Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Jeff Carter was used to seeing decaying properties that dotted the city—much like those that plague old Baton Rouge communities.
Mobile took a hit in the 1960s, between the closing of the Brookley Air Force Base in 1969 and the white flight that dominated the era, leaving large swaths of the city vacant or falling into disrepair, according to Fast Company.
“Mobile has a history of its most valuable export being its children,” Carter says. “I’m the only guy who’s never left.”
The story of blighted, abandoned communities of Mobile is one that has played out across the U.S., Fast Company reports. It’s a story of “the rich and poor in America, of unregulated real estate, and of centuries of inequality.” It’s a story of smaller cities, rural areas, where populations are declining and blight is rising—Springfield, Massachusetts. Huntington, West Virginia. And Baton Rouge.
The difference, though, is Mobile is stopping it.
A small team, led by Carter and a group of government employees and funded by a Bloomberg grant, has not only drastically reduced the amount of blighted properties in the city, but also managed to change state law to allow the city to take ownership of properties, repair and sell them.
Innovation teams like this are known for rolling out new ways for cities to function, for building apps or designing websites, but a small team changing the constitution is unheard of, according to Fast Company.
An important move because simply tearing abandoned houses down 1) doesn’t really address the problem, 2) negatively impacts surrounding property values and 3) reduces the inventory of affordable housing. Another important key: In communities like Baton Rouge many residents know the families who once lived in a now-blighted house and are reluctant to be OK with its destruction. The solution is involving and actively engaging a cross-section of residents when attacking the problem.
Read the full story to find out how the Mobile team changed the narrative.