Lowell Neighborhood Fresno Community Partnership - Background and Overview

The 2006 Brookings Institution Study Confronting Concentrated Poverty in Fresno identified the following:

  • Fresno was number one in the nation in concentrated poverty—the degree to which its poor were clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods. 
  • The Lowell community is one of the “extreme poverty neighborhoods” referred to in this study with 49% of the individuals in this community living below the poverty line of $15,219 for a family of three—this compares to the U.S. average of roughly 13%. 
  • Of the nearly 14,000 living in this neighborhood 70% speak a language at home other than English—with Spanish being the dominant alternative. 
  • One-hundred percent of the children attending Lowell Elementary School receive free or reduced-cost lunches. 

The City of Fresno made a calculated move to assist the Lowell neighborhood in the Spring of 2009. The Downtown & Community Revitalization Department (DCR) was formed at the City in early 2009 with the mission of revitalizing downtown Fresno and the neighborhoods of poverty surrounding the downtown corridor.  The Department was also important to the project as a home for several University students doing internships at City Hall.  Other City departments were also called upon to focus their efforts in Lowell – this included the Department of Public Works, the Police Department, the Department of Public Utilities, Code Enforcement, and the Parks Department.  The Director of DCR, Craig Scharton, was fond of saying:  “Lowell is the neighborhood where the City learns revitalization.”  The Mayor often called Lowell “ground zero” for the city’s revitalization efforts. 

The Lowell community was chosen as the first area to target resources and funding because of its strategic location (directly north of downtown Fresno), its relative size, and because of the neighborhood’s historic status. The plan was to focus resources on one target, determine appropriate strategies and limitations to implementation, then replicate the process in other neighborhoods.

The goal was grand:  Turn Lowell into a healthy, mixed-income, desirable, self-sustaining neighborhood.

A Collaboration is Formed

At a Summer 2009 meeting with the Chair of the Political Science Department, Associate Provost Ellen Junn learned of the city’s initiative to revitalize key, at-risk neighborhoods in the city, specifically the historic Lowell Neighborhood area. The timing seemed ripe for the university to consider a more focused, deliberative, strategic and collaborative approach to promoting service-learning and community engagement for our city in need.

First Steps

Key faculty were identified who would be interested in spearheading the Lowell Neighborhood Initiative with their students and their courses. Once these key faculty were identified, the Provost, Associate Provost and the Chair of Political Science invited members to a joint meeting of faculty and key city officials from the Fresno Downtown and Community Revitalization Department.

An important next step was to ask faculty to identify how their particular courses in their disciplines might involve students in Lowell for the Spring 2010 semester.

Faculty began incorporating Lowell-specific projects into their curriculum; students became more familiar with the neighborhood through these projects, internships and service-learning; and this outreach included such diverse courses as those in engineering, education, public administration, psychology, art, theater, social work, construction management, and real estate finance, to name a few.

In total, during the first year there were fourteen different faculty involved specifically in the Lowell project.