This project was completed in collaboration with the City of Auburn’s Department of Community Development and the Citizens Advisory Committee in order to help determine the allocation of funds from a potential Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Block grant for the city of Auburn, Maine. This project involved conducting a quality-of-life survey of local residents in order to evaluate the current situation in the three blighted neighborhoods. The overall goal was to gather public opinion so that the Citizen’s Advisory Committee and the Director of Community Development could make informed decisions about future neighborhood projects and improvements.
Urban blight is often defined as simply the decay and deterioration of an urban area due to neglect or age. However, “… an ambiguous conceptualization of blight can lead to mismatches between actual urban conditions and codified public policy targets” (Weaver and Bagchi-Sen, 2013, 61). Weaver and Bagchi-Sen make it clear in this quote that because it is difficult to define or conceptualize blight, it is often poorly addressed with public policies. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that urban blight is a complex and dynamic term. Furthermore, it is important to remember that it is often faulty city planning, and not the people themselves, that result in the dilapidation of urban areas. People do not embody blight. It is important to distinguish people living in blighted areas and blight itself (Weaver, 2013, 62).
Although it is often traditionally those in power who are given the opportunity to determine the content of a landscape, it is those directly experiencing blight who can provide the best advice on how to address issues in their neighborhoods. Therefore, for this project we will be conducting quality of life surveys in three Auburn neighborhoods affected by blight: New Auburn, Union Street, and Downtown. The implementation of a survey seems to be the most effective first step towards improving the quality of life in an urban neighborhood because it is taking into account the needs of the actual residents, rather than the ideals of the policy-makers. Residents were asked to judge their respective neighborhoods based on several characteristics ranging from attractiveness to infrastructure.
The primary results from this project suggest that residents in the New Auburn neighborhood specifically would like to see the expansion of green spaces such as community gardens, bike and jogging trails, and easy access to river areas. A large percentage of residents also want to see “better” housing, although they were not asked to specify in what way. In general, residents throughout Auburn do not take full advantage of the bus system. Residents among all three neighborhood would also like to see improvements to sidewalks and unsafe street intersections.
Polio, Katie; Manchester, Gunnar; and Wallace, Shana, "Strong Neighborhoods: A Quality of Life Survey in New Auburn, Auburn, Maine" (2014). Community Engaged Research Reports. 14.