A strong neighborhood is one where neighbors know and interact with one another. As Jane Jacobs wrote in The Life and Death of American Cities, successful neighborhoods are those where individual households look after each other. Sometimes these neighborhoods occur naturally; other times they are created with the help of strong neighborhood leaders.
Leadership is vital to community change. Without neighborhood leadership it is unlikely a neighborhood will have the organization and solidarity it takes to achieve the positive improvements that make a neighborhood stronger and more stable. Furthermore, in order to ensure that the community is involved in determining the future of their community it is paramount that the leader comes from that respective community.
Even with a strong, passionate neighborhood leader and united, organized neighborhood residents, achieving positive community change is not easy. This is especially true in distressed neighborhoods that have experienced years of disinvestment from the civic and business communities and even from the residents and landlords themselves. Often a committed neighborhood leader must not only be able to organize their neighborhood, but also must learn how to navigate local governmental systems. This can take time, energy, and luck.
Neighborhood leadership training programs are a valuable resource for all neighborhoods. These programs can provide leaders with the knowledge and tools it takes to organize their neighborhood by teaching them how to effectively and efficiently run community meetings, how to build support and consensus around neighborhood issues, and the various avenues that can be taken to achieve neighborhood goals. Providing a neighborhood leader with leadership training can serve as a catalyst for community change. In the St. Louis area the University of Missouri- St. Louis, the University of Missouri Extension and the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations all provide technical leadership training to grassroots leaders.
In addition to organizing residents and advocating for neighborhood improvements it is important that neighborhood leaders are aware of and utilize the assets in the community. These assets can take the form of special skills a resident has, churches and non-profits who serve the community, businesses, libraries, and schools located in the neighborhood, and larger corporations, hospitals and universities in the area. Some of the strongest and most enduring neighborhood stabilization efforts in the St. Louis area have come from partnerships between unified neighborhood residents and large organizations such as Purina in the LaSalle Park neighborhood, AmerenUE in the near southside of St. Louis and Barnes Jewish Hospital and the Washington University Medical Center in the Central West End and Forest Park Southeast neighborhoods.