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Collective action problem

I like this excerpt from City Observatory:

“More broadly, this paper reminds us of the salience of stigma to neighborhood development. Once a neighborhood acquires a reputation in the collective local consciousness for being a place that is risky, declining, crime-ridden or unattractive, it may be difficult or impossible to get a first-mover to take the necessary investment that could turn things around. The collective action problem is that no one individual will move ahead with investment because they fear (rationally) that others won’t, based on an area’s reputation. A big part of overcoming this is some action that changes a neighborhood’s reputation and people’s expectations, so that they’re willing to undertake investment, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

It’s taken from an article called: Getting to critical mass in Detroit. The article itself is a response to some of the criticism circulating around that Detroit’s rebound is lopsided toward downtown. But Joe Cortright argues


that this is indeed the way to go about it. Concentrate efforts. Establish a critical mass. And then expand from there.

What I like about the above excerpt is that it’s a reminder that optics, storytelling, and identity all have an important role to play in city building. It’s also a reminder that momentum can develop in either direction and that neighborhood reputation’s can get exaggerated.

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