Sunday, February 1, 2004

City connects with citizens


500 neighborhood leaders convene to make links

By Kevin Aldridge
and Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Sandee Read of Hartwell inspects a display about Keep Cincinnati Beautiful projects at the summit, held in the Cintas Center at Xavier University.
(Meggan Booker photo)
EVANSTON - They came with questions and complaints.

And for the most part, the 500 neighborhood leaders and activists left Cincinnati's second annual Neighborhood Summits Saturday with answers and advice.

This year's meeting drew citizens from 49 of the city's 52 neighborhoods.

City officials and neighborhood leaders came together last year for the first time in more than two decades to try to improve a perceived breakdown in communication. "Today is about empowering our residents with the tools and the information they need to begin rebuilding their communities," Councilwoman Laketa Cole said.

Mayor Charlie Luken told them that City Hall is listening to neighborhood problems - even if people have different approaches about how to solve them.

"From the second this City Council was organized, the word 'neighborhood' has been used more often than any other word at City Hall," Luken said. "But we know we have to do better. There's often a disconnect between what we're espousing and you're doing."

Luken said neighborhood development will be a focus of his State of the City Address on Monday. The speech will feature a 10-minute video of projects in Walnut Hills, Madisonville, College Hill and Westwood. He also defended City Manager Valerie Lemmie's plan to redevelop the Huntington Meadows apartments in Bond Hill.

Over seven hours, city officials updated neighborhood leaders on crime trends, explained city-funded programs and distributed contact information for service departments.

City leaders told residents about a fund being established that would give $10,000 to each of the city's 34 recognized business districts to promote development and revitalization. There were even workshops on how to run an effective community council.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel," said Councilman David Pepper, an organizer of the summit. "The city already has so many great (programs) that people just don't know about."

Pepper said the agenda for Saturday's seven-hour session was more citizen-driven than last year's. He said residents picked the topics they wanted to discuss and that there were fewer city employees involved.

"There was a little more meat this year," said Stefanie Sunderland, a Northside activist. "Last year you left and didn't really feel like you had anything to hold on to. A lot of people are here looking for answers."

The sessions were an eye-opening experience for some citizens who got an opportunity to ask their elected officials some tough questions - and some not-so-tough ones.

"What are Part 2 crimes?" a man asked Lt. Col. Richard Janke during a morning session overviewing police and safety issues.

Janke explained that Part 2 crimes were offenses such as drug violations, trespassing and criminal damaging.

Peter Hames of Over-the-Rhine was astonished to discover during Luken's open forum that Cincinnati doesn't have a law that requires property owners to maintain their sidewalks.

"It's been a bad week for the weather with all the rain, sleet and snow. And there's a lot of sidewalks that haven't been touched," Hames said. "Talk about keeping people in their homes, especially the elderly and disabled people."

Some residents urged recreation officials to expand hours at the city's 41 pools, especially on Sundays.

"Many said the city should hold such gatherings more than once a year.

"The neighborhoods have been crying for this for a long time," said Mark Townsend of Mount Lookout.

Added Brian Breneman, president of the East End Area Council:"The real measure of the event comes when we find out if things change or if they don't change."

Email kaldridge@enquirer.com and jedwards@enquirer.com. Reporter Gregory Korte contributed.




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