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Urban renewal brings new life to older neighborhoods

They are called urban pioneers, those determined individuals and families who see potential in decaying older homes.

They move into them breathing new life into the abandoned structures. They restore not only the buildings, but build a future for once-blighted communities. City neighborhoods are reborn in innovative ways to support redefined lifestyles. The phenomenon is uniquely fueled by the urban environment, and results often combine commerce, green space, art and entertainment with educational and residential development. It is an integrated approach to a modern lifestyle that is embraced by millennials, retirees and families in equal measure. There is no single formula, and that is the exciting aspect of this sort of transformative movement.

The direction of urban renewal has many faces. It requires some limited funding, a trail blazing spirit, and lots of imagination to transform abandoned neighborhoods or deserted industrial districts into successful models of residential, commercial or mixed-use development. Even though infrastructure often exists, it may be outdated or unsuitable for new designs. Energy-efficiency and sustainability are vital. Live-work-shop-play developments, whether adapted from structurally sound old buildings in walkable neighborhoods, or newly-constructed in densely-populated areas close to public transportation, are a popular model for impact investing.

A dramatic shift in expectations has occurred. The dream of young families a generation or two ago -- two children, a dog and a yard -- contributed to urban sprawl and emotional separation. Today, increasing numbers of people reject that lifestyle. Urban renewal embraces a different aesthetic. More attuned to technology, the focus is on resource preservation, energy efficiency, social issues and connection with the environment. Restoring downtown areas as places of business, culture and beauty has become a prime directive, redefining the green movement and presenting those with vision the ultimate recycling project.

It is an exciting time, with infinite possibility for new direction. Today's urban efforts are directed not simply at saving and restoring the past. They transform and redefine spaces, structures and lives. Cities as diverse as Chicago and Dallas, and as unalike as Portland, Maine, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, believe that old districts can be made new again, and that the future offers ever-growing opportunity.

Become an urban pioneer.  Keep your eye on the future, respect the past, and live wholly in the present.