You can’t enjoy a great town or city without great neighborhoods. Building a system of stable and healthy neighborhoods and neighborhood leaders, I believe, is the primary job of cities, towns, and counties everywhere. Part of this overall strategy is to focus on creating and maintaining character communities. The result will be driving prosperity, civility, and sociability. A town that works together makes progress and daily improvement and can ultimately be a destination place.
Some of these strategies for neighborhood improvement include promoting diversity in residents, housing stock, the environment, transportation options, and economic opportunity. I believe we are doing well with the diversity of residents and the environment. While I was on the school board, I viewed bi-monthly enrollment statistics, and District 2 I certainly enjoy a diverse school population. The environment offers diversity between Lake Apopka, smaller lakes, the Wekiva River, springs, sand hills, wetlands, hammock lands, etc. Our challenge is to keep the growth in the right places and protect these environmentally sensitive areas.
Regarding diversity of transportation and economic development, we have a way to improve. Social media is rife with resident complaints about traffic congestion and lack of job opportunities in the district. I’m glad the county is completing high-level transportation of the entire northwest area of the county and wish more of the economic development efforts were focused in District 2 and not so much on the UCF area. This is certainly an area to focus more attention on in 2024.
As for cultivating interesting and authentic features, a strategy for building “character” – this work is ongoing. My Neighborhood Leader Program has focused on building authentic features with minimal cost and through volunteer effort. Consider the temporary “park” area we created at Thompson and Votaw Road. Significant clean-up by the fire department and the People of Wekiwa Springs (POWS) has brought that area back into use and activity. I know part of POWS strategic planning in January will discuss offering additional events on that piece of property. If you wish to engage with POWS, they meet on the first Tuesday of the month at Wekiwa Springs Baptist Church.
As for encouraging civility and sociability, my Neighborhood Leader Program provides numerous opportunities for engaging in community events. As municipalities, the cities of Apopka and Ocoee offer numerous community events, and I highly recommend residents participate. The People of Lockhart recently offered a large-scale event in conjunction with their 150th anniversary.
Here is a checklist for neighborhood leaders to consider developing character or high-functioning neighborhoods. One – establish or strengthen the existing neighborhood organization or create a new voluntary association. Two – provide a beautification plan or spirit decorating plan to engage resident volunteers better. Three – establish and utilize an internal communication system and use it regularly. Four – fully engage and partner as a neighborhood team with your municipal government.
Critical elements for creating and maintaining great neighborhoods include a safe environment with low crime rates. Trees and beauty are a must. Neighborhoods should be located by nearby amenities such as parks, quality schools, gathering places, civic and religious institutions, shopping, dining, and local businesses. Citizens must insist on quality public services such as police, fire, parks & recreation, utilities, and public work. In this environment, municipalities are being forced to spend more on employment packages to attract the best and brightest into public service.
And the final suggestion from my source, Bill Kercher’s series on Character Towns, Neighborhoods, etc., is “walkable, pretty streets”. I spend significant time teaching volunteers to report infrastructure deficiencies to 911 and significant public works funding to add sidewalk curbing and improve drainage. I regularly advocate for older neighborhoods to receive new sidewalks and encourage drainage wells and ditches to be cleaned out to avoid flooding in future tropical storms and hurricanes. And, of course, I offer monthly clean-up opportunities for improving front entranceways.
If any of these items interest you, I recommend you join my Neighborhood Leaders group by emailing my office at District2@ocfl.net.