Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Comeback Neighborhood

Written by: on April 18, 2013

When I moved to Little Rock seven years ago, Liz and I wanted to be incarnational. We decided that it didn’t make any sense for a Mission minister, whose job it was to minister and connect to the downtown area, to live in the suburbs. So, we bought a house less than one mile from the church in an old, rundown part of downtown. A tornado had come through this area in 1999 and destroyed many homes and left others uninhabitable. Those homes that remained became crack houses and places for the homeless to call home. Within the first two years of living in our home I stood out my front door and watched three old dilapidated crack houses burn to the ground, fortunately nobody was injured or killed during those fires. Main Street, two blocks to my east, was another sign of urban decay. It was a street of empty buildings with litter floating about. It created a sense of hopelessness. HBO filmed a series about the gangs in Little Rock called ‘Banging in the Rock,” which was filmed in my neighborhood.  The place I now call home was abandoned long ago for the allure of the ‘perfect life’ in the suburbs

            Looking back, Liz and I were rather naive about what it would take to help turn this community around.  I didn’t know that I was about to be educated in zoning laws, city planning, streetscape, park development, local politics and much more. As I read Murray Jardine’s chapter on Constructing Christian Community, I found myself reading furiously, underlining everything and thinking back to the lessons I’ve learned and activities I’ve been fortunate to be part of. Below are a few things I’ve learned.

            A neighborhood needs a park. Macarthur Park was the cities oldest park and is almost 200 acres in size. Yet it was unused, in disrepair and full of illicit activities that belonged in a Hollywood series. A group of us starting meeting to figure out what would a vibrant park look like. Six years later the group has raised over 2.5 million dollars through various private & public partnerships. We’ve created a new boulevard, dog park, access road, fountains, plazas and much more. The park is now the center of activity not just for neighborhood residents but also for many who want to drive downtown and enjoy it. It has become a sign to many that things can change for the better. Check out the website:

            Our neighborhood has lots of empty lots and abandoned houses. I’m on the board of the Downtown Little Rock Community Development Corporation which exists to create affordable houses so as our neighborhood develops the working class won’t be pushed out of the area. Over the past 3 years we’ve built 15 new houses in the area, creating infill that brings life and neighbors.  Across the street from me (where those houses burned) there’s half a block of open green space. We’ve recently won an award to create a high-density pocket neighborhood of mixed housing. As the houses have been built the crime and illegal actives have also decreased. It feels more and more like a real neighborhood and less like gang zone.  Click here to check out our plan. 

            Another example of our redevelopment is the comeback of Main Street . We’re becoming the center of the Little Rock local foods and products movement. Gone are the empty buildings and litter. Here to stay is, among others, Boulevard Bread (a European bakery), a sculpture garden, The Oxford American magazine headquarters and the Green Corner Store. Because of the redevelopment of Main Street we now live in an accessible neighborhood that has new sidewalks, bike lanes and is extremely pedestrian friendly. People feel safe to walk all over the place. We’re even experimenting with removing driving lanes and adding bike lanes. My neighborhood is thriving and its best days are ahead of it. .

            It is very possible for neglected neighborhoods to make a comeback; it just takes a group of people dedicated to making it better. I’m fortunate because my church asks and blesses me to be involved in the downtown area, to make a difference.  Because of that involvement, I’ve learned things like zoning and low impact development that no seminary class can prepare you for.  Maybe they should though?


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