Editorial: Winning day for West End

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The pernicious links between neighborhood decay, high poverty rates and low-performing schools are well documented. Even so, itís sobering to skim through the list of the federal Choice Neighborhood Grant award recipients announced this week and see that confirmed in cities across the nation.
The projects receiving grant money to improve distressed neighborhoods represent diverse geographical areas, from Salisbury to Providence, R.I., to Memphis, Tenn., and Kansas City, Mo. Yet thereís also a bleak familiarity to the landscapes described. In Memphis, the area targeted for revitalization includes a poverty rate of 69 percent, rising violent crime and low-performing schools. You can apply that same template to Kansas City, where Chouteau Courts, an old public housing site, sits amid ěhigh concentrations of poverty (44 percent) and the school district tests in the bottom 7 percent of the state standard,î or to almost any other grant recipient.
Salisbury received $170,000 to complete a revitalization plan for the West End neighborhood, with rebuilding of the Civic Park Apartments a core element. As the cityís project summary notes, it fits the profile to some degree: ěThe city considers West End as its most distressed neighborhood, with a poverty rate of 28 percent, a neighborhood vacancy rate that is nearly five times the county average, and a middle school (Knox) that is characterized as low-performing.î Yet unlike some of those other neighborhoods, while West End holds pockets of poverty and distress, it also has anchors of stability ó streets of tidy homes, mixed-income residents committed to their neighborhood and schools, and the presence of important institutions such as Livingstone College and the Hefner VA Medical Center (a partner in the plan). In other words, while thereís much that needs rebuilding, thereís also much here to build on.
Over the coming months, planners will work with the cityís institutional partners and West End residents to develop a revitalization blueprint for the Civic Park Apartments and adjacent community. The collaboration and support of West End residents will be a vital part of this effort, of course. But itís also important for the city as a whole ó and those beyond its limits ó to recognize the potential benefits of lower crime rates, improved schools and increased economic development. Transforming bleakness into promise is no easy task, as weíve seen with some of urban renewalís failures. But to ignore that task is to abandon whole segments of the community and invite the greater blight other cities are struggling to overcome.