ActivePaper Archive STRENGTHENING THE CORE - Oklahoman, 6/29/2016

STRENGTHENING THE CORE

STRONG NEIGHBORHOODS INITIATIVE PRODUCES RESULTS FOR OKC STUDENTS, COMMUNITIES

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Students grab supplies for their art projects from teacher Kristina Haden’s desk on Tuesday. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]

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Carson Swafford keeps his eyes focused on a rubber band while it is stretched by teacher Deborah Ladd, who helped Carson with a project. Students used basic materials provided by the instructor to fashion a “launching device” as a project in a science class Tuesday. Students were provided popsicle sticks, straws, pencil erasers, masking tape, paper clips, paper and a rubber band to build the device. After the students finished creating their projects, they took turns launching them in the hallway and competed to see whose would travel the longest distance. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]

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F.D. Moon and Eugene Field elementary schools hosted summer STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) academies, sponsored in part by the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative and Oklahoma City Public Schools. Above, Miguel Rodriguez blows chalk dust from his paper Tuesday after adding color to an art creation in Kristina Haden’s class. [PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN]

THREE AREAS GET FOCUS

Oklahoma City’s Strong Neighborhoods Initiative has focused so far on three inner-city neighborhoods. They are:

• Classen Ten Penn, about 36 square blocks west of Classen Boulevard between NW 10 and NW 16 streets.

• Classen’s North Highland Park, a half-dozen plus-sized blocks bounded by Interstate 235 and Lincoln Boulevard between NE 13 and NE 16 streets.

• Culbertson’s East Highland, about 60 square blocks bounded by N Lottie and Martin Luther King avenues between NE 8 and NE 16 streets.

Reviving neighborhoods means more than renovating houses, building sidewalks and planting trees.

For Oklahoma City’s Strong Neighborhoods Initiative, it also means filling playgrounds with children who read well and excel at math.

The city has directed about $3.5 million over the past three years into three innercity neighborhoods.

For every public dollar invested, two private dollars — as measured by the value of building permits — have been invested. The eventual goal is a 4-to-1 private-to-public ratio.

Residents of the Classen Ten Penn, Classen’s North Highland Park and Culbertson’s East Highland neighborhoods are seeing home prices increase and crime drop.

Twenty-four homes have been built, 24 more have been renovated and 158 trees have been planted. Bus shelters and new sidewalks have been installed.

A new park, William Freemont Harn Park, has opened in Classen’s North Highland Park.

And 400 children at two elementary schools have enrolled in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) academies sponsored in part by the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative.

For children in the 2014 summer academy at F.D. Moon Elementary, reading and math scores were up, according to a report by Strong Neighborhoods coordinator Shannon Entz.

The Strong Neighborhoods Initiative began by asking residents what they wanted of their neighborhoods, said Entz, a senior planner in the city’s Planning Department.

“One of the things each of them talked about was that they wanted their neighborhoods to go from just a place to a very special place ” she told the city council.

So the Strong Neighborhoods Initiative tried to start out with “catalyst” projects that were visible, such as infill housing, sidewalks and trees.

That way residents could see “that we’re honest, that we’re truly there to do some good in the neighborhood ” Entz said.

In Classen North Highland Park, a farm theme emerged based on its proximity to the Harn Homestead.

What’s ahead?

Private developers have more highly visible projects on the way:

•A mixed-use project at 1600 NW 16 in Classen Ten Penn has broken ground and includes 17 apartments and a cafe. Estimated value: $1.6 million.

•Seventy to 80 residential units and about 13,000 square feet of retail are proposed on NW 10 west of Ellison Avenue in Classen Ten Penn.

•More than 30 new homes are planned for the Truman property owned by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority in Culbertson’s East Highland.

Reaching the end of the line can be a measure of success in pushing back against blight.

The pace of private investment in Classen’s North Highland Park is such that fiscal 2017 will be the last year there for Strong Neighborhoods.

“We’re beginning to see so much progress in there that it’s time for us to move on ” Entz said.