Kettering knows that it is not a lone figure in Flint. If it succeeds, then the neighborhoods around it have to succeed as well.
A little elbow grease, community involvement, and acknowledgement from the government made that dual success a reality.
When Robert McMahan took over as president in 2012 there became a push for students and faculty to volunteer and give back to the city.
The place to start seemed obvious – University Avenue Corridor, which is made up of the Mott Park, Glendale Hills, and Carriage Town neighborhoods.
“It is essentially in Kettering’s backyard,” says Jack Stock, director of external relations for the university.
One of the main ways the university has been engaged is through the University Avenue Corridor Coalition (UACC), made up of a group of Kettering students and faculty, citizens and local businesses.
The UACC’s work in the neighborhood was the reason it received a $1 million Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The money was put into the fund and expanded the already successful programs.
The program is called Renew the Avenue and is led by Kettering.
The organization has wrapped up its final report that reflects a noted increase of activity in the corridor between July 2013 and December 2017 (2018 numbers are not currently available). Here are some of the statistics:
- 78 percent reduction in blighted properties
- 250 percent increase in community participation
- 250 percent Increase in participation community-wide
- Decrease in resident perceptions of disorder in their community
- More than $50 million in community investments
The UACC faced difficult problems impacting the neighborhoods.
One of the biggest issues it faced was blight. Numerous abandoned houses and others, usually occupied by renters, had fallen into disrepair. Instead of simply handing them a citation, the UACC talked to the renters and got to the bottom of the issue.
They found the problem was often landlord disputes. In many of those cases, volunteers showed up to make the necessary repairs.
It was a different scenario with many abandoned homes, many of which were unable to be saved after years of people “salvaging” furnishings from the dwellings. In these cases, the buildings are torn down.
In addition, UACC volunteers mowed and tended vacant lots.
Part of what caused the focus on blight was Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary, the largest elementary school in Flint. Parents made it known they were uncomfortable letting their kids walk past all the sketchy property on the way to school.
Once the blight was tackled, there was more work to be done. The “24-hour rule” was initiated. Any debris left on or near someone’s property must be cleared away in 24 hours, or the occupant faces a fine.
There is also the question of safety. For starters, the UACC applied pressure to the city to not only fix, but also improve the lights. It worked.
The streets of the corridor are now lit with LED lights. In addition, lighting has been improved in many homes.
There are also two more specific examples of keeping the neighborhood safe.
Two party stores that had been a place for criminals to gather have been replaced by more neighborhood-friendly businesses like a mini-police station and a Jimmy Johns,
Another one of the replacement businesses was Blueline Doughnuts, which employs homeless people and helps them get back on track. One of the biggest shelters it hires from is Carriage Town Ministries, which has been one of the biggest supporters of the UACC’s efforts.
Aside from just making things safer and prettier, the organization encouraged enjoyment of the region. First and foremost was the cleaning up of Mott Park for families to enjoy.
Bike lanes were also added so residents could get exercise and see the neighborhood more closely and appreciate it more than traveling the 45 miles in a car, says Stock.
Kettering also purchased Atwood Stadium in 2013. Since then it has made repairs to masonry, restrooms and concessions near the east end zone, fixed broken lighting and signage, and made upgrades in the locker rooms. The university opened the stadium for local high school football teams to play their opening day games with the folks from Carriage Town Ministries often working the crowd.
The field is also available for community events, including youth and intramural sports, Relay for Life and ice skating.
Kettering hired Tom Wyatt as project director of Renew The Avenue, who took the idea and turned it into a pilot program. Since the demographics and average income of the corridor are proportional to Flint as a whole, he has begun taking the ideas to other neighborhoods.
What started with 20 people meeting with bagged lunches has ballooned to many more volunteers, transformed a community, and developed a program that will spill into other neighborhoods and make them better.
“Establishing a greater Flint requires us knowing we can accomplish it together,” Stock says.