When the Lakeview Avenue Community Action Project has its holiday party later this month, it will mark the end of a busy year in that neighborhood and the six other neighborhoods that participated in the 2014 Renaissance Block Challenge.
It was a busy year in two ways. First, over 70 property owners in the seven Renaissance Blocks worked on a wide range of exterior home improvement projects. Some repainted their homes while others fixed their porches, freshened up their landscaping, or replaced a front door. Some projects were small and simple while others transformed the look of an entire home – creating what Mary Maxwell, who directs the project, calls WOW! houses.
Altogether they invested $173,000 into their homes and neighborhoods while receiving $60,000 back from the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation in the form of small matching grants. That makes it the biggest year so far in the four year history of the Renaissance Block Challenge, bringing total investment over that period to $573,000 by 215 participants in 22 neighborhood clusters.
But the home improvement projects don’t tell the whole story. It was also a busy year of neighborhood building on Lakeview, Newton, Durant, Ellis, Dearborn, West 18th, and the northern end of Forest Avenue. Thanks to the hard work of leaders on each street, 2014 was an exercise in boosting communication and camaraderie between neighbors and empowering residents to make a difference in their corner of the city.
Dearborn Street was a great example of neighborhood networking making a difference. There, residents formed a new Neighborhood Watch group, threw a summer block party, hosted a meeting with city officials, and held a block-wide garage sale. All of this takes energy and coordination, but it improves the likelihood that relationships established and progress achieved in 2014 will be carried forward.
Other neighborhoods made similar efforts to sustain their momentum. Forest Heights brought institutional neighbors – including the Fenton History Center, DAR House, and Heritage Park – into their Renaissance Block. Ellis Avenue held a block sale and proudly showed off their home improvements during a neighborhood tour. And several of this year’s Renaissance Blocks took part in Hands-On Jamestown, the citywide spruce up, in May.
The Renaissance Block Challenge will continue in 2015 thanks to a major new donor, giving other neighborhoods a chance to make similar progress. The pre-application process begins in early January when interested residents will have a chance to identify a cluster of between five and fifteen properties (owner-occupied and rental) whose owners are committed to making exterior improvements during 2015. Clusters with strong plans for building neighborhood spirit will be highly competitive, as will those located on high visibility corridors and in areas identified as ripe for reinvestment by the city’s neighborhood revitalization plan.
Those interested in applying to the Renaissance Block Challenge in 2015 or learning more about how the program works should contact the JRC’s Mary Maxwell at 664-2477×224 or visit www.jamestownrenaissance.org.
The benefits of Renaissance Block designation include access to discounts and services from local businesses. In 2014, participants received discounts at Brigiotta’s Greenhouse, Mike’s Nursery, Chautauqua Brick, and Everydays True Value, along with design assistance from Sandberg Kessler. Matching grants to reimburse property owners for their work were made possible by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, Lenna Foundation, Sheldon Foundation, the Jessie Smith Darrah Fund, and Northwest Savings Bank, along with additional support from Chautauqua County’s Housing Assistance Fund.
These businesses and foundations have helped make the Renaissance Block Challenge an important part of wider efforts to improve neighborhood conditions in the city, from strategic demolition and rehab, to “GROW Jamestown” gardening initiatives, to code enforcement technology upgrade, to ongoing research into ways to better regulate the condition of rental housing.
But the neighbors themselves make this work and over 200 neighbors across the city have risen to the challenge over the past four years. This holiday season, consider helping your neighborhood rise to the challenge. Talk to your neighbors about a better Jamestown and help sow the seeds of a Renaissance Block.
This post originally appeared in The Post-Journal on December 8, 2014, as the JRC’s biweekly Renaissance Reflections feature.