West Bloomington Redevelopment

Kerry Reitz

 

Westside Revitalization

 

The West Bloomington Task Force was created by the Economic Development Council of the City of Bloomington in 2008.  This Task Force includes leaders of many community organizations that are active within Bloomington.  Before identifying the changes that need to be made to the Westside of Bloomington, a few statistics need to be understood.  The median income for a person living in this area is $26,740.  About 17.4% of people within this area live at or below the poverty line.  The median house value for a home in this area is $61,723 and there are many homes in this area that are in foreclosure.  There was a survey given to the residents in this area outlining their concerns about the community.  About 200 residents participated in the survey.  The main areas of concern that are outlined include public safety, the quality of neighborhood parks, neighborhood jobs and the maintenance of streets and sidewalks.

The first strategy outlined in the West Bloomington Neighborhood Plan concerns community greening.  This was because those on the Task Force decided that the community needed more open spaces for recreational activities and community events.  The first project was the creation of a community garden for vegetables, plants, etc and the creation of classes on gardening, recycling, landscaping, etc.  The garden was created almost immediately after the idea was conceived and was created by volunteers around the community.  This project was so successful that the community is considering the creation of another community garden.  Plans are in-the-making for the next project, which deals with streetscape improvements along Market St and Washington St.  These plans include a landscaped median along Market St, as well as improved sidewalks and crosswalks.  Other projects directed at community greening include the creation of events and workshops at Friendship Park, the creation of a competition for the “greenest” building within the community, and the building of bike paths along Allin, Front and Locust Streets.  The City of Bloomington has already made plans for a longer bike path throughout the city.  There is also a vacant lot along Howard St where the Task Force wants to create a new park.

The next strategy outlined in the plan deals with the youth within the community.  The first project deals with the creation of a clearinghouse of all community after-school programs, volunteer, work and mentoring programs.  A few other projects include working with the community’s three elementary schools in order to make a program to put children’s art on display in public places, the creation of a bike-share program, and working with ISU and IWU to create a college visit day as well as strengthen the already existing mentoring program between college students and children.  The Task Force has also suggested working with 4-H and Urban League to offer classes in math and science.  This could be done through tutoring, after school study sessions and summer classes.  Another project deals with the establishment of a program for the youth to meet with senior citizens within their community.  The creation of a community center at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church that is open during the day and evening with free or inexpensive activities and a space for teenagers to socialize was also suggested.  A computer donation/rehabilitation program for youth on the Westside has already been implemented: Blue Jay Computers is in charge of this program.

Another area of concern within the community is the safety and well-being of residents within the area.  The Task Force suggested many programs that would help enhance the safety and security of Westside citizens.  The first item suggested is the creation of a new neighborhood watch.  Many parts of Bloomington already have these, but some do not.  The Task Force wants neighborhood watches on all Westside blocks.  Also, training should be given at neighborhood watch meetings in order to help at-risk senior citizens in the area.  The plan also outlines working with the US Postal Service to create a Carrier Alert Program in order to monitor the well-being of older and disabled citizens.  The US Postal Service already does this in many other communities.  The Task Force also wants to fix all broken street lights and create new light fixtures along bike paths, sidewalks, alleys and streets in the area.  Also, trees need to be trimmed so that branches do not block street lamps.  New rail-road crossing safety gates need to be put into place because the rail-road crosses the street six times between Morris and Lee Street.  The possibility to re-open Jefferson St to through traffic was also suggested, as well as the implementation of traffic calming measures along Allin St by Friendship Park.  The Task Force also wants to continue working with the police, the City and neighborhood watches to detect and decrease the abuse of elders in the community.  The “Turn the Porch Light On” campaign was also suggested to help reduce crime, as well as the utilization of safe community design to enhance community interaction and to increase visibility.  The Task Force also wants to distribute city pamphlets to encourage buildings to make the numbers large and easily visible, which is already required in City Code.  Also, the encouragement of community watch groups to report criminal activity as well as dealing with safety issues occurring after homes have been foreclosed were also projects outlined by the Task Force.

The next strategy outlined in the Neighborhood Plan deals with economic development.  The first goal is to keep already existing employers in the area and encourage them to expand as well as to try and get new employers to the Westside.  The Task Force also wants to work with the Bloomington/Normal Public Transit System to create an “Early Hours Program” in order to assist those residents who need transportation before six, as well as provide transportation on Sundays.  The Transit System already has an “After Hours” program in place.  Another project outlined in the plan is working with EDC, ISU and IWU to encourage new businesses to start up.  Other projects include the creation of a more competitive business market by rebranding the downtown area and creating financial and economic training as well as workforce development programming for citizens.  The intersection at Market and Howard has been identified as a place for redevelopment to allow for more businesses and more consumers. 

Housing was also another issue addressed by the Task Force.  The first project deals with the creation of more housing for a wider range of incomes.  A Housing Committee has already been formed to oversee these activities.  Other projects concerning housing include building and changing houses to allow for accessibility for the elderly and the disabled, provide EAH (Employer Assisted Housing), re-do vacant homes and work to occupy them as well as helping create more live/work affordable studios for creative arts professionals.  The Neighborhood Plan also outlines a project to offer classes to landlord and tenants on the rights and responsibilities and to allow citizens to receive funds for green housing and weatherization projects.  The Task Force also wants to allow for more types of buildings where the first floor is used for a business and has residential units above it.  They also want to help those who are facing a possible foreclosure on their homes and to continue to enforce the City’s building code and possibly suggest changes to it.  For implementation of this, the Task Force suggests that the zoning code needs to up dated in order to have more mixed housing types, allow for more neighborhood walkability, revitalize vacant areas and implement regulations for road standards.  Habitat for Humanity and Mid Central Community Action has already taken steps to increase the amount of affordable homes on the Westside.  A few other suggestions include the continuation of support to help those who are unemployed or mentally challenged, allow for the education and programs for people that could become homeowners, attempt to get the City to implement a vacant building ordinance and to use CDBG funds to repair apartment buildings.

Education was also another big concern outlined by the Task Force.  They want to create free or low-cost programs that teach adults life skills, counsel high school and junior high school students about planning for college and life after high school, to continue to allow for community use after-school and on weekends at nearby schools, work with the Bloomington Public Library to expand their services to the Westside, create more programs and courses that are educational and are specifically for senior citizens and to allow for low-cost transportation between Bloomington and Normal.  This is so that Westside residents can have educational opportunities located throughout Bloomington/Normal.  Community programs that are already in-place at schools on the Westside include Boy and Girl Scouts, ESL, Parks and Recreation sports, the GED program, the blood drive and neighborhood watch meetings.

Overall, the Task Force who put together the West Bloomington Neighborhood Plan has found over 25 participating organizations that are helping to implement this plan.  Although this plan has many good ideas, there are only a few of the projects outlined that have actually been implemented.  Also, while nearly all of the ideas of the plan seem good as well as possible, there is not any information on how the Task Force plans to come up with the money needed to implement these projects.  They have found organizations that can help implement them, but they fail to lay out step by step guidelines on how they are going to achieve them.  The Task Force may want to update the Neighborhood Plan in order to attempt to further implement these projects in order to make the Westside a better and safer place to live.