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Neighborhoods take action

June 5, 2012
By JAMES PIRKO - Community Columnist , Tribune Chronicle |

"The only thing that stops apathy is enthusiasm." This statement by Mike Cline at a neighborhood association meeting on the South Side of Niles describes what is happening throughout the Mahoning Valley.

In neighborhoods where people had given up, defeated by hopeless malaise, residents are now getting out of their homes, getting together to discuss what is happening on their streets, getting to work addressing problems and making improvements that are getting results that can be seen by one and all.

Gardens are growing on properties that were abandoned blight. Vacant buildings have been repaired or demolished, and vacant lots have been cleared of trash and litter. Homeowners are investing in home improvements, rather than moving away. Recreational green spaces are inviting residents to enjoy the outdoors. Families are coming together for neighborhood events and activities to provide their children with opportunities to play in a safe environment. So much has been done, and so much more needs to be completed.

These accomplishments are made by ordinary people who have developed the skills to organize and take action where they live. This typically starts with the neighborhood associations, usually formed as crime watch teams to notify the police about crimes and other suspicious activities. The more that neighbors work together, they expand their mission to accomplish even more.

In Youngstown's historic Idora Park neighborhood, a video movie shows how Big Jim London and his team have brought a neighborhood in transition back from the brink, and into vitality. Vacant abandoned houses have been restored to become families' homes. Businesses are being encouraged to thrive and provide jobs in the neighborhood. A commercial fish farm will soon be providing fresh tilapia, to be served in restaurants and home dinner tables.

The same commitment could be seen at a meeting in Warren's historic Perkins neighborhood, with concerns about preserving irreplaceable homes from Warren's heyday, and enhancing the quality of life for the next generation to enjoy. Along Atlantic Street, the Trumbull County Treasurer's Land Bank is teaming with Gregg's Gardens to transform vacant lots into blooming fields of wildflowers. These are just a few examples of the wonderful things citizens can do when they learn to organize.

In Youngstown, the 7th Ward Citizens Coalition drew together several small neighborhood associations and crime watch groups. People are building a network of cooperation across Youngstown's South Side. The Youngstown Neighborhood Leadership Council is taking this strategy throughout the city, inspired by the citywide efforts of the Warren Neighborhood Leadership Council.

This did not just happen overnight, but has been building for years. ACTION, the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods, was established in 2001 by 2500 people from churches and other faith-based and neighborhood organizations, to deal with crime, blight, unemployment, and education.

In 2002, the city of Youngstown embarked on the development of Youngstown 2010, to reinvent the city with a bold new approach. Jay Williams, then serving as Community Development director, called upon Youngstown State University's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, and the citizens of Youngstown in a series of neighborhood and citywide meetings.

Then the Wean Foundation and the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative (MVOC) emerged to offer even more guidance, leadership, and resources. Wean is a respected name from our Mahoning Valley's industrial past, known for technical innovation in the steel industry. The Wean family endowed a charitable foundation, and focused its resources on the community where their family fortune was built. In addition to MVOC, Wean has invested millions into building the capacity of a multitude of organizations doing great works throughout our valley.

MVOC has performed a pivotal role identifying specific problems, and marshalling resources to address them. Phil Kidd from MVOC can be seen throughout our region, coaching citizen groups to address what needs to be done where they live. The vacant property inventories completed in 2008 and 2010 documented the epidemic of property abandonment, and targeted the worst blight for demolition.

New organizations including Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation have emerged to finance projects that require major resources to stabilize and rebuild neighborhoods. This transformation is far from complete, but is unstoppable because, as Bruce Springsteen sang "We take care of our own."

Pirko is a Weathersfield resident



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