Common Ground: A Discussion Sponsored by NORA

The NORA Non-profit organization is grateful to the Cleveland Foundation for funding our version of “Common Ground.” Stephanie Hicks ThompsonSr. Marketing & Community Engagement OfficerCleveland Foundation was instrumental in providing us support through the process. The event parameters were altered by the confinement of social distancing due to the Pandemic of the Corona virus. The online discussion hosted by the Northern Ohio Recovery Association on September 20th using virtual technology was called: Blight and Bullets: How Neighborhood Renovations Reduce Violent Crime.

The Saint Clair neighborhood is of concern because according to Wikipedia, “By 2015, 33 percent of all homes in the neighborhood had been demolished after falling into disrepair. Another 25 percent of homes in the neighborhood are vacant. Of these vacant homes, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute property survey rated nearly 12 percent as “distressed” (an extreme degree of disrepair). This compares to just 9 percent in distressed neighborhoods like Buckeye–WoodhillGlenvilleHough, and Kinsman.[7]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Clair%E2%80%93Superior

The background story is that emerging research is beginning to show the correlation between blighted neighborhoods and firearm assaults. “Studies show that vacant lot remediation, as these efforts are called, leads to remarkable benefits, including reduced gun violence and improved community health.”

https://www.wypr.org/post/one-way-reduce-firearm-violence-cleaning-and-greening-vacant-lots

The address of the Northern Ohio Recovery Association is 1400 East 55th. The clean modern lines of this building stand out notably because this neighborhood began being settled by European Immigrants in the 1800s. One such building from that period is Fire Station 19. It has been standing since 1864. This abandoned brick structure is located on the north side of Saint Clair at the intersection of 55th. At the time the land was purchased for construction, East 55th was called Willison Avenue. The ‘store-front’ firehouse was removed from service nearly 100 years after it was commissioned. The city abandoned it about 27 years ago. (Paul Nelson of the WRFMC provided this information). So the questions for the participants became: How does greening and cleaning improve the neighborhood so that measurable incidents of crime decrease? What should be done with this structure so that it is no longer part of the plethora of abandoned properties that can be seen on or near NORA?

The Zoom conversation generated proposals from all the participants about how this unique piece of history and architecture could be repurposed.  Jenni Barthalomew offered a cornucopia of fresh ideas that connect the community and help set-up residence for advancing through society. One proposal she put fourth was to create a computer hub where the internet would be accessible for people who may be living without Wi-Fi at home. Laptops would be available to be rented for a while. And furthermore, this space could be used as a business ‘incubator.” Commander Todd believed that this historic building could be used to create affordable urban housing in a neighborhood that could utilize this change. Karis Tzeng, of the Midtown Corporation, also supported the idea of a place for the community to use so that bonds are built and the space is used to elevate people who are nearby and could benefit from it. All three have worked together to solve issues that affect Cleveland residents. An example of a cohesive effort involved an elderly Asian couple being robbed. No Police Officer who was conversant in the native languages of Asia was available. Ms. Tzeng and Commander Todd found a translator so that the people-police actions could be taken on their behalf.

One of Commander Todd’s concerns was the number of industrial companies that participate in illegal dumping in the third district specifically and in other inner-city neighborhoods in Cleveland as well. When communities are put at further risk by outside malfeasants, the bonds of cohesion are further shattered.

In my profession of Epidemiology, it is our job to work to reduce incidence rates. That means when the health of a population is at risk for a disease, it is our paradigm that dictates working towards a reduction in new cases. Prevention methods are in place. At NORA our agency works to reduce drug and alcohol use and to create sobriety through treatment for individuals seeking refuge from a harmful disease, addiction.

Gun Violence has been termed a Public Health Epidemic, just as Opioid abuse and COVID 19. The rules of containing the epidemic of Gun Violence are the same: identify the people who have the most risk, implement a method of prevention and observe and reduce new cases. Violence is both predictable and preventable. Our conversation is just a start.  Thank you to my colleagues at NORA, Cathy Davis, BCORR Project Coordinator and Krystin McCormick, Outreach Coordinator, for promoting and conducting this well received virtual event.

We were honored to interact with the following experts:

Karis Tzeng
Asia Town Project Manager

MidTown Cleveland, Inc.
(p) (216) 391-5080 ext 107

(c) (216) 288-4693
ktzeng@midtowncleveland.org
www.midtowncleveland.org

Dorothy A. Todd, Commander

Department of Public Safety

Division of Police

Third District

4501 Chester Ave

Cleveland, OH 44103

216/623-5305

New Email: dtodd@clevelandohio.gov

Jenni M. B. Bartholomew, MSW, PhD

Partnership for a Safer Cleveland

216.523.1128, ext. 23

614 West Superior Avenue

Suite 852

Cleveland, OH 44113

I am most appreciative of their time and participation.