Organizations receiving support include The Well Community Development Corporation, North Akron Community Development Corporation and Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance
— Two community development corporations and one neighborhood alliance will launch a plan to improve neighborhood life, keep and attract talented people and advance new investments in Akron with $720,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Well Community Development Corporation, representing Akron’s Middlebury neighborhood; North Akron Community Development Corporation, representing North Hill, Chapel Hill and Cascade Valley; and Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance will each receive $240,000 to accelerate development in the city.
Community development corporations are nonprofit, community-based organizations focused on revitalizing neighborhoods by advancing economic development, community engagement and access to housing. Akron has been conducting significant study and reflection on its public and civic spaces over the last few years; the city has recognized the role community development corporations can play as leadership partners in this regard.
“Akron is currently grappling with population decline and lack of investment,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron. “Efforts to address these challenges have largely focused on attracting multinational and large employers, without considering ways to improve quality of life in cities and make Akron a more vibrant place to live and work. These community development corporations will help to address this gap, with the goal of increasing public and private investment and creating a better future for our city.”
Knight Foundation’s “Build in Akron” report and the city of Akron’s “Planning to Grow Akron” report highlight future housing hot spots and market-ready commercial districts in the city’s Kenmore, Middlebury and North Hill areas. Each neighborhood has already led Knight-funded Better Block events, which focus on bringing the community together to transform a blighted city block into a vibrant neighborhood destination. Knight funding will enable these organizations to draw lessons from these events, using them as a basis to develop broader strategies to improve neighborhood life and accelerate community growth.
The organizations will use the support to:
- Hire new staff focused on increasing business development, civic engagement and housing access, while building expertise in marketing and economic development to share with Akron’s broader community.
- Lead a neighborhood planning process with input from local leaders, including ways to use public spaces to encourage civic engagement, create strategies to strengthen business districts, and attract interest through neighborhood branding campaigns.
- Identify pathways to advance community development through prototyping and idea testing.
“With this support, we can move on some of our plans immediately,” said John Ughrin, executive director of the North Akron Community Development Organization. “This lets us get to work programming, beautifying and energizing life in our neighborhoods. It also gives us some freedom to experiment, assess our current practices and get input from the community. Residents of North Akron already know it’s a great place to live, we want to make that undeniable.”
Each neighborhood has explored their economic development, residential and community engagement needs through the Better Block planning process, as well as through similar neighborhood activities. As Zac Kohl, executive director of The Well Community Development Corporation in Middlebury notes: “The Middlebury Better Block formed a group of committed individuals and organizations that rallied to test strategies to improve the neighborhood. This support will allow us to create the capacity to execute on future neighborhood planning, specifically as we fight to create equity for the people of Middlebury in housing and economic development.”
Tina Boyes, a Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance board member who chaired the recent Kenmore Better Block event, says she sees the planning process as a timely tool for leveraging her community’s already growing interest in Kenmore Boulevard, the neighborhood’s main commercial area. The alliance will explore what an effective community development organization should look like in what is Akron’s largest continuous neighborhood business district.
“Better Block highlighted Kenmore Boulevard’s potential for economic development and placemaking,” Boyes said. “Residents, artists, small business owners and investors are now talking to each other, and want to take action to realize the potential for our neighborhood together.”
With deep partnerships already established with other community development corporations, nonprofit organizations and agencies working in Akron, these three organizations hope to create a plan for growth that is inclusive of the residents of each of the neighborhoods. All three organizations live and work within Akron, and their boards include residents, business owners and nonprofit leaders from across the city.
Support for these organizations is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts in Akron to attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. Since 2008 Knight has invested more than $58 million in Akron.
About Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance
Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance is a 501(c)(3) public charity, whose mission is to enhance the Kenmore community by reaching out to all residents to engage them in cultural, artistic, recreational and business revitalization. It does so through programming and collaboration with Kenmore residents, businesses and existing community groups. To learn more about Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, visit www.knacares.org.
About North Akron CDC
The mission of North Akron Community Development Corporation (NACDC) is to assure a vibrant thriving North Akron Community that inspires and connects its residents while celebrating its unique diversity. North Akron CDC hopes to achieve this mission by focusing on the following areas of impact: business and economic development; physical infrastructure and beautification; social and informational events and programming. NACDC’s Board members include residents, business owners and nonprofit leaders.
About The Well CDC
The mission of The Well Community Development Corporation (The Well) is to see communities all over Akron giving individuals the opportunity to thrive in their current context. The Well Community Development Corporation will work with like-minded partners to create affordable housing, a thriving economy and placemaking initiatives, while reinvesting worth, value and dignity back into the individual lives and social health of the neighborhoods of Akron. Rebuilding community through relationships. The Well’s Board members include business leaders, residents and nonprofit leaders. To learn more about The Well CDC, visit www.thewellakron.com.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.