Public Safety & the Sense of Community
The area of Washington Park between N. 39th Street, N. 40th Street, W. Walnut Street, and W. Cherry Street is all residential. Because of this fact, a major research point for this specific part of the neighborhood was public safety and how it affect the sense of community in the area. After looking into public safety in the area as a whole, the goal was to identify ways to increase a positive sense of community and pride in homeownership. The major areas that came up as categories for future positive change in the neighborhood were: upkeep of homes, activity in the area, and community togetherness.
The most logical place to begin looking into the overall feeling of the neighborhood was the individual homes. Looking at these homes revealed that there is a lack of pride in homeownership; this is most likely because 80% of the homes in the area are rented, and the tenants do not typically care or feel responsible for the upkeep of their property. This statistic gives way for the first method of restoring the neighborhood homes: having more homeowners in the area. Homeowners would be more likely to keep their property clean and well maintained than renters because they have more stock in the property. They would be more willing to maintain the landscape of their homes, and the house's appearance would matter more. According to Oscar Newman's book Creating Defensible Space, a program in Five Oaks, Dayton, Ohio that is being implemented concerns duplexes being turned back into single-family homes. The home buyers are given the units at a discount, but the agreement states that the money saved from the discount has to go into refinishing the home; the buyers are also locked into a ten year ownership period. The author of this work, Oscar Newman, was also an architect and city planner. He discovered that the people of Five Oaks found that it now paid to make improvements to their homes. "They were no longer acting alone and knew they would be getting their money back when (and if) they sold the property."
The next step is to look at how homes affect one another. In other words, how do the spaces between the homes affect one another? The space between homes can give an impression that someone does not feel welcome approaching the residents if there are certain objects present. A few deterring factors might be as simple as an unkempt lawn or as direct as a chain link fence. Using chain link fences to contain a front yard to define one's own private space can have larger negative impacts than those initially recognized. Having an open front yard makes other community members feel more welcome in other parts of their neighborhood, while chain link fences put people on guard, feeling as if crime is likely to happen. Fences in one's front yard are typically property identifiers and make the owners feel safer, but they sacrifice the feeling of safety for the community. This is because, while the front yard is private property, it still receives claim by the neighborhood as a whole. The community uses that space, in a sense, by occupying the adjacent spaces and using it visually. Another solution to this problem, rather than completely removing a fence, would be to use a lower wooden fence. This would define property without negatively affecting the entire community.
Beyond the homes lies the community. The next step is to looking at how the homes relate to one another, adjoining communities, and the park itself. The surrounding communities in the area all suffer from the same type of lack of pride and are all tackling their own issues. By solving some of the community issues, certain neighborhoods can begin to inspire and assist other areas. After some homeowners begin to revitalize and open up their shared front yards, others may choose to do the same, bringing the feeling of safety and community back into the area. One method that has been used to cut down crime rates in Five Oaks was gating the community. Although this method did work in Five Oaks, it has its flaws. First, it sections off the neighborhoods and cuts them off from one another, which is the opposite of the goal here. Secondly, it requires constant police involvement, which seems to highlight the area as unsafe. On the other hand, gating off the community can bring more responsibility to the area. The neighbors would become more familiar with each other, and it would be easier for them to see when something is out of place. This idea could be pulled into this project and the area in question. Washington Park Partners is starting to set up a project similar to this, but it has not yet come to this specific area.
The community can be brought together through the use of already-active groups in the area, such as Washington Park Partners of the Urban Ecology Center. Both of these groups already have some activities implemented throughout the year. If the community began working toward being a closer-knit group and participated more regularly, it would be easier to start to set up the neighborhood watch program mentioned above. The events that take place are spread pretty evenly throughout the year, with only a few months that do not have any planned events for the community. There are a few regular events that are already well received in the community that span across all seasons, such as the Walk with a Doc program. This is a program that allows people in the community to learn and work toward a healthier lifestyle by walking with local doctors and nurses. Another weekly event that is popular in this area is Wednesdays at the Shell, where local artists and groups provide free music and entertainment for the community. This event is so popular that it has actually survived for 75 years and shows that events can truly make a difference. There area also some events that are seasonal and only happen annually. Some of the more popular events that are also educational are put on by the Urban Ecology Center. These events range from Winterfest to Earth Day Celebrations. They also put on some memorial events, such as E.B. Garner's Annual Fishing Day. All of these events have a common use of educating those who participate. Even Winterfest has activities that encourage people to learn new skills, such as ice skating or cross country skiing. There is even a sled dog demonstration that serves as an interesting way to learn about a mode of transportation not used in the area. There are a few other annual events that are tied directly to bringing the community closer together, such as Washington Park Partners's event, Halloween on Fox Field. This is an event that allows the community to come together and celebrate the holiday in a safe environment when there are no designated Trick-or-Treat routes in the area for the children.
The overarching theme to this story is safety and how to improve the sense of community in an area. Right now, walking through the neighborhood may make one feel unwelcome and a bit nervous. If a type of homeowners' association were to be implemented that restricted the conditions of the area's front yards, it would go a long way to making it feel more welcoming. Removing the chain link fences and keeping more manicured lawns would also make the area look much nicer and add to the welcoming feeling. If there were more homeowners it would be easier to implement such a program than it would be now, pushing it onto managers or landlords. As that is happening, there can be more done to inform the residents of the area of the events nearby. If these events become more popular, it will be easier for them to happen more frequently. It is hard to keep an event going if there is only a small amount of interest, but if more community members began participating and getting to know one another, it would be easier for them to identify who or what is causing trouble. Once interest increases for activities it will be possible to introduce new events in some of the months that have none, such as November and December. If the community came together to solve a few small issues, then the larger issues would become more manageable.