share the work that has informed their thinking and to point out that which they think still needs to be understood for this fight against intergenerational urban poverty to be ultimately successful.

Purpose Built Communities was founded in 2009 with the mission of replicating the success of a place-based community transformation effort that began in the mid-1990s in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta. Tom Cousins, Julian Robertson and Warren Buffett founded the organization, because they believed that this model of neighborhood revitalization could be replicated elsewhere and, by doing so, potentially influence the way the country addressed the issue of intergenerational urban poverty.

Overall, the science and research in sociology, economics and related fields have taught four things:

1. Intergenerational urban poverty continues to persist and has not been materially reduced by public and private interventions over the past half century. Although those interventions have helped to alleviate the effects of poverty, they have done too little to address its root causes.

2. Intergenerational urban poverty is intrinsically linked to place, and more precisely, to neighborhoods. Distressed urban neighborhoods were engineered into existence by mal-intended public policy and private actions that were explicitly designed to segregate our cities and concentrate poverty into targeted neighborhoods.

3. These urban neighborhoods are highly distressed in the sense that they contain sources of toxic stress. It is exposure of children to these sources of toxic stress that impedes their healthy neurological and physiological development and serves as the engine of intergenerational poverty.

4. This root cause of intergenerational urban poverty—the exposure of children to sources of toxic stress—can be eliminated by transforming distressed neighborhoods into healthy ones. Healthy neighborhoods are self-sustaining, durable and produce young adults with the capacity to independently succeed and thrive in the world.

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