Rockford aldermen review strategy to improve city neighborhoods

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Rockford aldermen get a first look at the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy. One million dollars from the 2020-2024 Capitol Improvement Plan (CIP) will be used to enhance neighborhoods.

City staff and the National Resource Network (NRN) teamed up for strategy. The group spent more than five months gathering data and information from more than two hundred residents in focus groups and interviews.

Monday, Rockford’s housing committee approved the plan.

“Having other people actually come in and decide what our strong points are, what are weak points are and then for us to move forward with those ideas,” said Alderwoman Karen Hoffman (D-8th).

The strategy would see the city target blight and the negative impact it has on neighborhoods; focus would also look to the city’s assets and reinforcing positive perceptions; and develop strong outreach to foster community connection.

“[It’s] thinking about where we want to make sure we’re shoring up the strengths of Rockford and preventing blight from encroaching in those areas,” said Enterprise Community Partners Senior Director of Strategy and Operations Victoria Brown.

The three main recommendations frame the strategies that are outlined in the plan:

Empowered collaboration: Rockford should draw on collective energy and resources of community organizations and agency partners

Asset-center revitalization: The city’s assets lay the foundation for the revitalization. Promote Rockford’s charm, people, parks and natural beauty

Tactical and incremental: While the changes will take time, the city can create positive momentum by adopting smaller, tactical approaches

Alderwoman Linda McNeely voted against the plan. The 13th Ward leader felt her suggestions were ignored, such as having those within the communities be a part of the revitalization.

“Particularly abandoned properties,” said McNeely (D-13th Ward). “They can actually then use those properties for some of them to live in and own.”

The city was broken into four different types of neighborhoods: strong, middle, emerging and special. This way, the consultants could better tailor the needs within each section. ‘Special’ neighborhoods include areas like downtown that are unique compared to the rest of the city.

“Getting down into those neighborhoods and block levels is really where the power is at,” said Brown. “Once you can see the adjancecies, you can target your interventions much more strategically. We’re talking about the city going out to those blocks and checking what’s going on in the ground.”

The strategy also suggests investing into ‘tipping’ neighborhoods to ensure they tip in the right direction moving forward. Alderwoman Hoffman lives in Rolling Green, which is considered to be among the tipping areas.

“Often, we’re forgotten,” said Hoffman. “They brought us forward, they talked about how important we are. That hasn’t happened in the past before and so I’m excited about the fact that we get to focus more on neighborhoods like mine.”

While others disagree.

“But I think as you work on those that are tipping, you’re losing those that are already in distress,” said McNeely. ” I would not support that will be used to enhance neighborhoods.”

The strategy includes a range of tactics to address quality housing, neighborhood place-making, community connection, vacant structures, and crime and safety.

Some of the tactics Rockford may consider include:

  • Providing rental or home repair assistance
  • Opening vacant commercial spaces to local entrepreneurs
  • Expand maintenance and transfer of vacant lots to property owners
  • More effective implementation and enforcement of property standards
  • Continued investment in neighborhood infrastructure and public safety resources
  • Recognizing the best and worst landlords
  • Improve recognition of neighborhoods
  • Create a Mayor’s Neighborhood Task Force to provide feedback to the mayor and staff on neighborhood issues

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