Summit produces action steps

Training, funding and information sharing top neighborhoods’ list of concerns.

May 8, 2015
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Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss shared the outcomes of the recent Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit with her fellow commissioners last week, including three action steps that could be supported in the upcoming 2016 budget.

Bliss heads up the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force, which consists of 14 community members representing several stakeholder interests. The task force hosted the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit in March, and more than 300 community members participated.

Bliss said the hope was that the summit would be a “catalyst for a larger conversation,” as well as become an annual event.

The main question addressed during the summit was: “What can the city do to help support neighborhoods and strengthen neighborhoods?”

Bliss noted the top issues brought to light during the daylong conference were: housing, support for neighborhood associations, improving communication between the city and neighborhoods, and education and schools.

Based on the conversation, Bliss presented the city commission with five recommendations developed by the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force following the summit, noting three recommendations it would like to see integrated into city budget discussions.

The first two recommendations were to begin aggressively addressing housing issues and to share the recommendations regarding education with the city commission/school board liaison committee.

The task force believes the issues of housing and education are already being addressed in a significant way by other groups and can be best served by those groups’ continued effort.

The Strong Neighborhoods Task Force is calling on the city to include three recommendations in its budget discussions: providing and promoting training for neighborhood organizations; creating a neighborhood matching fund initiative; and improving information sharing between the city, neighborhoods, business districts, CIDs and BIDs.

The task force believes neighborhood organizations could be more successful with increased education and training in the resources and tools available to them. Training could include board development, grant writing, technical assistance, nonprofit leadership, how to utilize city services and functions of the city.

The Strong Neighborhoods Task Force suggested the city partner with Grand Valley State University to provide some of the training — such as board development, grant writing and diversifying revenue streams — that could have a substantial impact on neighborhood organizations’ success.

Bliss noted during the summit that Jim Diers from the city of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods shared information on Seattle’s neighborhood matching fund program, suggesting Grand Rapids could initiate a similar matching fund. She noted other cities have adopted variations of what Seattle has done, and suggested Grand Rapids could do the same.

Finally, the task force is recommending increased information sharing.

“The fear is, everyone is operating in isolation,” Bliss said.

The task force is calling for an increased use of technology to improve communication between the city and its neighborhoods.

Following Bliss’s presentation on the three recommendations for the city, City Manager Greg Sundstrom noted phase three of the approved Transformation Plan included a “placeholder” for these items.

“We will be creating value streams for each in the transformation plans, with timelines and persons responsible,” he said.

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