University of South Carolina

Kresge grant to improve Columbia neighborhoods

Some areas in downtown Columbia have higher crime rates than other parts of the capital city.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina are hoping to change that, with help from a $650,000, three-year grant from the Kresge Foundation. The grant will be used to help residents identify concerns, become more involved and create healthy spaces in their own neighborhoods.

“As much as it is about crime and safety, it’s also about creating more opportunities for people to interact with one another, to develop relationships, trust and rapport,” said Dr. Darcy Freedman, an assistant professor in the College of Social Work and one of the study’s leaders. “Those things become the glue that keeps people together, promotes safety and reduces overall violence. The heart of this project is about creating community. As a byproduct, hopefully we’ll see crime go down.”

Freedman and her colleague, Dr. Ronald Pitner, also an assistant professor in the College of Social Work, are leading the project, collaborating with faculty from the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies and the department of criminology and criminal justice in the College of Arts and Sciences. The group will work with the Columbia Housing Authority to help implement the community-based, participatory study.

“The idea is to get people interacting more with each other, for residents to take ownership of the community and create healthy spaces in the community,” Freedman said.

More than 1,000 people live in the public-housing neighborhoods that border downtown Columbia, the target communities for this study. While there are many assets in these communities, the area has fairly high rates of violent and property crimes and is plagued with dilapidated housing, graffiti, homelessness and vagrancy.

“Research has shown that residents that live in low-income, high-crime areas tend to withdraw and not interact with each other as often. This can lead to more neighborhood decay, greater perceptions of crime and, ultimately, higher rates of crime,” Pitner said.

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Kresge grant

  • What: Three-year grant, worth $650,000, to help residents improve quality of life in neighborhoods
  • Who: Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations
  • Where: Public-housing neighborhoods in and around downtown Columbia

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