August 23, 2009

Today Editorial on the NRSA

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It’s a mouthful to say it: “Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area.”

But let’s just say, you know a potential NRSA when you see it. These neighborhoods need a little “TLC” — trash and litter control. And time, labor and cash.

Three years ago, Worcester designated five low-income neighborhoods as recipients of $2 million worth of federal Community Block Grant money, which was to be used in revitalization efforts. The areas chosen were Chandler Street-Park Avenue; Beacon Street in Main South; Grafton Street; lower Lincoln Street; and South Worcester.

About a quarter of the city’s residents live in one of these five areas, and about 80 percent of them are at or below the median income level, according to Dennis Hennessey, the city’s director of neighborhood and housing development.

He said that, so far, $900,000 of the $2 million has been spent on the pilot program.

The initiative aims to bring residents, nonprofits, city officials and business people together to tackle the myriad problems that grow, fester and that no one ever seems to get around to. That includes removing debris, pulling weeds, and fixing up storefronts and properties. In the longer view, the program seeks to help create affordable housing units, and jumpstart after-school and job development programs, among other improvements.

Wednesday evening, members of the City Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee took a tour of the Chandler Street-Park Avenue NRSA, and heard feedback from some of those who have been involved, in preparation for a midway report on the program that is expected to be provided to the council in the fall.

Officials say the Chandler-Park NRSA has been the most successful of the five. Among those who have quietly done their part, or more than their part, are teenagers from the Buddhist Phohien Temple on Dewey Street, who have worked on weekdays all summer long, without pay or complaint, on cleanup in the neighborhood.

Andrew Serrato, owner of Seratto Signs on Dewey Street, told Wednesday’s tour-takers that in addition to various repairs, plantings and other betterments participants can point to, there has been a noticeable boost in civic pride. “This project is nudging people to reinvest,” he said.

That needed, potent nudge is the essence of the NRSA program’s goal. We hope the nudge keeps pushing for a nicer, more productive place for people to live and work, long after the grant money moves out.

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