Date: Mon, 29 Apr 1996 10:18:07 CDT Sender: H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing & <COMM-ORG@UICVM.UIC.EDU> Subject: PAPER: "Before the Neighborhood Organization Revolution" Posted by Wendy Plotkin <>

I am pleased to announce the next paper in the seminar.

Patricia Mooney-Melvin's " Before the Neighborhood Organization Revolution: Cincinnati Neighborhood Improvement Associations, 1890-1950" challenges several modern myths about neighborhood organizing: that the "neighborhood movement" in the U.S. began in the 1940s or the 1960s, and that, for those who acknowledge an earlier incarnation at the turn of the century, it did not die out in the 1920s through the 1950s as a victim of industrialization and modern society.

Mooney-Melvin introduces as evidence the experience of several "neighborhood improvement associations" in Cincinnati in the first half of the century. These associations focused on physical problems and improvements needed in the wake of Cincinnati's growth -- the laying out of railroad tracks through the city with their potential for accidents, the need for coordination in laying out streets and water/sewer lines, and the securing of streetcar lines for one's neighborhood, for example. They acted as advocates for their areas before City Hall -- and when they saw that they shared similar concerns with other neighborhoods, federated with the associations of those neighborhoods to amplify their strength. Thus, they dealt with the enlarged scope of the metropolis not by ignoring the neighborhoods as organizing units, but organizing them and then federating with other such organizations.

Mooney-Melvin draws on the work of John E. Davis on neighborhoods and collective action, CONTESTED GROUND: COLLECTIVE ACTION AND THE URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991) in theorizing about the significance of "place" in modern society. She observes

Locality-based action does not necessarily mean that all parties have all the same interests; different relationships to and uses of property in any given neighborhood will shape the limits of neighborhood mobilization. The main point, however, is that it is very difficult to ignore the conditions in which we live or the fact of place.....

Finally, Mooney-Melvin offers her hypothesis on the persistence of the myth of the origins of the neighborhood movement in the post-World War II era.

To obtain a copy of "Before the Neighborhood Organization Revolution," send e-mail to with the message: GET NEIGHBOR IMPROVE

or obtain it from our WWW site at:

As always, comments are welcome.

Wendy Plotkin COMM-ORG