Won't you be my neighbor?
It's a phrase multiple generations grew up with from the wise lesson of Mr. Rogers. Learning how to be each others neighbor meant taking care of each other, knowing about each other, helping each other out.
It seems like such an elemental lesson, but one people these days struggle more and more to adhere too. That's why it is exciting to hear about the City of Winter Haven's focus on bringing neighborhoods back together.
At today's Coffee and Conversation, a series presented thanks to the generous sponsorship of Tinsley Family Concessions, we heard from City Manager Mike Herr, Public Safety Director Charlie Bird and Neighborhood Planner Anita Silwal speak on the topic of moving our neighborhoods forward. Chief Bird gave an update on their code enforcement initiative, Neighborhoods on the Move, where they are using new ways to give the community resources on "coming into compliance". This initiative isn't just about giving residents a citation and expecting them to comply. That approach isn't effective, so Chief feels that this new technique will yield greater results.
The goal for "Neighborhoods on the Move" is to make our city neighborhoods cleaner, safer, healthier and more connected through exceptional customer service. The team at the City want our neighborhoods to be viable and growing so that people want to live here. The whole idea is to get into our local neighborhoods, give courtesy notices on compliance issues, make connections and help them access the tools they need to be successful.
While they want to touch every neighborhood in the City limits, you have to start somewhere. Chief and his team identified "hot spot" areas to begin with based on data from code compliance and calls for service. It's all about engaging the residents so they are involved in the process of becoming compliant. Chief shared that as they talked with the residents, they truly got to know them and this helped create an even smoother process to getting houses into compliance. They were able to get residents the resources they needed while also collaborating with organizations like Heart 4 Winter Haven and other non-profits.
"Some residents don't even realize they are out of code, so having this engagement is helping the community be knowledgable and allows citizens to be connected to city resources," he shared.
The first neighborhood hot spot outcome was that members got to know each other and there was a high percentage on compliance. The residents were very receptive and excited to see the City staff on the street, interacting with the neighborhoods and getting to know one another. There were 333 properties in the first hot spot and the team did 11 "courtesy notices." These notices aren't meant to be "in your face." They are simply a courtesy so that everyone has a chance to make it right. After completing this hot spot, they found that there was 50% compliance upon re-inspection. "That's a big number and we will grow from that," Chief explained.
This community initiative has assisted people even more than just with code enforcement. Neighborhoods on the Move is educating the communities on the city resources they have available to them, as well as providing a connection to community leaders and helpful community organizations.
Chief Bird's goal - for this to be so much more than an initiative. It will become a best practice for other communities to emulate.
Schedule of Neighborhoods:
Neighborhood 1 – Winter Haven High School (Ave. G SE/6th St SE Friday, March 8, 2019 (completed)
Neighborhood 2 – Oaklawn Cemetary (Ave. M SW/5th St SW Friday, May 3, 2019 (completed)
FUTURE INITIATIVE AREAS
Neighborhood 3 – Downtown Oaks Friday, July 12, 2019
Neighborhood 4 – Ave. Q NW Friday, September 6, 2019
Next, we heard form Anita Silwal. Anita has only been with the City of Winter Haven for 4 months, but she shared her excitement to be a resident of the City of Winter Haven and to be involved in making our neighborhoods better. She finds joy in helping the community utilize and identify city resources and to help them to connect with one another.
When Anita was hired she was asked what her plan was for Winter Haven neighborhoods. She realizes that when we talk about neighborhood planning it's not just about making plan and telling the residents what's going to happen. It doesn't work that way! She knows the importance of bringing community people on board and making sure that they are apart of the process.
Anita shared the importance of making sure we keep the unique, and many times historic, character of our neighborhoods. She believes we need to make sure our residents have community pride in their neighborhoods. She envisions our neighborhoods coming together to celebrate neighborhood day, so that they can truly appreciate the location and people that are a part of the neighborhoods. She wants to see people establishing relationships and sharing ideas and establishing more connections. Anita is confident that Winter Haven can do just that!
Neighborhood associations are also a part of Anita's plan. They will provide a common platform for community members to voice their concerns. The city of Winter Haven is more than happy to take calls from residents, but Anita feels that these associations would be led by community members themselves, making it an even greater tool and advocate for the community's needs. Residents need to be involved in the process of making our neighborhoods greater!
Anita's plans for the future don't stop there! She envisions building interactive neighborhood maps where you can access community maps, on-going projects and community data. Anita has a master's degree from Florida Polytechnic in data analytics and she is trying to identify the challenges and opportunities of the neighborhoods in Winter Haven and is excited to keep digging deeper. They have formed a Neighborhood Services Team at the City to work together to solve neighborhood issues. "We don't wait when it comes to exceptional customer service," Anita shared in discussing addressing community needs as quickly as they are able.
The goal of Neighborhoods on the Move, as well as planning for the future of our neighborhoods is to empower Winter Haven residents. To do this even in a small way, the city started a Nextdoor account to share the details of different neighborhoods in Winter Haven. Any person can go on their phone, search on the Nextdoor application and research different communities. For example, 10,214 residents have engaged with posts on Nextdoor for the City of Winter Haven. This is a great way to keep hearing from the community and for the community to stay updated on Winter Haven.
The City's efforts here are not just about data. It's about finding new ways to approach old problems and thinking outside of the box to build a better strategy in helping people.