A local fact-finding trip to the city of Geneva has underscored for some of members the how the czb LLC neighborhood study should be interpreted as a framework for neighborhood development.
"One of the key things that they said is that it's more of a guiding plan than anything else,'' said Jason Stronz. "You have to figure out what works best for your community."
Although some distance apart, the task force from Jamestown traveled to its Finger Lakes counterpart to observe the progress made following Geneva's own commission of a consultant study. Both cities recruited the czb firm.
Greg Rabb, D-At Large and City Council president, and other area officials are pictured on their trip to Geneva.
"They are about six months to a year ahead of us," Stronz said.
AN ARM OF THE CITY
The Geneva study was published in December 2008. After about 12 months, the city adopted the plan and established the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center. It has since begun to carry out its own slate of recommendations.
Commenting on the turnaround time from proposal to adoption, Stronz said "There was a lot of behind the scenes work. The person that runs the GNRC was already working for the city as the acting director of the neighborhood initiatives office. He was there, and a lot of it already made sense for him."
The GNRC identifies itself as a project of Geneva's office of neighborhood initiatives. Its mission is to build confidence and pride in Geneva's neighborhoods through collaboration, education and thoughtful design.
While it remains an "arm of the city," Stronz said the center is physically removed from city hall, occupying the lower floor of a multi-purpose building. Its offices are comprised of five paid positions and also rely on a large team of student interns from the local Hobart and William Smith colleges.
After its founding, the center immediately went to work with Geneva's first neighborhood project, the Great Geneva Neighborhood Challenge. After a selection process this spring, three winning neighborhoods were awarded $10,000 each to improve their properties.
The money was secured from private sources including three banks and the Finger Lakes Health Network. The visiting team from Jamestown conducted an extensive walk of several streets in the city, and they were able to see yard signs bearing the names of the donors among the winning neighborhoods.
"They plan to do it every year. As long as the funding is there, they are going to continue to do it," said Stronz.
SUCCESS IN JAMESTOWN
"One of the lessons I learned is how we commit to the study is up to us" said Greg Rabb, D-At Large and City Council president.
Rabb said Jamestown is clearly in a different situation from its regional neighbors, such as Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
"That's why I like Geneva - it's small enough and we share the same consultant," he said.
He said there are some clear distinctions, however. Geneva is positioned only six miles south of the Interstate 90. It enjoys close proximity to other cities, Rabb said, and the surrounding area lends to higher average housing values within the city. But he said the model of Geneva is a good one to follow.
Referring to the entity which will carry out the plan, Rabb said "I would prefer it be an offshoot of the city government. The city doesn't do the projects. The city helps the neighbors."
He added the neighborhood challenge is good approach because neighbors have to come together and decide how their improvement project will take shape.
Outlined in a recent news release, the physical improvement is only one of three components for the neighborhood challenge. The other two are hosting block parties to celebrate the ongoing progress, and a final banquet is planned to "showcase all of the projects and recognize participating neighbors for outstanding improvements, collaborations, and events."
"Fixing the neighborhood is good, but what counts is social improvement,'' Rabb said. "I think we came back more committed than ever. This was a great experience and we now have some things we can adapt ... my only regret is that more couldn't join us."
Rabb and Stronz were accompanied by their colleagues in the task force for neighborhood revitalization as well as a directing member of the Gebbie Foundation and a city code enforcement officer.
FINDING A RESOURCE CENTER
Another visible parallel exists between the two cities. This year Geneva unveiled its GNRC, a facility identified as a "marketplace for thought, education, and discussion about the history and the future of Geneva's built environment."
Recently in Jamestown, the Renaissance Center on Third Street was renovated by the Gebbie Foundation, and renamed in honor of Dr. Lillian V. Ney.
"I think it would be a great spot," Rabb said, adding the plan for revitalization, since its inception, has been driven by a partnership between the city and the private sector, including the area foundations.
"Going forward, anything that comes up has to be a cooperative effort," said Gebbie representative Andrea Magnuson. She agreed the Renaissance Center would serve as an ideal physical link between the foundation, other groups devoted to revitalization and the city administration.