America’s Forgotten ‘Middle Neighborhoods’

January 5, 2017 | | PDF

by Paul C. Brophy & Ira Goldstein

An estimated 46 percent of the nation’s urban population lives in a category of neighborhoods that local governments pay little attention to: America’s “middle neighborhoods.” These neighborhoods are generally affordable and attractive, and they offer a reasonable quality of life, but many of them are in danger of decline.

Middle neighborhoods typically receive little or no attention from mayors, city managers and local housing officials, in part because they are not distressed enough to qualify for federal Community Development Block Grant funds and because financially stressed local governments seldom allocate local tax dollars to neighborhood-improvement strategies. Yet, these neighborhoods, which provide a substantial portion of local property-tax revenues, can easily tip into decline unless steps are taken to improve the investment psychology for them.

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New Volume Explores ‘Middle Neighborhoods’ and their Decline in Cities Across America

New York, New York (December 9, 2016) – The American Assembly’s new book aims to stimulate a national dialogue about middle neighborhoods. Leading scholars and practitioners present new evidence indicating that a category of neighborhoods exists in many cities and surrounding areas that planners and policymakers have neglected. These areas surrounding many cities and suburbs are described as “on-the-edge” between growth and decline.

“Surprisingly, a careful look at a half-dozen cities indicates that one-third to over half of the population of these cities resides in middle neighborhoods,” explains Brophy. “Yet, planners and urban policymakers typically have no strategies to sustain or improve middle neighborhoods. In fact, federal programs—which are income restricted— are of little or no value in these working class neighborhoods.”

The shrinking middle class as well as growing income segregation and inequality in the United States is the backdrop for this publication. The authors in this volume believe that increasing understanding of middle neighborhoods will enhance the discussions underway nationally and locally about improving distressed neighborhoods or coping with gentrification.

“No Mayor wants his or her city to become home to only the poor or only the rich,” said Henry S. Webber, professor of practice at Washington University and an author in this volume. “They all want their cities to be home to a diverse population, including a large number of middle class residents. The declining number of middle neighborhoods threatens the viability of this goal.”

On the Edge authors present compelling data, provide ideas for action, and advocate for new and innovative community, housing, and education policies to better support on-the-edge neighborhoods.

Contact Michelle Olson, Mission Point Inc., 773-820-2565.

For more information:

  • Visit to learn more about the book, see excerpts, reviews, and learn about upcoming events.
  • The book is now available for purchase through Amazon.

About the American Assembly
The American Assembly is a public policy institute founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower at Columbia University. For over 60 years, The Assembly has fostered non-partisan public-policy discussions through convening, research, and publication. On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods is published and supported by The American Assembly through its Legacy Cities Initiative. Find out more at