April 11, 2014 by Beverly Blake
How do you create a neighborhood renaissance? With determination, a great framework, committed investors—and most important—people who care about the place they call home and will put their own self-interests aside for the greater good.
The people of College Hill—neighbors, Mercer University, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, Historic Macon and Macon-Bibb County government—have worked together over the past five years to revitalize the 2-square-mile area between Mercer and historic downtown Macon. We recently marked our shared success with a party that featured music, fellowship and the unveiling of the new College Hill video. We celebrated the fact that the master framework guiding the renaissance is 95 percent complete (some would say 100 percent because the other 5 percent consists of infrastructure improvements to be completed by government). We also celebrated new friendships and partnerships, our diverse and affordable neighborhoods, and mostly, being a part of something truly remarkable: bringing the urban core of Macon back to life.
When we envisioned the College Hill Corridor in 2007, the overarching goal was to attract talented young people to Macon and convince them to make their lives here. They are the future of our city. Little did we know that many of those talented people were right here but hidden in plain sight. The College Hill Corridor Commission and the Knight Neighborhood Challenge helped highlight these everyday leaders, and allowed them to create the future of this place. Now we have a model to share with others, exhibiting how people of good faith, with a solid plan and the desire to improve the community—without worrying about who gets the credit—can make lasting change happen.
April 2, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Beverly Blake, program director/Macon at Knight Foundation, blogs about the community's annual Soap Box Derby. Above: a photo from last year's event.
I wish y’all had been here - it was an example of the people of Macon at our best: 1,000 of us enjoying the picture perfect weather, music in Washington Park, the kids playing in the water and writing on the sidewalks with colored chalk while the adults with a cool beverage and good conversation. And lots of dogs.
It was the beginning of the 2012 Second Sunday concerts in the park (moved this month due to Easter), a program of the College Hill Alliance aimed at getting people to come out and enjoy an afternoon of free music, each other’s company and the beauty of Macon’s Intown Historic District. As wonderful as the concert was, the Soap Box Derby that followed exceeded expectations!
Originally suggested by Scott Page at Interface Studios in Philadelphia, our College Hill Master Planner, the idea of the Soap Box Derby was to get people involved in something fun to engage with one another and build a spirit of community. And it has done exactly that. Now in its fourth year, the derby was started by College Hill Alliance and had four entries our first year including one car without brakes! As with all things College Hill, the goal is to identify a great idea, nurture it and then turn it over to an organization or individual for sustainability. Last year, the Magnolia Street residents and the Intown Neighborhood Association stepped forward to claim ownership of the Soap Box Derby. The Community Foundation of Central Georgia awarded a Knight Neighborhood Challenge grant and the new owners were on their way, and what a fabulous job they have done in just two years!
December 15, 2011 by Beverly Blake
By Beverly Blake:
Like many communities across America, Macon, Georgia is facing a future that could lack the news and information we must have to make important, local decisions. So what do we do? Do we sit back and simply hope it doesn’t happen? In our case, Knight is partnering with our great friends at Mercer University, Georgia Public Broadcasting/GPB Media, and The Telegraph, our daily McClatchy paper, to create the future we seek - to build what we believe will be a new model of journalism education rooted squarely in building community.
October 23, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Cox Communications and Knight Foundation recently announced that Macon/Bibb County will participant in the 60 day expanded pilot for Connect2Compete. The pilot is a national collaboration to provide low cost Internet service, $150 computers and digital training for qualifying families with students in the Bibb County Public Schools. Although I expected the announcement would be well received, I did not expect the level of support that emerged from our community.
The Superintendent and School Board unanimously welcomed the effort and community members sent emails saying how pleased they are that Macon had been chosen for the expanded pilot. The level of support surprised me, because frankly I didn’t realize how much everyone truly understands the power of the Internet. Having the access to and knowledge of how to use a computer is critical for low-wealth families in the 21st century.
Connect2Compete is a bold experiment with a lot of moving parts. It is a national effort that can only be successful if implemented with care and commitment on the local level. It’s complex because it involves government (national and local), school systems, for profit cable companies, foundations, and non-profits. And because no matter how grand the idea, if it is not nurtured locally, success will not follow.
December 5, 2013 by Beverly Blake
Above: Macon, Ga. Photo credit: Flickr user Mark Stozier.
Wednesday afternoon I was delighted to be a part of an announcement of a new initiative that the Knight and Peyton Anderson foundations are funding. The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority will lead a master planning process for our city’s urban core.
Like so many communities, Macon has many plans for revitalization of its historic downtown, but most are sitting on a shelf. This time I believe it will be different. We have had so much success with a plan, led and implemented by residents, for Macon’s College Hill Corridor. That’s our roadmap of how to do this work.
We will come together—residents, business owners and operators, government and nonprofits—to embrace our shared history and architecture to create a people-centered land use plan that will reenergize our urban core. We can turn around 50 years of outmigration and disinvestment because this is a special place that offers so much to the new talent and new residents we need to attract.
Our downtown is a gem. We have beautiful old buildings lining this wonderful street grid of wide boulevards. The Ocmulgee River flows by, bordered by the Ocmulgee National Monument (which we are working to have designated as a national park). Within three square miles we have remarkable and affordable housing stock, two excellent hospitals and Mercer University, with its schools of engineering, law and medicine.
March 31, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Eight projects were recently announced as fifth-round winners of Macon's Knight Neighborhood Challenge, which seeks to improve the College Hill neighborhood between Mercer University and the city's downtown. Program Director Beverly Blake provides an update:
In 2009, Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation of Central Georgia partnered to create a five-year, $3 million Knight Neighborhood Challenge, a new type of grantmaking that funds the ideas of individuals and organizations to improve College Hill and nurture new and existing community leadership at all levels.Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2012/03/29/1967637/new-knight-neighborhood-challenge.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpIn 2009, Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation of Central Georgia partnered to create a five-year, $3 million Knight Neighborhood Challenge, a new type of grantmaking that funds the ideas of individuals and organizations to improve College Hill and nurture new and existing community leadership at all levels.
The Knight Neighborhood Challenge has been a catalyst to support “everyday leaders,” to fund great ideas that have probably always been here but lacked investment. More importantly, it has allowed us to create the opportunities to build new friendships through the common goal of improving Macon. We’re halfway through the initiative, and the community foundation has awarded $1.3 million to 70 projects. Two of the recent grantees exemplify Knight’s aspirations for Macon and Maconites: Friends of Tattnall Square Park’s Cooling the Square project will plant 100 trees in our “shared living room,” Tattnall Square Park. This is the first planting of trees in this historic urban park in 100 years. What is so gratifying about this effort is that the friends group was formed just a few months ago by people who know that it is those of us who use the park that are the stewards of its continued vibrancy. The "friends" have already painted the gazebo, have a strong and positive relationship with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and will be the catalysts to bring people together to nurture the park for generations to come.
November 21, 2011 by Beverly Blake
The College Hill Alliance recently released a report highlighting the alliance's first two years and the Knight Neighborhood Challenge. Beverly Blake, program director/Macon at Knight Foundation reflects on the challenge and the people behind it.
From the time I moved to Macon seven years ago, I have heard over and over again how much “potential” Macon has. But it seemed to me that no one was deliberately acting to realize that potential. That is, until in 2007 when a group of Mercer University students came up with an idea and plan to connect Mercer with historic downtown Macon and sold it to the president of the university and the mayor. As a result, through the College Hill Corridor effort and the Knight Neighborhood Challenge, together we are on our way to creating the future for Macon that we seek.
March 26, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Over the weekend, Mercer University hosted a student recruitment day, and included in the group of over 220 students were 44 high school juniors and seniors who were interested in coming to Mercer to be a part of the Center for Collaborative Journalism. I attended the luncheon for the students and their families, and Center Director Tim Regan-Porter (@timreganporter), Jon Hoban, VP for Radio at Georgia Public Broadcasting, Sherrie Marshall, Executive Editor of The Telegraph and I talked about our aspirations for the center.
What impressed me was that these students were attracted to Mercer because of the unique mission of the center - the medical school model of journalism education and the opportunity to work aside seasoned journalists in a shared newsroom to transform this community through information exchange.
The center is a bold experiment, in reporting the news, in telling the stories of our community and in shared learning. Students will learn from seasoned journalists, and the journalists from the students about gathering information and reporting it in the digital age.
After being with these bright young people who want not only to learn how to be great journalists in the 21st Century, but how to make a difference in their communities, I believe more than ever that quality journalism, delivered on all platforms, continues to be the foundation of our democracy and critical to building strong communities. People require accurate, timely and actionable information to make informed decisions to build vibrant communities and a strong democracy.
September 21, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Today, Knight Foundation announced a $2,261,000 grant to Mercer University to continue the work of the College Hill Alliance. This follows Knight’s 2009 investment of $2 million that has been leveraged with $24 million of additional private and public funding to redevelop this Intown Macon neighborhood.
The results of the first three years of the College Hill Alliance’s work are impressive. In partnership with the Knight Neighborhood Challenge, managed by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, we’ve discovered what we intuitively always knew - that the answers to Macon’s challenges, and the key to our shared future, come from within our own community. College Hill is more than a location - it’s a movement. And in addition to creating a sense of place, the thing that makes College Hill different from most neighborhood revitalization efforts is that it is nurturing new leaders at every level. Developing what I call “everyday leaders”: young, not so young, new people to town, folks who have always been here but not had the opportunity to make a difference. Now they are. College Hill is creating a sense of belonging. This next phase of the work over the next three years will continue to build out the Master Plan, but add a new component - prosperity development - through creating an Innovation Corridor and jobs that will attract and retain the best and brightest. When the four Mercer University students first came up with the idea of College Hill in 2006, one of their main goals was to create jobs that would allow college graduates to stay here. We know that since 1990, all net new job growth in America has come from firms that are five years old or less. And in the last decade, the Macon area has lost 7,600 jobs - traditional 20th Century jobs that likely will not return.
September 26, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Three years ago we asked what could we do to support the ideas, large and small, of people, organizations and even businesses to improve the College Hill Corridor? How do we make funds available to get things started in what was a lackluster neighborhood? And how do we do it in a way that will get people engaged and nurture new “everyday leaders”? From this, the Knight Neighborhood Challenge was created.
Funded in 2009 with a $3 million, five-year Knight grant to the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, the Knight Neighborhood Challenge announced today its latest round of support for 12 projects from $450 to $85,000.
The projects include: the idea of two teenagers to create a Corridor Teen Forum ($450), the all-volunteer Friends of Tattnall Square Park’s idea to create a gathering garden and serpentine wall ($14,528), the very cool Macon Music Ambassadors project ($51,116) proposed by a new resident to College Hill, and the not too sexy but really important code enforcement technology for the City of Macon ($85,000). Rebuilding Macon will continue its work in repairing owner-occupied housing of our seniors in Beall’s Hill ($25,000) and the Beall’s Hill Community Garden ($34,700) will construct a pavilion and rain collection system.
July 15, 2013 by Beverly Blake
Photo credit: The College Hill Alliance on Flickr
This month has gotten off to a great start for Macon, Ga., and the people who believe in our shared future for this place we call home.
The Telegraph recently reported on the ongoing success of the College Hill Corridor initiative and highlights the critical importance of having a master plan as our guide to revitalizating our historic urban core and connecting us to one another. We also found out last week that Macon is one of 20 Main Street communities chosen to receive a fresh coat of paint in Benjamin Moore’s Paint What Matters project.
September 27, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Well, it’s official! The ribbon cutting for the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University is tomorrow. We’re off and running with this bold experiment to train 21st century journalists in service to community. You may say, well, that’s what journalism has always done. But this is different.
The center has a shared newsroom - a living laboratory that houses The Telegraph, our daily McClatchy paper, Georgia Public Broadcasting and the journalism department at Mercer University. As far as we know, this is the only arrangement like it in the country. The curriculum will be based on the medical school model, placing students with veteran journalists so they might learn from one another.
The students will learn real-world reporting. How difficult it is to file a Freedom of Information Act request and actually get the information! How fact-checking might be tedious, but is the foundation of great stories. And how the work that journalists do to bring timely, accurate and actionable information to a community is critical to residents making informed decisions. The journalists will learn from the students about digital tools and how to become “multimedia journalists.”
October 25, 2012 by Beverly Blake
When Macon was chosen last fall as a Code for America city (by far the smallest of those selected), I was intrigued about what the fellows could accomplish here. Ten months and some practical, replicable applications later, I have no doubt.
The apps are just what we need, but the real impact that fellows had is the change in attitude they brought to local government. For example, a map-based site shows how special local option sales tax dollars are spent on individual infrastructure projects. A new online map for Macon's Transity agency shows expected bus arrival times and routes. Code for America calls itself “Teach for America for Geeks,” and local government isn’t really known for having a lot of geeks. However, because our fellows - Jessica, Nick and Zach - were young, smart, and energetic and just wanted to help us enter the digital age, they were very successful.
The Mayor, council members, senior administrative staff and (most) department heads were receptive and now the City of Macon staff understands how technology can build efficient, effective government while connecting citizens to their elected officials and to each other.
December 3, 2012 by Beverly Blake
Public libraries have always been the community’s go-to place to explore and learn. While the library was once a place to engage with the written word, or audiobooks (what I often still call, books on tape!) in solitude, increasingly, it is a social hub where we can share information with each other by using the tools of the digital world to connect us in the physical world. The demand for access to technology and resources is high. In Macon, the Washington Memorial Library computer classes continue to be filled to capacity. Our libraries serve as a portal to access new jobs, health information, our local history--even updates on family in far-off places.