The 2015 Neighborhoods USA conference will be held May 20-23 in Houston and Angela Blanchard, CEO and President of Neighborhood Centers Inc. (NCI), will be the keynote speaker. NCI is the largest nonprofit in Texas with 70 sites that reach over half a million people in the Houston region every year. Below is an interview of Blanchard by Cite editor Raj Mankad.

Raj Mankad: In 2009, Cite published an article by Susan Rogers about plans for the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center for Gulfton and Sharpstown. Could you give us an update about that site and how it speaks to the approach of NCI?

Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center. Baker-RIpley Neighborhood Center.


Angela Blanchard: From the 2011 opening through 2014, 76,000 people were served. Thousands have learned English, many have become citizens, and others have gained the skills to start businesses. At the Neighborhoods USA conference, some will be looking at physical infrastructure, others at the way in which people are connected, still others are looking at social justice. The Baker-Ripley Center has pulled all these things together in a low-income neighborhood. A common approach in low-income neighborhoods is to pick one of those elements and try to bring life to the whole neighborhood with one element. That approach hasn’t worked. To create the vibrant places that most of us seek, where you can be a child, adult, and an older person, that requires that we pull in multiple elements. The challenge is that we live in a silo-ed world. Funding silos, policy silos, social research silos. It is up to organizations like NCI and other great non-profits to overcome silos, to pull together those elements, work through the bureaucracies, and arrange for all of those things to be present in the community. We love to talk about Baker-Ripley because so much of it is there.

RM: What do conference attendees coming from out of town have to learn from Houston?

AB: Houston is unlike places where most investment in underserved neighborhoods has been made. Land scarcity is more of a problem on the East Coast. We don’t have the same enclaves of subsidized housing where people can’t escape. Poverty is arranged differently here.

Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center. Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center.


Everyone has an idea how to redesign a neighborhood in Chicago and Washington D.C. The fast-growing Sun Belt cities don’t look like that. The landscape of poverty is a suprising one. Poverty is often dispersed, often suburban. A neighborhood may be very poor but a jumping-off point [for residents] after seven years. Neighborhoods are very fluid. Neighbors are turning over. If we are going to make neighborhoods stronger and more vibrant, we have to use a different lens.

I spend a lot of time imploring people to do three things: 1) Use a coordinated, comprehensive approach; 2) use an asset-based, appreciative inquiry approach (look for strengths not what is broken); 3) pay close attention to the starting assumptions.

We all have an idea of what a great neighborhood is. People want to live in a place where they are connected to their neighbors, instead of invisibility and anonymity. Places where the basic needs to conduct our lives are available, where healthcare services and financial services are available, where there are places to go and learn, and places to share.

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