Neighborhood Enrichment Initiative Download Council Report
The idea behind the Neighborhood Enrichment Initiative is to make sure we’re doing everything we can as a city to take care of one of our greatest assets — Kent’s neighborhoods. Downtown revitalization and economic development may get more headlines, but the city is a place to call home first, and we’re making a concerted effort to make sure we stay focused on the matters of where we live.
The city’s job to take care of the things that matter, and neighborhoods matter. They matter to CEO’s who are looking to locate new businesses (like grocery stores). They matter to young families. They matter to retirees. They matter to students. They matter to employees. They matter to faculty. They matter to kids. Something that matters this much to so many people deserves a well conceived and well executed strategy and that’s the inspiration behind our new neighborhoods initiative.
When we think about city services, we think about fire and police, streets and sidewalks, and parks and recreation. As different as each of those services are, they are bound by a shared purpose of making Kent a great community, a great place to live. Neighborhoods are where great communities happen, and like any asset, neighborhoods need the attention of community leaders and resources. We are hoping that this initiative increases that kind of attention and acts as a catalyst for the community to work with us to monitor the health of our neighborhoods, to be more innovative in neighborhood services, and to get contributions from everyone that cares about the future of Kent’s neighborhoods.
Vibrant downtowns are great packaging but communities will always be measured by the quality of their neighborhoods. Neighborhoods take rows of houses and transform them into small communities within a community. They are places that are safe, engaging, and inclusive. They are good investments. They have character and charm. They have a history and a future.
The neighborhood initiative picks up on a theme that I try to re-iterate every where I go around town: It’s our turn. Kent has a great legacy and now it’s our turn to carry the torch and honor that legacy by getting involved as a community to co-create our future. Kent’s neighborhoods need us now. If you walk around the city you can see that many once-proud neighborhoods are in trouble. Our housing stock is aging. Home ownership is declining. We’ve lost ground to our suburban neighbors in our ability to attract new young families. Some established neighborhoods seem to have lost their way and are showing increasing signs of blight and nuissance activity.
You don’t fix these problems overnight with a catchy slogan. This is a long term commitment to turn around neighborhoods that are at risk and preserving those neighborhoods that are Kent’s pride and joy. This initiative is not anti-landlord. It’s not big brother, anti-party, or anti-fun. This is about stewardship and leadership.
Big cities have been struggling with the same challenges for years, and like those big cities that have been successful, we want to be sure we’re prepared and doing what it takes to take care of our neighborhoods. The good news for us is that there are plenty of examples to borrow that we can apply here in Kent.
In this way the Neighborhood Enrichment Initiative is an effort to better organize and focus our strategies that we use to preserve and improve the quality of life in Kent neighborhoods. What’s different is the way we have tried to create a solution framework that matches the dimensions of neighborhood challenges. In other words, the City has numerous individual programs and services that deal with different areas of neighborhood issues, such as zoning, code compliance, education, enforcement, and HUD rehabilitation projects, all of which in one way or another impact overall neighborhood quality of life.
We routinely review the performance of these individual service areas internally with staff and with City Council. We collect good data on the number of complaints, problem calls and actions. Yet, often these different program areas are managed by different employees in different departments that are responsible for just their own very specific tasks. And as we’ve been looking to add more and more neighborhood programs, it was becoming increasingly important to be sure that all of our program areas were working together for maximum effect.
To that end, one of our goals was to begin to organize our city strategies and resources in a cumulative framework that allows us to make sure that each focus area is best serving the mission of enriching city neighborhoods at the broadest level possible. In this way, as we continue to research best practices in other cities, and evaluate the effectiveness of our own neighborhood programs and services, we have a contextual reference point — aka a Plan — that we can use to see how all of the individual efforts fit together to create the most effective strategy possible.
Really, what we’re trying to do is be sure that all of our efforts are in alignment so that all the different employees, with different jobs, skills and duties – are working with a common purpose. When results matter, alignment is critical. And neighborhoods matter.
We’ve kept in close contact with the university on this issue as they consider neighborhoods critical to their ability to compete for the best faculty and administrators to live close to campus. Likewise, we’ve had some contact with interested landlords on these topics to let them know where we’re heading and where we need their help.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from the hundreds of communities across the country that have tackled this issue, it’s that community and neighborhoods are driven from the bottom up. The city can’t legislate a sense of neighborhood, that comes from the investment of the people that live in a place they call home. Our goal then is create a platform to have these important discussions to occur, not just inside the Council chambers but all throughout the community.