Revitalizing South City
Renewed interest in neighborhood association key to reshaping Southside
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
For the past few months, Christic Henry has been making all sorts of discoveries in neighborhoods on the south side of town.
What she has found will be essential to revitalizing the area, especially the section known as South City. There are entrepreneurs operating out of their apartments, a food truck owner even lives in one of the apartment complexes located in a tract between Magnolia Drive and Jim Lee Road.
All of Henry’s work falls under the auspices of the South City Foundation, which is promoting the Purpose Build Communities initiative. It’s currently front and center of plans for redeveloping Orange Avenue Apartments, which is expected to begin later this year.
However, the plan that Henry is working on includes all of the neighborhood associations in the area. Business owners and individuals with vested interested in the Southside are also part of the concept that the Foundation is putting in place to mesh the community.
So far, the effort has been mostly door-to-door.
“The more we do that, the more people become acquainted with the fact that we are here working in the community,” Henry said. “Many of them didn’t know that there was any existing representation.”
Restoring the South City Neighborhood Association is a focal point, she said. The association flourished in the 1990s, but fizzled with only a handful of residents who didn’t meet regularly.
There haven’t been a lot of face-to-face meetings since the initial gathering to revive the association in the spring. The pandemic has forced meetings to take place virtually until this past Tuesday when another organizational meeting was planned to take place at Greater Lover Church.
“When we are organized, there are a lot that can be accomplished,” said City Commissioner, who is president of the Tuskegee Neighborhood Association.
Structural change isn’t all that the Foundation is hoping will come with the revival of inactive neighborhood associations on the Southside. Some of the discussions Henry has had with residents addressed many of the daily issues that they face.
The perception that some residents have of poverty is one that she is constantly pushing to change, she said.
Through her work in the neighborhoods, she’s discovered that “people romanticize poverty,” she said, adding “There are people in poverty that don’t want to be in poverty.
“There are people reaching up. There are people who are trying to do better for their kids. We want to interrupt poverty and the way we interrupt poverty is we focus on where the gaps are.”
Narrowing those gaps will require residents to become engaged to help sustain their communities. The city is lending a hand through its Neighborhood Affairs and Recreation Department.
The greater part of those efforts aren’t as visible as what they city government is doing throughout a large section of the South City community. Sidewalks are being installed and some roads are resurfaced.
Future plans include building a bus transfer station at the intersection of Orange Avenue and South Meridian Street. A pedestrian park is also planned for one side and a park with green space will cover a ditch that runs between Meridian and South Monroe Street.
Meanwhile, Henry is pushing to get the neighborhoods up to Purpose Build standards. Purpose Build is a non-profit consulting firm that works with leaders like Henry, who is commissioned to implement a holistic revitalization plan. The community engagement integration plan that she is using is one that she wrote, Henry said.
State Representative Ramon Alexander, who is a Foundation member, said he believes the model they are working from could “transform a community in a very smart, productive and efficient way.”