A team of stakeholders poised to tackle the challenges of the city’s Northside are now armed with a powerful tool — expertise from Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit organization led by former Atlanta mayor, and former Executive Board Chair for Purpose Built Communities Shirley Franklin.
During a meeting of about 160 people at Cleveland Elementary School, Franklin announced Wednesday thatt hecity’s Northside officially joined the Purpose Built Communities network.
Purpose Built Communities, with financial backing from billionaire investor Warren Buffett, among others, uses a revitalization model that focuses on mixed-income housing, strong schools, community facilities and support services and a dedicated lead organization to drive the process.
The services are offered free to communities nationwide that use the model.
Purpose Built will work mostly behind-the-scenes to give insight and advice, but what exactly will make up the new Northside will be decided by the residents there, organizers say.
In the early 1990s, the East Lake community in Atlanta was an area with decayed housing, failed schools, joblessness and rampant crime.
Tom Cousins, an Atlanta developer and philanthropist, and the East Lake Foundation began transforming the community with the approach that solutions were needed for housing, schools, human services and recreation to create a healthy community.
Now, the community is called Villages of East Lake and is a jewel of Atlanta’s neighborhoods, Franklin said.
Anita Miller, a Northside resident, is certain the same transformation is possible on the Northside. Miller has been leading meetings on the issue for her neighbors. After Wednesday’s meeting, Miller said she is excited about the Northside’s future, saying the basic goals shared by those involved cross economic barriers.
“People want jobs, and they want their children and grandchildren to have the chance to get a good education,” Miller said. “I believe the community will buy into this, but it’s hard because they’ve lived like this for so long.”
Miller said the Northside rallied last year around a high school senior who was among the first in his family to graduate.
“I can’t wait for the day when we celebrate every senior graduating, not just one,” she said. “When we have more graduating than are falling along the wayside like we have now, that day is coming. It really is.During that time, the Northside Development Corp. and the city have purchased more than 100 vacant homes and parcels. No owner-occupied houses were purchased.
Their work was evident, Franklin said, from the interest and energy at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Of the roughly 25 different communities we’ve worked with, I’ve never seen the depth of interest that you have here, and that’s a result of the work Bill, Curt, Mitch (Kennedy) have been doing during the last two years to build a sense of what could happen,” Franklin said. Normally, Purpose Built meets with groups of stakeholders separately, she said.
Never have so many partners been involved so early in the process, she said.
Purpose Built has been contacted, or offered advice, to those 25 communities, although some eventually chose not to use the Purpose Built model in its entirety. Only neighborhoods that use all four components are included in the Purpose Built network.
McPhail said instead of sending invitations to Wednesday’s event, those who serve on the advisory committee were asked to issue personal invitations.
About 160 people attended the event — a direct result of the “buy-in” from institutions and the neighborhood, McPhail said.
“You had all trustees from (Spartanburg School) District 7, key leaders from the Housing Authority, City Council, the hospital, the Wofford College president — those kinds of folks have other things to do, but they spent two hours listening to what we had to say,” McPhail said. “That’s also a sign that it’s a good idea that they’re receptive too.”
The advisory committee will continue the dialogue with Northside residents, either through neighborhood or one-on-one meetings.
Barnet said it’s important to remember that “we’re on a journey.”
“The tough work begins now and is ahead of us,” the former mayor said. “We should be honored that these successful folks have taken an interest in us, and my hope is that we can take advantage of their model that is working in seven other communities.”
It could be 10 to 15 years before the Northside realizes true community transformation, but there will be “rungs of success” along the way, McPhail said.
For example, Cleveland Elementary School will implement a new leadership approach next year and will be rebranded as The Cleveland Academy of Leadership, with five weeks added to the school year.
The Northside Healthy Food Hub will open in April 2013 and will include a garden, a community kitchen and a cafe that sells nutritious, ready-made meals and fresh produce. It also will house the Hub City Farmer’s Market.
“That’s tangible progress that the Northside and the entire community can be proud of as we continue the work,” McPhail said.
By Lynne P. Shackleford