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Planting the seed: Neighborhood revitalization

Safer, productive neighborhoods mean a stronger community
Thursday, November 10, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:57 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 10, 2011

COLUMBIA — Tyree Byndom said that when he goes outside at 1 a.m., he can see prostitutes walking the streets and kids selling drugs.

Byndom, who grew up in the First Ward, lives across the street from Douglass Park. In 2009, he moved back to the area and made a commitment to help better the community. Now, through Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods, he's revitalizing the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association. 

There are 80 neighborhood associations in Columbia, and about half are active, said Bill Cantin, who handles neighborhood issues for the city and co-chairs the neighborhood team.

The revitalization of neighborhood associations, particularly those in the central part of the city, has been accelerated by the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant, Cantin said. The associations are intended to increase conversations among neighbors about obesity, provide an avenue to give people more information about health resources and increase neighborhood safety so people feel more comfortable exercising.

The project's focus is on the First Ward and other parts of the city where demographics dictate poorer health conditions. Children from ethnic or racial minorities or from low-income families are often more susceptible to becoming overweight, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

According to 2010 census data,  19 percent of people in the First Ward were black, the highest concentration in the city. Four percent were Hispanic or Latino. Median income information wasn't available, but Verna Laboy, who heads up the neighborhood team with Cantin, said the First Ward is home to many underemployed, single-parent families.

Byndom said problems in his neighborhood include the prevalence of payday-loan businesses and liquor stores.

"People are lethargic, disenfranchised, distant from the process of community building, islands unto themselves," he said. 

Byndom held a meeting Oct. 17 at Douglass High School to begin a discussion and gauge interest in starting an association. Officers were elected, and the first meeting of the revived association was held Nov. 8. 

Just down the road, another group is getting off the ground. The Worley Street Park Neighborhood Association was started in May with Laboy's help.

So far, the association has elected officers, created a website and set a monthly meeting time. The group tried to organize a barbecue, but the event had to be canceled because of heat, chairwoman Meg Rivers said.

On Oct. 16, the Worley Street Park association teamed with other neighborhoods in the First Ward to hold a festival at Calvary Baptist Church with pumpkin decorating and a blow-up screen showing a kids' movie. The party was funded by the obesity grant.

The effort to better organize neighborhoods falls under the grant, but Rivers said she wasn't aware of how the new Worley Street Park association helps address the obesity epidemic. Members have discussed using the association to encourage healthy living and potentially hosting bicycle and pedestrian events, but there are no specific plans in place yet.

For Rivers, the neighborhood association is about building community.

"I have noticed people in our neighborhood are starting to know each other," she said. "I can wave at people driving by. If there's somebody in your neighborhood that you don't know that you do connect with, that makes your life better."

Next page | Projects aim to make healthy food options more affordable

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