The Neighborhood Story Project: Keeping More Than Our Homes
Gentrification—commonly understood as the transformation of areas with high levels of affordable housing into areas targeting middle and upper income uses—provokes a range of losses. People may lose their homes, neighbors, and sites of historical significance, along with their sense of place, belonging, and history. Yet, policy makers and community practitioners often restrict interventions in gentrifying neighborhoods to the material effects, such as trying to reduce displacement through the creation and preservation of affordable housing. While such responses are critical, they fail to recognize and address other harms residents may be experiencing concurrent with or independent from a loss of housing. This study explores the Neighborhood Story Project, a 3-month action research intervention engaging residents as researchers in their communities. Through a multi-case constructivist study of the intervention in three gentrifying, Nashville neighborhoods, I find that participants deepened their place-knowledge and place-attachments, strengthened social ties, and developed an increased sense of agency to advocate on behalf of their community. Results suggest that interventions such as the Neighborhood Story Project can complement efforts to build and preserve affordable housing in important ways. Through creating a learning, caring, and empowering environment, The Neighborhood Story Project offers a practice model for fostering attachments to people and places, and facilitating collective action in gentrifying neighborhoods. This study also suggests the need to retheorize gentrification to better account for the more than material dimensions of neighborhoods, and for researchers to engage residents as theorizers and agents of change in their communities.