Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 84, Issue 1, pp 8–20 | Cite as

Community-Initiated Urban Development: An Ecological Intervention

  • Jan C. SemenzaEmail author
  • Tanya L. March
  • Brian D. Bontempo


Neglected urban environments have been linked to social isolation, depression, and other health problems. In Portland, OR in 2003, an intervention was implemented and evaluated in three neighborhoods with the objective of promoting community participation in urban renewal and engaging residents in the construction of attractive urban places. Municipal officials approved and permitted community-designed street murals, public benches, planter boxes, information kiosks with bulletin boards, trellises for hanging gardens, all positioned in the public right-of-way. Residents within a two-block radius of the three sites were systematically sampled and interviewed before (N = 325) and after (N = 349) the intervention, of which, 265 individuals completed both surveys of the panel study. After the intervention, multivariate results revealed improvements in mental health (p = 0.03), increased sense of community (p < 0.01), and an overall expansion of social capital (p = 0.04). Through community empowerment, participation, and collective action, the strategy successfully engaged residents in restoring neighborhoods, with direct benefits to community well-being.


Community development Health promotion Neighborhood Social capital  Social networks Urban environment. 



Funding for this public health intervention was obtained, in part, from the Meyer Memorial Trust, in Portland, OR (JCS); from a faculty enhancement award (JCS) and scholarly and creative activity grants for undergraduates (to Andrea Thompson, Eva Rippetau, and Troy Hayes) from Portland State University, OR.; and from the Community Initiatives Small Grant Program (JCS) from the Bureau of Housing and Community Development at the City of Portland. We are grateful to the members of The City Repair Project that are dedicated to create community-oriented places, in particular Mark Lakeman, Daniel Lerch, Saskia Dresler, Eva Miller, and Diane Beck; faculty and students from Portland State University, including Dr. Pedro Ferbel-Azcarate, Shanna Eller, Dr. Stephanie Farquhar, Dr. Sy Adler, and Dr. Barry Messer; staff from the Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Program, Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong, and Jenny Leis; City of Portland traffic engineers, Robert Burchfield and Elizabeth Papadopoulos; and local artists Brian Borello and Matt Cartwright. We thank Dr. Lisa Weasel from PSU for critical feedback on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan C. Semenza
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Tanya L. March
    • 1
  • Brian D. Bontempo
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Community HealthPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Mountain Measurement Inc.PortlandUSA
  3. 3.School of Community HealthPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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