Special thanks to the “The Liberty City Community Collaborative for Change: A BUILD Health Challenge” team for sharing their reflections and learnings on their BUILD Opportunity Fund Award in this blog. BUILD awardees were eligible for ad hoc funding awards to catalyze efforts in policy, data, system change, and/or health equity that complemented their ongoing efforts to support community health.

The residents of Liberty City are facing a great deal of change. A $300 million dollar redevelopment plan for Liberty Square will add mixed-income housing, shopping and commercial business space, and re-imagined public housing. Newly released figures show that homicides, as well as burglaries and assaults, are down across Miami, including in Liberty City, but issues persist. As the neighborhood changes, there remains a need to identify root causes of crime and violence as well as the direct association to individual and community health outcomes. The Liberty City Community Collaborative for Change: A BUILD Health Challenge was launched in Liberty City to address crime and violence by bringing health care, public health, and community leaders together. The Florida Institute for Health Innovation (FIHI), a key partner in the Liberty City Community Collaborative for Change, received $25,000 from the BUILD Health Challenge Opportunity Fund award program to collect and analyze data to inform the creation of an integrative, holistic mental health intervention.

Following the deaths of two high school students in 2018 in Liberty Square, Miami police increased the presence of police cars, mounted patrols, and the number of cameras on the street monitoring crime. Youth activists held community protests, as well as several community meetings regarding concerns about gang violence, drug trafficking, and a sense of deepening community apathy given the anticipated ground breaking for redevelopment. As Liberty City adjusts and elevates its discourse on how to ensure that the investment in housing, policing, and forums will reduce crime, bring much needed jobs and job training, and bolster social programming, stakeholders should keep at least three important ideas in the forefront to promote health and safety.

First, it is important to invest in the protection of safe community space and public resources, including green space. Green spaces make communities healthier. Communities that have resources like walkable parks, clean community centers, and gardens promote the development of social functioning. Such spaces encourage residents to be more open to one another, foster acquaintance networks, and develop communal reliance. Green and protected public space also provides opportunities to transmit information about the neighborhood to other residents, law enforcement, community activists, and stakeholders. When the spaces are designed, kept, and used by the residents, they are more likely to develop a sense of personal investment in the community, which further strengthens communal bonds.

Second, social cohesion and trust between community residents and among residents, law enforcement, and other stakeholders facilitates reduction in crime and disorder. It will be important for the Liberty City community to ensure that community programs, social interventions, and further investments encourage collective willingness to intervene, and that appropriate venues and platforms exist for doing so. The use of technology for reporting disruptive activity anonymously and tracking crime hotspots can not only provide much needed data for prevention, but also provide data for community feedback and planning. This information can better inform community advisory boards, neighborhood watch programs, or religious groups and other advocates for action. Trust and social cohesion are both essential to crime prevention and neighborhood restoration.

Third, the City of Miami, developers, and Liberty City residents and champions must ensure that with any changes to the neighborhood, there are more equitable opportunities for both work and appropriate social supports. Employment isn’t just an income source, but a means for adding purpose and meaning to life overall. Any community with increased income will thrive; fair job opportunities, job training and placement will signal a commitment to building the community and offer alternative pathways to a livelihood. This is especially important for youth and young adults who are beginning to form social ties and communal bonds. The more opportunity youth and young adults realize, the less likely they are to become a part of gangs. Moreover, these young adults will be more willing to talk to key stakeholders about community concerns. Having youth and young adults at the table early for conversations on employment, education, and recreation is key for micro-targeting problems instead of blanketing the community with mass policing and restrictions. Expansion of opportunity and investment must simultaneously reach service organizations (public, non-profit, and faith-based) who are best positioned to be responsive to address trauma, social conflicts, and experiences of violence or crime.

Communities may change in cycles, over time or sometimes rapidly, for any number of civic, social, or economic reasons. Liberty City is at the cusp of change, and it is yet to be known how this will improve, reshape, or redefine the lives of its residents. What is certain is that as changes unfold, there must be a concerted effort for preservation of communal memory, fairness, and restorative justice. The benchmark of service integration is visible collaboration within and between healthcare, social service agencies, law enforcement, and community advocates. Further work must continue in Liberty City to gather data for mobile crime site mapping, and to analyze and present resident survey data, qualitative interview responses, and systematic social observations. Together this will better inform community-based interventions centered on coordinated community response and sustainable centers of responsive care.

The next phase of the Liberty City Community Collaborative for Change will focus on strategic planning for improved public safety, using evidence-based and community-designed crime prevention and restorative justice interventions.


About BUILD’s Opportunity Fund:

In 2018, BUILD’s funder collaborative allocated $250,000 (total) to be made available for past BUILD awardees in an effort to support BUILD projects and improve community health. The goal of this fund is to provide monetary support to awardees when a unique opportunity to catalyze efforts in a targeted manner presented itself. From these projects, BUILD sought to gain insights into the BUILD model, systems change, and better understand the role of targeted interventions that have the potential to be replicated or scaled.