Bike Start-Up Improves Neighborhood Safety and Economic Opportunities for Youth

It is no surprise that residents want to feel safe in their communities.  According to the National Research Center, nearly every resident reported that safety is the most important element of living in a good community.  In many communities across America, maintaining public safety is often considered the responsibility of local government and law enforcement agencies.  However, in one neighborhood in Indianapolis residents have organized to improve safety and build community by combining resources and launching a community-based bike repair and retail shop.  Grassroots Grantmakers highlights one resident-led initiative that may prove to be more impactful than what many civic and philanthropic leaders think.

Grassroots Grantmakers highlights this story for several reasons; mainly from the perspective of viewing communities fundamentally from an asset perspective in what communities possess, shifting from a deficit model view of low-income neighborhoods. The Riverside neighborhood, without institutional funding, identified an opportunity to build community, provide resources, and improve the perception of safety by bringing neighbors together.

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In the Riverside neighborhood of Indianapolis, considered a high crime area with limited economic opportunities, residents noticed the increased number youth, particularly African American males, who were not only riding bikes, but also spending much of their time fixing and enhancing their bikes.  As a result, Riverside residents decided to make a strategic investment in their community and their youth by donating money, tools and space to launch a community bike shop.  By the end of the summer, with the help of donated bikes from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), the Riverside bike shop opened with great fan fair and providing neighborhood youth with the opportunity to earn a $12 per hour wage.  Like most start-ups, sustainability is yet to be seen.  However, the greatest aspect of this start-up story is that it was completely resident-led with the sole purpose of supporting the gifts and talents of neighborhood residents.

 “It is important to show everyone that there is good here [Riverside] and not just the crime and negative Stuff.” – Riverside Neighborhood Resident

At the forefront of this community initiative is DeAmon Harges, President of The Learning Tree, a resident-led community investment company, a faulty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute and current board chair of Grassroots Grantmakers.  As a professional community-builder, Harges spends most of his time training individuals, organizations and institutions to see communities as a collective story of people, and their resources, gifts, assets, and social capital that can be leveraged, combined and invested to improve the quality of residents.  Harges suggests that the impetus behind the Riverside neighborhood bike shop, and numerous other community projects and initiatives launched by The Learning Tree, is that we start by looking at our neighbors as gifted humans, not potential crime statistics,” says Harges.  He adds, “the police are trained to look for the bad, we simply seek to uncover the talent within our own community and raise funds from residents to invest in providing opportunities for our neighbors.”

While homicides and non-fatal shootings in communities across America dominate the daily news cycle, violent crime has actually decreased significantly since peaking in the early 90’s.  According to the Pew Research Center, since 1993, violent crime reported by local law enforcement is down nearly 50% and self-reported victimization rates are down by 66% during the same time period.  However, our residents are not feeling as safe as the national violent crime data may suggests.  Nearly 60% of residents surveyed believed that violent crime increased over the past decade even though every measure of violent crime has decreased by double digits.

Within the field of philanthropy and grassroots organizing, it is widely known that violent crime disproportionately affects African American males.  In fact, according to the CDC, homicide is either the leading or second leading cause of death among African American males between the ages of 10 and 39 years of age.  However, the Riverside residents are also investing in evidence-based strategies that have been found to reduce violence within communities.  There is strong evidence that suggest investing in youth employment initiatives can significantly decrease youth mortality rates.  However, youth employment rates are at historical lows and the demand for jobs far outpace supply of employment opportunities for youth.

“We’re not funded where we can just go out and order this or order that, we have to use what we got.”- Robbie Cole

“The bike shop shows everyone that we can do something about our own place.” – Riverside Resident

Numerous criminologist have studied the reasons why crime has decreased overall, yet most ignore the work of resident-led efforts and voluntary associations’, in partnership with more formal initiatives, and its collective ability to strengthen community networks, informal social control and decrease violent crime.  As discussed in the article Community and the Crime Decline, research shows that the prevalence of resident engagement, and the subsequent formation of community organizations, is associated with decreased rates of neighborhood violence.

In this case, Riverside residents created employment opportunities based on the identified interests of their youth.   On the surface the bike shop appears to be an extension of community investment initiatives proven to reduce arrests and violent crime; however, for the youngest generation, creating entrepreneurship opportunities are even more attractive then traditional youth employment initiatives.  According to multiple studies, the majority of youth and young adults between the ages of 13-22 either own a business or plan to own their own business, are self-employed or engaged in some type of secondary employment opportunity to generate income.  For various reasons, this next generation is one of the most entrepreneurial and hardworking generations in history.  Therefore, coming together to start a bike shop may resonate higher than working at an existing neighborhood retail store.  Bike shop employees are actually learning critical soft skills and developing bike mechanic skills, experiences that will be valuable when entering the workforce.

“In my backyard, I use to sell bikes for people; I have been fixing bikes since I was eight, I am 14 now.  [At the bike shop] I learned how to bring people together, sell bikes and just be a man.”
– Jaden Holland

“The bike shop has changed the neighborhood.”
– Riverside Resident

As community investment professionals, we know that critical quality of life issues that affect crime, including, but a not limited to, low education attainment rates, chronic joblessness and limited employment opportunities as well as limited access to affordable healthcare, mental health services, and housing in safe neighborhoods with a strong sense of community.  As a commitment to our residents, Grassroots Grantmakers will continue to highlight resident-led efforts aimed and addressing the most essential feature of a good community – safety.


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