By Listening, CHEER Maps the Future of Long Branch
I wanted to learn more about CHEER’s recent asset-mapping efforts. So, I got in touch with Bruce Baker, CHEER’s Executive Director. Our exchange, which has been edited lightly, is below.
In December of last year, CHEER came out with an Asset Map Survey Report . Would you tell me a little bit about it?
CHEER’s mission is to give people the knowledge and ability to create healthy, thriving communities, especially in less-represented and less well-served neighborhoods. Two of the priority goals articulated by community members is to make housing available to people of all income levels, and to create safe comfortable spaces where people can interact with each other, and independent, locally-owned businesses can thrive.
As the Purple Line light rail system is constructed development pressures will be placed on the communities close to the planned stations in Long Branch and the Takoma Langley Crossroads. This will bring enormous change. There is an enormous potential for positive development and community improvements, but there are also risks of disruption and harm to the assets that make the community work for many of its residents. The Purple Line Corridor Coalition has defined goals for influencing community development all along the Purple Line to serve the communities well, by preserving and expanding affordable housing, preserving independent locally-owned businesses, expanding work opportunities, and improving place.
As a member of the Purple Line Corridor Coalition and with the financial support of Enterprise Community Partners, CHEER conducted an asset map survey to identify the physical and natural assets that Long Branch has that are valuable to the community, how those assets can be improved, and which assets are not serving the community well. This is one of the first steps in formulating a community-defined plan for transit-oriented development in Long Branch around the Purple Line stations. This survey and report were done by CHEER with the technical support of a local consulting firm, &Access. The asset survey report and map provide valuable information for community planning.
Why is asset mapping important?
Asset mapping builds knowledge about what works for a community. Development occurs most successfully when it builds on existing assets and strengths. Development plans that bring enormous change without awareness of community assets run the risk of harming or destroying those assets. This can undermine the nature and character of a place and impair what makes neighborhoods work. An asset map draws attention to those assets and allows for conscious choices that allow for changes that build and improve communities, rather than harm or destroy them.
What are a few of the major takeaways from the process?
We learned a lot about engaging community members through a rigorous survey. We found that there was not as much understanding of the benefits of taking the survey among non-white community members. The survey took time and used technology that was less familiar to some of these people. It took extra time and effort to get some participants to go through the survey so that it was close to being representative of the whole community. In the future, we will look to more varied ways to obtain information. We intend to reach out to groups that were underrepresented in the survey and include them in focus group discussions that will go deeper into community assets than surveys can.
What effects has COVID-19 had on the Long Branch community?
The survey found that COVID-19 has disrupted everyone. And it affirmed what we had seen from surveys of CHEER program participants. A disproportionately large portion of the Hispanic community lost employment, and/or income during the pandemic. They were far more likely to have fears about paying rent and staying in their homes. We also know that the disruption of school and regular social contact has also placed added stress on these families.
Did any of the survey results surprise you?
A special section of the asset map was targeted at youth. And there were two surprising results from the survey. The first was how much youth value being connected to and serving the community. The second was how difficult it is for youth to get together for socializing and after school activities. This is partly because of accessibility barriers, such as the cost of programs and unsafe streets that make walking and biking difficult.
Where does CHEER go from here?
We will go deeper into the asset mapping questions through a series of focus groups that will provide a richer understanding than is possible through surveys. In these focus groups, we intend to reach out to groups that were underrepresented in the survey and make sure their voices are included. Beyond this, CHEER will convene a community stakeholder group to use these findings to formulate community goals and develop measures of progress for achieving these goals. These will be helpful for guiding a community-driven plan for the future of Long Branch.