Lisa Weiser, branch manager of the North Hill Branch of the Akron-Summit County Public Library, offers some thoughts on why she got involved in Better Block Akron’s North Hill event, May 15 through 17.
How did you get involved in Akron Better Block?
I have been involved with the North Hill Community Leaders for over a year now. I was invited to participate by Rodney Matthews from Urban Vision. As the branch manager of the North Hill Branch Library and someone who was born and raised in North Hill, I have a passion for this neighborhood and the people who live here. Our aim is to make North Hill a welcoming community for newly arrived immigrants and refugees, to assist them as they assimilate into our neighborhood.
By the same token, we wanted to reassure our long time residents who were concerned about all the new faces in the community. We wanted to do what we could to help create a more vibrant and safe community for everyone. To that end, we started conducting monthly community tours of the new ethnic markets and community assets such as the International Institute, the library, Urban Vision, Trinity United Church of Christ, etc. These tours have become very popular and folks from other neighborhoods are attending as well. They help make human connections and make people feel welcome in markets and restaurants they may not have felt comfortable walking into alone. When Jason Segedy (Director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study) approached us about Better Block, it just seemed like the next logical step.
Why did you get involved in Akron Better Block?
Part of my job as a librarian is to be involved in a community outreach partnership. Librarians don’t just sit around all day reading. We are actively involved in our communities. I see this as important and far-reaching work. We hope all the work that has gone into Better Block will have long lasting benefits for our neighborhood and all the people who live and work here. It’s also been an amazing opportunity to meet others who are interested in seeing our community grow. We have so many people in our community who are committed to helping North Hill prosper. I feel so blessed to be working with them and I have had so much fun!
Why should people attend Akron Better Block?
People should attend to enjoy all our community has to offer. There will be entertainers performing on two stages, an open air market with local vendors, mural painting, a global welcoming center, great food, a bike-up movie on Friday evening, a farmers market on Sunday and pop-up shops. In addition to all that there will be docent lead tours of the Inside/Out art installations (from the Akron Art Museum) on Sunday as well as all the other activities from the Open Streets Initiative. It will be a chance for people to see what is possible when creative people re-envision existing spaces.
What does this program mean to you?
I hope it means another positive step for North Hill and the beginning of many more collaborative projects for the North Hill Community Leaders.
I love this community and I hope Better Block is just the beginning. This program has meant challenging myself to think differently about our neighborhood and to act. It’s easy to blame the city, the economy, the fates, about what we don’t like in our community. Better Block requires action at the neighborhood level. It’s empowering and a little scary, but so worth it!
What does Better Block mean to North Hill?
I think the opportunity to host Better Block and all the positive press has been terrific for the community and has given people a sense of pride. Patrons coming into the library are excited and asking lots of questions about what’s going on. Lots of people are signing up to volunteer. Residents from other parts of Akron are excited about what is happening in North Hill. Hopefully all of that means businesspeople will consider North Hill as a possible location for a new business and young families looking to purchase their first home will look at real estate in North Hill. Hopefully, it will mean better understanding and appreciation of our diverse cultures as we live and work together.
What will Better Block mean for other neighborhoods?
Our hope is that other neighborhoods will look at what we have done and then begin to re-imagine their own neighborhoods. No two communities are exactly the same, and the idea of Better Block is to look at what you have and then imagine what would make your community a more attractive and welcoming space for people to gather, shop, eat, etc. What’s missing? What do people want? What do they need to feel safe? What can you do to solve some of those problems?