University Park Alliance

Community Engagement, Leadership Development  and Neighborhood Revitalization

Round River Consulting is designing and managing a community engagement project to assist University Park Alliance (UPA), a community development corporation in Akron, Ohio to create an “Empowered Urban Social & Economic Infrastructure” within a 50 block area of the central city. The strategy is designed to build upon existing strengths by identifying and utilizing human and physical assets and positioning neighborhood groups, faith communities, social service agencies, and small businesses to work collaboratively to leverage those assets.

Relationship-building, quality affordable housing, safe streets, economic development & jobs were identified as key priorities at a recent neighborhood summit that drew over 300 people. Significant progress has already been made to build neighborhood-based organizations and leadership teams that are developing a network of community gardens, addressing vacant housing, and implementing community-building events. The Round River team recently worked with faith and neighborhood leaders to design a six month leadership training program that is equipping almost 100 residents, faith and social service community members to lead an asset-based community development strategy.

the process:

Strategic Relationship Building, Capacity-Building, Setting Priorities, & Taking Action

Fifty key community members were identified and interviewed over the summer of 2011. Results of those interviews were gathered in an Emerging Issues Document that was used to guide a facilitated community forum that engaged over 60 people in late October of 2011. One of the ideas that emerged from the forum was a realization that "our collective voices are more powerful than our individual voices."

Leadership capacity is emerging through weekly and monthly meetings, with block club leaders, the faith community, non-profits, and social services agencies to provide a structure for leadership development and training. A UP neighborhood and faith leadership group worked with RRC to plan the first annual UPA Neighborhood Summit on June 16, 2012, which incorporated the AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Hall Meeting model. (Insert link to AS website) As senior associates of AmericaSpeaks, RRC designed every aspect of the meeting and leveraged the resources of The University of Akron to provide laptop computers and individual electronic keypads. RRC invited AmericaSpeaks to serve as the technical director the day of the event. This kind of partnership was new to AmericaSpeaks and offered an additional avenue for other similar partnerships throughout the country. (Insert link to Daniel’s blog). The Summit was attended by over 300 residents and stakeholders of the UP footprint and continues to guide the strategy.

Recently, RRC supported the faith leaders to create a leadership development curriculum for fostering leadership and launching an asset-based community develop strategy. The five month Neighborhood Engagement Series is engaging over 100 church members, residents, institutions and social service agency leadership in the UP footprint.

Finally, through the guidance of RRC, the University Park Neighborhood Network (UPNN) has taken on an identity of its own through a monthly UPNN newsletter, the NN meetings, branding, and the work of the Neighborhood Engagement Series.

outcome:

Renewed focus & committed participation

  • Addressed 60 vacant homes with the majority repaired or torn down within a year
  • Neighborhood and church leaders participated in a University Park clean-up day
  • New active relationships among resident, faith, social-service, and business leaders can be seen in a number of new initiatives from community gardens to an emerging literacy campaign
  • Implementation of the UPA Exterior Home Improvement Pilot Program
  • First annual UPA Neighborhood Summit in 2012 established priorities for action with over 300 residents, business owners, and participants who worship in the footprint
  • 20 faith leader meet regularly and provide guidance to other leadership initiatives such as the Neighborhood Engagement Series
  • Significant increase in coordination and collaboration among individual block watch and neighborhood groups resulting in joint celebrations (e.g. caroling in the streets), joint housing and safety programs
  • Five-month University Park Neighborhood Engagement Series with over 100 neighborhood and congregation members moving toward an asset-based community development strategy
  • Volunteer-led University Park Neighborhood Network branding, newsletter, and communication strategy
  • Emerging Eco-Permaculture District

the goal:

Creating an empowered social & economic urban infrastructure

The goal of the initiative is to build a network of residents, faith communities, social service agencies, local businesses and institutions with the capacity to act collaboratively on shared neighborhood priorities. Strong neighborhood groups, faith communities who are connected and engaged in the neighborhoods around them, social service agencies that leverage resources, and engaged institutions that are connected to the neighborhoods and supporting a shared  vision are important building blocks.