City Councilman Rich Swirsky led a Ward 1 meeting earlier this month at The Church of Our Savior in Highland Square. About 60 residents of the ward, including members of the West Hill Neighborhood Organization (WHNO), met that morning to discuss problems facing the neighborhood, and to brainstorm ways to combat them.
Round tables were set up around the room with five different topics of interest on them, one topic for each table, creating small discussion groups. Citizens at the meeting were instructed to go to the table that had the subject that interested them most, and they worked together there for 30 minutes to identify issues and suggest ways to fix them.
The five subjects for discussion were Youth and Seniors, Development and Community Resources, Housing, Community Spaces (Gardens, Playgrounds, Gathering Spaces), and Safety and Crime.
The group focusing on Youth and Seniors want to engage intergenerational interactions and connections, create more free, safe community areas and events for youths, seniors and families, and have more community gatherings.
Those discussing Development and Community Resources want to develop new diverse housing stock, renovate structures, find businesses to inhabit the soon to be vacant Highland Square storefronts, increase the amount of art spaces in the area and develop the Crosby-Downtown corridor, maybe extending the monthly Artwalk to the Highland Square neighborhood.
Those discussing Housing wanted to address the problems of absentee landlords and neglected properties, and like many of the groups at the discussion, wanted to encourage citizens to report crime.
Those brainstorming in the Community Spaces area want to continue identifying problem spaces such as vacant lots and find good uses for them (green spaces, gardens, etc.). They pointed to the patch of open land by the Glendale Step as an area that might be used as a large community space. They also said neighbors should be outside more to make the area safe, saying that by watching your kids and neighbors, it discourages drug dealers and other criminals. Said group discussion member Karen Edwards: “It’s up to us. Cops can’t do everything,” a sentiment that Swirsky added his agreement to.
Safety and Crime’s main topics were the problem of prostitution in the area, the need for block watches and sidewalk clearance and the condition of sidewalks. Those discussing called for more interaction between city departments, block watches, police help and citizen help. Using technology like smartphones and cameras is a good way to help report crime, they said, and like others at the meeting, stressed that citizens need to call the police to help stop crime.
Also attending the meeting were Officer Michael Hill from the Akron Police Department, who along with Swirsky encouraged citizens to contact the police to notify them of any problem that there might be. Hill works with the C.O.P., Community Oriented Policing , program of the APD. The telephone number for C.O.P. is (330) 375-2568.
Councilman Jeff Fusco and John W. Valle, the director of Akron’s Department of Neighborhood Assistance, also were at the meeting. This was the second small group discussion of this kind for Ward 1; the first meeting took place in January. There will be more meetings of this kind in the future.
Councilman Rich Swirsky can be contacted by email at [email protected].