NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley is convening one of the nation’s most important experiments in community planning, organizing, action, and relationship building- flipping old notions about how to create change (from the top down) on its head. Click here to read the Our Neighborhoods Community Contract for Constitution Hill, Fairmount and Main Street.
A community is more than affordable housing
Our national and statewide partner, the Local Initiative Statewide Corporation (LISC) redefined its goals for community development several years ago under the heading “Sustainable Communities”. LISC stated that neighborhoods should be places that “offer the positive environments needed to ensure that all residents of varied income levels are provided the opportunities and tools to build assets, to participate in their communities, and to become part of the mainstream economy.”
And, as LISC promised, it chose only 10 sites nationally — cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, and Detroit – where it would work with local partners to implement five key efforts:
- Expand investment in housing and other real estate
- Increase family income and wealth
- Stimulate economic development
- Improve access to quality education
- Support healthy environments and lifestyles
We are proud that LISC chose NWBRV to convene the initiative at one of its two local pilot sites to see how this work could make a difference in the neighborhoods of Constitution Hill, Fairmount, and Main Street Woonsocket.
In the beginning, we asked lots of questions
In the Fall of 2008, NWBRV recruited and trained more than 30 community leaders and local youth to interview their neighbors and peers about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the three target neighborhoods of Constitution Hill, Fairmount, and Main Street Woonsocket.
After 131 interviews with approximately 2,400 individual comments, the resounding themes were clear; they included physical fabric, economy, civic/community life, health and safety, and youth. Read the 2009 Interview Summary Report.
On a Tuesday night during April Vacation in 2009- a little over six months into the process- over 100 neighborhood residents and leaders from local churches, community organizations, and block groups gathered at what was called the “Give Back Meeting” to hear the findings and decide how they could help take action.
Participants define a beautiful – and workable – vision
Small groups began meeting to discuss how they could help and what action items needed to go into the Community Contract that would act as a guide for the neighborhoods. They joined forces during the summer of 2009 to create a vision statement that would guide the rest of the Contract:
Our neighborhoods build bridges among our multi-ethnic populations, throughout our neighborhoods, and within the region. We will be a thriving, healthy, well-educated, and safe community recognized as a model for other urban industrial revitalization efforts across the country. We envision a Woonsocket where:
- Generations of residents are engaged with their neighbors, community institutions and elected officials and are committed and prepared to take the leadership necessary to make their neighborhoods the best they can be. Residents have decision-making positions throughout the community and its institutions, and they diligently build the relationships, collaborations, and social capital necessary to safeguard our quality of life.
- More widespread opportunity and wealth is generated as our neighborhoods position themselves as a competitive location to do business. New and existing businesses grow in our neighborhoods as they thrive in a challenging regional and global economy. At the same time, families and residents improve their ability to compete for jobs in the labor market and increase their employment and earnings.
- Residents are healthy and well connected to a strong, responsive, sustainable healthcare system. Good health is supported by a network of culturally sensitive providers and other partners who collaborate and innovate to facilitate healthy lifestyle choices and provide access to affordable health care for everyone.
- The community strongly supports a broad, well connected, and high achieving system of learning. Community resources and assets are mobilized in new ways to provide a wide assortment of cultural, educational, and athletic opportunities. Teachers and families work together to support and inspire students to achieve at their highest levels.
- Neighborhoods are inviting, well designed, and well-maintained places that support strong housing, job and business markets. Residents take pride in their neighborhoods and recommend them as great places to live.
- Strong relationships, partnerships and mutual respect between neighbors, Police, and government prevent and deter crime and nuisance activity and enhance neighborhood quality of life.
The 40-plus community members met into the winter months to complete a draft Community Contract featuring 30+ community partners and hundreds of action items. On March 20, 2010, the final version of the Community Contract for Constitution Hill, Fairmount, and Main Street neighborhoods of Woonsocket was launched at a joint presentation with Olneyville Housing Corporation and the LISC in Providence, RI. With over 230 attendees, the Roll Out Event featured community leaders (click here to read their profiles) who presented their newly created Contracts to influential elected officials, business and nonprofit leaders, and policy makers from across the state including Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine and Police Chief Thomas Carey. This event launched the initiative under a new name, Our Neighborhoods, and encouraged those in the room to “invest, build, and believe” in the two pilot communities.
What’s been accomplished; what’s left to do
The Our Neighborhoods initiative continues to successfully build relationship and get things done around the neighborhoods of Constitution Hill, Fairmount and Main Street Woonsocket and has resulted in a H.U.D. Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant to continue efforts in the target neighborhood.
To learn more about what’s been accomplished click here.