What does resident-led community transformation look like? Residents of Northeast Hartford, who previously only imagined additions to their neighborhood like more jobs, improved access to healthy food, and attractive public spaces are not only watching those things become a reality, they are also shaping solutions for their own neighborhood.
Our Healthy Northeast Initiative, which has a goal of making Northeast Hartford a safer, healthier and more prosperous community, kicked off in 2011 to introduce a collective impact approach to community development. Several months earlier, the Swift family had donated the historic Swift Factory site, at 10 Love Lane, to Northeast Neighborhood Partners, Inc., a local non-profit organization working to create employment, health and housing opportunities for residents while physically transforming the neighborhood to promote economic revitalization, housing stability and all dimensions of neighborhood health. The factory was once the economic engine of the neighborhood, but has been closed since 2004. Community Solutions partnered with NNPI to revive this critical neighborhood asset and tailor its new purposes to the community’s current needs.
The neighborhood, with 10,700 residents, has long struggled with high rates of unemployment, blight, crime and chronic health problems; yet many local institutions have worked to make a difference. There are 22 churches, a library, two community centers, a senior center, five food pantries, three soup kitchens, three mental health service providers, a job training program, four elementary/ middle schools, four Head Start programs, a Salvation Army multi-service center, and a branch of The Catholic Worker focused on youth. However, few of the organizations were linked to each other and many had no way of knowing what residents deem most crucial to change their neighborhood.
That is why the Healthy Northeast Initiative set out to develop a network of local change agents, and align the efforts of existing organizations to work collectively with residents toward achieving measurable change in Northeast Hartford.
A Three Part Strategy
With 45 organizations now involved and meeting regularly, three collaborative initiatives are underway.
Creating a new neighborhood hub at the Swift Factory
The factory and surrounding property are already creating new opportunities. NNPI has partnered with Hartford Food System and Knox Parks Foundation to transform the open space on the Swift Factory site into an urban farm. The Five Corners Farm is in its second growing season and has increased access to healthy, fresh food and provided seasonal employment for neighborhood residents. Nearly 100 other residents volunteered at the farm during a special planting and clean up day as part of the November 11th Fall Festival.
Planning for the reuse of the 65,000-square-foot historic factory is led within the neighborhood by our Community Planning Partners John J. Thomas and Terry Starks. John and Terry, who both live in Northeast Hartford, have met one on one with hundreds of neighbors to identify Northeast Hartford's strengths and needs, and to consider opportunities that could be created at the factory. They presented their initial findings at a well-attended meeting of the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) on November 21, with job creation being the number one priority. With the goal of creating at least 50 permanent jobs, the site may also include a food education center and commercial kitchen, a year-round hydroponic farm, affordable space for small manufacturers and a new library branch oriented to youth and adult learners. At the meeting, project architects Durkee Brown Viveiros Werenfels presented their preliminary plans for the site, highlighting green design features and strategies to preserve the historic buildings while repurposing them for new uses.
“It is wonderful to see so many neighborhood residents and community partners coming together to make the former Swift factory a lively hub of neighborhood life,” said Catherine Craig, who oversees the Healthy Northeast Initiative as Community Solutions’ Director of Health Integration.
We are working with NNPI to secure financing for the project, and anticipate that renovations will begin in late 2013.
“Greening” Northeast Hartford
In the spring of this year, The Friends of Keney Park, the Conway School of Landscape Design and students from the landscape architecture program of Smith College worked with Northeast Hartford residents to identify priority locations for repurposing vacant land, improving access to the neighborhood’s magnificent but underutilized Keney Park, strengthening connections for walking and public activity along Westland Street, the key east-west corridor, and for creating infrastructure and green jobs in the process. Their preliminary research was presented at a community meeting in May. Some of the more immediate recommendations have already been implemented by the City of Hartford. To build on these findings, partner Michael Singer Studios, an internationally-known planner and artist, will begin work on a comprehensive greening plan for the areas around the Swift site. They will identify the highest impact and most feasible and affordable ways to create jobs, improve health, reduce energy use and improve the quality of public spaces throughout the neighborhood.
Community-Based Care Coordination
This week begins our Community-Based Care Coordination initiative to support neighborhood residents who visit the emergency room most frequently. An initial group of 40 residents will be referred by St. Francis Care Hospital to work with Nadia Lugo, our Health Integration Coordinator, who will assist them in connecting with primary care at the Burgdorf Clinic or Community Health Services Clinic and to other partners in the neighborhood network to boost their health and reduce the need for them to use the emergency room. As Nadia, our partners and our residents map the challenges these 40 individuals face in leading healthier lives, we will design a better local health support network and then expand the program. In 2013, a group of local residents will be hired and trained to work with Nadia as Community Care Coordinators to assist more than 800 residents who frequently use the emergency room in improving their health by 2015.