The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jun 19, 2012

Involving community in helping shape economic strategy

Posted by Jennifer Thomas

University Park residents in Akron came out in force on Saturday, June 16 to involve members of the community in shaping an economic strategy for their neighborhood.

Over 350 neighborhood residents, engaged by the University Park Alliance, met to decide and prioritize the work and to contribute to the conversation on  how to bring in additional funding.

Residents overwhelming voted for a Special Improvement District (83 percent) as a financial tool that would assist the neighborhood in achieving its goals. University Park Alliance is a $10 million effort supported by Knight Foundation to create a 50 block live, work, play mecca in the heart of downtown Akron.

"When I gave the opening remarks, I was almost in tears," Eric Johnson, the executive director of the University Park Alliance, told the Akron Beacon Journal, which covered the meeting in "University Park Alliance shares ideas for neighborhood."

The article notes that participants used interactive keypads and computers to answer questions about their priorities; the top three included crime and safety, "neighbors helping neighbors" and economic development. 

Johnson wrote an op-ed about the summit: "Without a doubt, this was Akron at its best, with residents planning to address head-on issues of crime, housing, economic opportunity and more. More important, this display of civic engagement represented a commitment of neighbors willing to work together on common priorities."

The alliance also recently purchased 12 homes along Excelsior Avenue as part of its efforts to rehabilitate houses and stabilize the neighborhood. Johnson said the move will ensure keeping people in their homes, while simultaneously bringing in revenue for the alliance. 

Knight Foundation recently profiled Johnson as part of an in-depth look at the foundation's strategy to develop next generation leadership in Akron.

By Jennifer Thomas, program director/Akron at Knight Foundation

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