Help is on the way for Jamestown's distressed neighborhoods.
By the end of this year, the city's Strategic Planning and Partnership Commission hopes to hire a consultant to develop a five-year strategic plan that would include implementation measures to revitalize the city's distressed neighborhoods.
''We want to do a neighborhood revitalization design plan, similar to the city's urban design plan, that will give us some understanding of where to go, how to get there, the resources we'll need and the goals we should set,'' said Len Faulk, a member of the commission.
Faulk coordinated the activities of a neighborhood revitalization task force that ultimately submitted a number of recommendations to the commission. One such recommendation was that a neighborhood revitalization design plan be completed.
To get started on their quest, commission members last month began a nationwide search for a firm that could help. They came up with czb consulting, an Alexandria, Va.-based urban planning and neighborhood development consulting firm. Charles Buki, the founder of czb consulting, spoke before the commission during its Friday morning meeting.
One of the first things Buki told the commission was that the community development field is broken.
''I'm not a fan of low-income housing credits or of (U.S. Department of) Housing and Urban Development projects,'' Buki said. ''Like others in my field, I know how to find the money and exploit the programs, but they're just not good tools. I am of the opinion that you can't build a healthy neighborhood if you've got a skewed understanding of what a subsidy can do to a market. When you're using a subsidized program, you are, by definition, putting a program on the street that can't meet market conditions. You cannot add sub-market behavior to a market that is already at sub-market conditions.''
Asked how he would define a ''healthy neighborhood,'' Buki said a healthy neighborhood is, among other things, ''one that manages change successfully.'' He likened neighborhoods to a large-scale game of musical chairs.
''People pay attention to what goes on in their neighborhoods and react quickly to it in their own best interests,'' he said. ''Neighborhoods are very fluid. The first things you as a group need to ask of yourselves is what problem is it that you're in this room to solve and how do you know it's a problem?''
Since federal and state funding sources are currently on shaky ground at best, Buki said funding for neighborhood revitalization design plans would ideally come from private sources, such as foundations, or from Community Development Block Grant money.
''Whoever you decide to work with, go with a firm that has the capacity to give you a strategy that will help you deal with the scarcity of financial resources,'' Buki said. ''Choose someone that will help you find your way through the thicket and allocate your money in smart places.''
Faulk said the commission hopes to move ahead quickly with the neighborhood revitalization design plan. A request for proposal could soon be sent to czb consulting and, while commission officials are waiting on an answer, funding opportunities through the local foundations would be explored.
''Because we'll be doing this with private dollars, the process will move much more quickly than it would if we were using public money,'' Faulk said. ''Putting out the request for proposals and requesting funding are the two big steps that will make all of this happen.''
The commission would like to get its work under way by the end of this year, Faulk said. The time frame will ultimately depend upon the deadlines each local foundation has for applications and grant awards.
''One way or the other, our work is on a fast track,'' Faulk said. ''In order to continue receiving Community Development Block Grant money, the city of Jamestown must complete its consolidated housing plan for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by the end of 2010 and we would want this design plan to supplement that effort.''