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The desire for healthy cities with attractive neighborhoods and vibrant business districts has spawned a variety of beautification and redevelopment efforts in recent years, but the birth of those efforts is not at all recent.

In 1946, Rhode Island authorized creation of redevelopment agencies in every city and town in the state in an effort to fight blight. Today, the broad powers of such agencies, in cities across the country, contribute to economic growth and enable neighborhood revitalization with both public and private funds.  It's an effort that involves much more than simply applying "make-up" to an aging face of America.

Traditional redevelopment agencies are empowered to use public funds to buy blighted property that is then offered for sale to private buyers, usually with the stated purpose of encouraging new development. Sometimes, incentives are offered as part of the sale. In other cases, price or advantageous terms are attractive to buyers. The goal is always to prevent or reverse neighborhood decline and decay.

Public and privately-funded redevelopment agencies effect change across the nation, allowing individuals access to funding resources that not only change physical attributes, but that change lives as well. Funding is often derived from taxes or special bond issues, but public-private partnerships are extremely effective and efficient. Major projects such as the redesign of the Dallas Farmers Market and its surrounding neighborhoods benefit tremendously from this sort of cooperative effort. In some instances, cities offer tax incentives or direct payments to owners and contractors to bring blighted property up to standard.  Other cities get creative with their goals.

When large tracts are cleared for redevelopment, lots may be offered at lower than market rate in exchange for immediate construction. Some agencies require a mix of market rate and affordable housing, or some sort of live-work development. Still others focus on bringing green space, community gardens, health care and public services to neighborhoods. If you are interested in being a part of the change, check out public and private redevelopment agencies in your area of interest. The best place to start is with the organization homepages on Derelict.com.

By working with local redevelopment agencies, individuals from Havre de Grace, Maryland, to Havre, Montana, contribute to the character and the future well-being of their hometowns. The battle against neighborhood decline and urban blight is ongoing. During the past three decades, Main Street programs have pumped $49 billion in reinvestment funding into communities across the nation. Creative funding is not likely to dry up, and the opportunities are immense.