Beyond the glitter of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the gleam of Cleveland's professional ballparks lies the modest but gritty neighborhood known as the Stockyard. A half-century ago, the community housed one of the largest livestock yards in the country. Today, little evidence of that past remains, except for the name, the working-class houses that sit close together on tree-lined streets and the blue-collar workers who live there.
Cut off from downtown Cleveland physically by highways and economically, the Stockyard is typical of many low-income neighborhoods in urban America: poor and isolated from the wealth of the rest of the city. But the situation in the Stockyard isn't entirely bleak. In a neighborhood storefront sits the Westside Community Computer Center, a product of the Stockyard Community Association, a nonprofit group. Inside are about a dozen networked computers, where residents can learn about computing and the Internet. Local families can also stop in and purchase inexpensive, used PCs from the center.
But the real benefit of the Westside Computer Center goes beyond training and offers of low-cost PCs for sale. The storefront is creating a social buzz that's been long absent in the neighborhood. People from different walks of life are coming to the center, congregating, learning, talking and establishing new relationships.
Thanks to the Internet, these small community centers are helping revitalize and change the social capital that exists in poor urban communities, according to a new report on urban development and the Internet. Social capital has to do with networks that can improve communities by bridging gaps between different groups in society and helping them come together in ways they normally do not. A report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "Cities Online: Urban Development and the Internet," looks at ways the Internet is shaping social networks within inner city neighborhoods and how the Internet is serving their needs.
According to the report's author, John Horrigan, the Internet is changing everything from foot traffic in poor neighborhoods to social interactions. "When you make the Internet available to someone who hasn't been exposed to the technology, the process of learning about it becomes a social process," he explained. "You can't just give a person a computer and a phone jack and expect them to learn by themselves. It involves training and getting people engaged in the process."
This kind of social interaction not only expands opportunities for people who get Internet access but it's creating excitement in neighborhoods, like the Stockyard, as people get to know each other from different environments. The result is a decline in apathy, Horrigan pointed out, along with skills building that can help poor people get better jobs and housing.
Internet and Foot Traffic
Horrigan examined five cities for his report and found that the Internet is generating new energy as public, private and nonprofit organizations realize they can transform traditional roles in government and business, and promises a closer, more interactive relationship between a community and its citizens.
In Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; as well as Cleveland, Horrigan found clear evidence that the Internet was changing social norms, especially when community development centers offered Internet services and training. "By virtue of having the Internet at these community organizations, foot traffic has changed substantially within neighborhoods," he pointed out. "The secondary impact has been in the new relationships and social networks that have formed because of the Internet and its ability to draw people together."
Cleveland may not be known as a center for Internet innovation, but the city's various neighborhood organizations have become adept at using the Internet for community purposes. Bill Callahan, director of the Westside Community Center, said the goal of his organization is to generate a large volume of traffic at