During the recent recession, Birmingham began to explore innovative ways of improving economic conditions and the quality of life through public/private partnerships.
A land-swap between the City of Birmingham and the University of Alabama Birmingham paved the way for a $64 million project to build Regions Field for the Birmingham Barons, a minor league baseball team. A new, 19-acre Railroad Park downtown received an Open Space Award from the Urban Land Institute.
Other projects include a $400 million expansion for Children’s of Alabama, an international hospital, and a revival of the city’s historic Theater District. The Avondale neighborhood is reversing a declining trend with the help of a downtown economic development group, Avondale Brewery, residents, and federal stimulus funding.
Less than a mile away, the impoverished neighborhood of Woodlawn has seen development of a different kind—an $11 million investment from the YWCA of Central Alabama to build a six-family shelter and renovate 58 nearby apartments. YWCA has also brought a Family Resource Center and health, education, and employment services to the community……
I have a fondness for old business routes, motel rows, kitschy gift shops, Western-themed diners and gas stations that sell Jackalope post cards.
Lakewood, Colorado’s section of Route 40 (also known as West Colfax) was once known as “Gateway to the Rockies.” If you were a traveler in the 1950s and you were looking for a tourist motel, an authentic Russian steam bath or a prefabricated diner built in New Jersey and shipped out West by rail, Route 40 was your bet.
Route 40’s heyday ended with the completion of the federal Interstate Highway System, one of the most expensive and consequential public works programs in the history of the world. Business districts dried up overnight, along with many a Main Street, USA. It’s what used to be called progress.
We are sad to say that Dakota County won’t be attending the All-America City Awards in Kansas City because of a flooding situation back home. Our best wishes go out to the people of Dakota County. But you can read about their terrific community projects here.
Post-Secondary Educational Opportunities and Workforce Training
In Dakota County, only six percent of the population has an associate’s degree and only 13.5 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The results of this study painted a very distressing picture for Dakota County and its residents: Although Dakota County was growing economically and demographically, postsecondary educational opportunities and workforce training had failed to keep pace. The rapidly-growing minority, first-generation and place-bound working adult population needed access to higher education, but limited access and availability of affordable post-secondary educational options had created an educational shortfall. In 2005, officials from Dakota County, South Sioux City, Wayne State College and Northeast Community College along with local businesses, and over 130 donors united together to overcome the counties post-secondary educational shortfalls and launched a campaign to build a new College Center that would offer “start-to-finish” degree programs including two-year, four-year, and graduate degrees, as well as customized workforce training programs. On March 14, 2011, the College Center, located in South Sioux City, Nebraska opened its doors to students, faculty and the public.
Roth Industrial Park
The “Roth Industrial Park” located in Dakota County, Nebraska has defied the global economic recession by emerging as one of the fastest growing industrial parks in the nation. After successfully securing the ground, community leaders ensured the site was “shovel-ready” by completing all road, rail, water, fiber, gas and electricity infrastructures. With these networks in place, community/county economic development officials began to aggressively market and promote the Roth Industrial Park. Five short years later, the Park has announced over $700 million in capital investment and the creation of 850 jobs in this agri-business and food processing hub of the Midwest. As the Roth Industrial Park adds businesses and capital investment, community and county leaders are working together to find additional acres to meet the growing demands for land in this rapidly expanding industrial park. As a result of their calculated efforts, this development is helping lead the region’s economic recovery.
The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA
In 2005, the YMCA that served the region was in significant decline and was struggling to raise funds to build a new facility. Through innovative public/private, business and not-for-profit partnerships across multi-jurisdictional boundaries, a state-of-the-art $11 million facility was built and, in January 2008, The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA opened its doors to the public. A school district that faced the closure of the pool used for all of its aquatic programs now has use of a top-of-the-line competitive pool and additional fitness resources previously unavailable for its kids. A county striving to provide more recreation and well-being for its residents now partners with the Y for wellness programming for its staff and families, management of a summer outdoor pool for the entire community, and operation of a 72-acre outdoor complex that provides outdoor recreation opportunities for thousands of youth. This youth driven project has resulted in greater health and activity opportunities for the entire community, especially impacting underserved youth through summer camps, day camps, youth fitness programs, youth sports, and facilities and programming specifically designed for youth and families.
This video from Fayetteville is the first submission in our All-America Stories video contest. The entry with the most “likes” on our Facebook page will be announced the winner on June 17, the night of the All-America City Awards celebration in Kansas City.
Go to our Facebook page here Click on the video icon on the left side of the page, watch the video and click “like” to vote for it. Please “Like” our page while you are there.
The Observer, a student newspaper for Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College ponders the question of how South Bend, Indiana could appear on Newsweek’s recent list of dying cities in the light of the fact that it was an All-America City Award finalist in 2009. (Read the Observer article here.)
Well, one possible answer is that these lists are often misleading. South Bend was apparently flagged because of its loss of population and manufacturing jobs, but the city has a lot of strengths, not the least of which is its relationship to Notre Dame and other nearby colleges and universities.
Another point, which comes up again and again, is that the All-America City Award is not a beauty contest. We ask applicants to list their strengths and weaknesses and list three successful of projects to address their most pressing challenges.
South Bend happened to have some terrific projects. The city’s neighborhood revitalization partnership with the local universities and hospitals was impressive, as was its government innovation task force. Thanks to local anti-childhood obesity efforts, South Bend was selected one of the three cities to pilot the national We Can! campaign in 2007.
In honor of Gaston County’s upcoming community celebration, we made this short video about Gastonia’s All-America City Award-winning projects.
A city of about 74,000 in the Charlotte region, Gastonia, like other southern mill towns, has been hit hard by the double whammy of a loss of textile jobs and the 2008 recession. The unemployment is around 13 percent and the high school drop out rate is one of the highest in the region. The economy woes have also slammed some of the city’s older neighborhoods as lower income homeowners struggle to keep their properties repaired.
Hope for Gaston
In 2006 the city joined with a faith-based program, Hope4Gaston, to make home repairs for low income residents of the mostly African-American Highlands section. A community development block grant was used to pay for construction materials, and teams of 20-40 volunteers were assigned to various homes to do repairs under the supervision of licensed contractors. Repairs valued at $348,000 were made in two days to 50 homes. Very good leveraging of the $27,000 grant.
Highland Health Center
In 2007, the Gaston County Health Department conducted a door-to-door survey of local health care needs. With help from the city, eight teams fanned out across the Highland neighborhood to interview residents. They found that about one fifth of them had no health insurance. A business plan for a new Highlands Health Center was developed to address the community’s health needs, ranging from teen pregnancy to heart disease and diabetes. The health center opened July.
Run for the Money
The community stages an annual run to raise money for local nonprofits. It began in 2003, a time when local nonprofits were struggling. After sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support relief efforts in New York after 9/11, Gaston County residents were tapped out. A stagnant economy didn’t help matters.
All told the annual event has raised about $7.8 million for local nonprofits in seven years. The run has become a community event involving hundreds of families. “There is no other fundraiser we could do that could raise this kind of money for us,” notes Cathy Howell, director of Crisis Assistance Ministry.
Lowering the Drop Out rate
Established by Mayor Jennie Stultz and the city council, the Mayor’s Youth Council became concerned with the dropout rate. In 2008, they surveyed 9th and 10th graders to find out about the various causes of dropping out of school. One of the major reasons, they discovered, was anxiety over a mandated senior graduation project. This year, the youth group invited role models to speak on the importance of staying in school, including former MVP NBA start James Worthy, a native Gastonian.
Gaston Career Climb
Three county foundations came together to support Gaston Career Climb, a program to improve the skill levels of the local workforce. Computer-based assessments of students and adults were used to determine skill levels. The program prepares students and adults to be tested for “Career Readiness Certificates.” Over 50 area businesses now recognize these certificates and use them in their hiring practices.
We wanted to make it more user friendly and emphasize community success stories.
Most of our success stories will come from National Civic League programs, especially the All-America City Award, but we would like to hear from you if you know of other stories. Feel free to e-mail them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, take a look at some of our featured success stories, for instance, the one on Flowing Wells, Arizona. Flowing Wells was one of the stars of the 2007 All-American City Awards, which was a pretty good year. It was a neighborhood or area, really, half inside of Tucson and half in unincorporated Pima County. Community organizer Ellie Towne led and effort to clean up the meth labs and bring in new a bunch of amenities, for instance, a new community center, a health clinic and a couple of parks.
“We had no services in the area,” recalled Ellie Towne when we interviewed her in 2007. “Our children had no place to play. Neither did anybody have a place to go to have fun their families. It was just a desert area. I was standing at my back fence and I was so disgusted with what was out there—people racing around in their vehicles, drug activity, kids building those dirt mounds to go over on their bikes. There were fires. Grass would grow and weeds and nobody to take care of it. Now it is so much nicer. There are football fields, a walking path, people jogging or riding their bikes.”
A great story about community organizing and public/nonprofit partnerships.
One of the biggest challenges facing communities in these tough economic times is just paying for basic services. Things we used to take for granted like a city baseball program for kids suddenly become unaffordable. It’s that or closing a fire station, etc.
That’s where the public/private/nonprofit partnerships really come in handy. The Lynwood Sports Association (LSA) is an all-volunteer organization that started off as a baseball program and evolved into a sort of adjunct parks and rec department, offering a full menu of academic, social and sports activities for 15,000 kids a year, who somehow manage to share the one large and four smaller neighborhood parks in Lynwood.
For instance, the organization partnered with the city to field a “mobile recreation team” that roams the city offering drop in programs for kids who live to far away to walk to the main city recreation/community center. Typically, these are what we often refer to as the “underserved” neighborhoods, some of the toughest, lowest income most crime ridden streets of Los Angeles County.
LSA is an important part of the community’s successful efforts to reduce crime and gang activity in the area.