BELLEVILLE — A new city initiative will provide a structure in which residents have direct input in how to improve their neighborhoods.
Jim Schneider, the city's director of human resources, training and development, said the effort hinges on this concept: "What can we collectively create?"
The city is divided into 13 zones as part of the new Belleville Neighborhood Partnership program. Residents in each zone will devise a plan to accomplish the goals they set for the area.
Residents will determine the priorities, it could be an environmental issue or a new health and wellness effort.
The partnership will encourage interested residents to form or join a neighborhood association or neighborhood watch. The leader of each association or watch will then act as a "zone ambassador," serving as a liaison to a "zone leader."
There will be 13 "zone leaders," who are the ones in contact with the city and other organizations in the partnership.
In recent months, at least 10 new neighborhood associations have formed in response to the new partnership system, said Schneider, who also serves as the director of parks and recreation.
Schneider hopes to refocus the public discourse from all the things that are wrong and divisive to how the city could use its strengths to move forward.
Everyone should ask, "What's right with Belleville?" and build on what works, Schneider said.
Schneider said the idea was born from discussions officials had with other cities while vying for an "All-American City" designation. The city of Belleville won the national competition in 2011.
Schneider said he asked leaders of other cities how they work to improve their towns. The answer almost always revolved around collaboration with community groups and maximizing an area's strengths.
"When you throw out a concept, people rise to the occasion," Schneider said. "We want to get more people thinking of how to problem-solve."
Schneider said the 13 zones are in varying stages of development -- some are already doing small projects while others have yet to meet to pick zone representatives.
Areas with existing, active neighborhood associations are closer to creating a zone plan than others.
Recently, the residents of the Hexenbukel Neighborhood Association, which is in Zone A, agreed on a local "safe route" for children who walk to school. Residents then came together to beautify the route, which includes well-lighted sidewalks and a trail.
"The beauty of all this is, now in the neighborhood, there's a mutual accountability going on," Schneider said.
Residents will be encouraged to work with government and community groups to find solutions, but they also will be empowered to have a "change begins with me" mentality.
Some residents in Zone H asked themselves how they could contribute to the developing Bicentennial Park on 17th Street.
Kari Tutza, captain of the newly established Bicentennial Park Neighborhood Association, said residents built and decorated about 20 birdhouses for the park.
In doing this project, the group utilized resources within the community. Tutza said she reached out to Lindenwood University-Belleville for a space to work. Then, someone wondered whether local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will be interested in cleaning the birdhouses as part of an annual service project.
"This will be a way for neighborhoods to work out issues amongst themselves," said Tutza, who also works in the city's Economic Development and Planning Department.
The new Belleville Neighborhood Partnership will provide training for new neighborhood groups like the one in the Bicentennial Park area. Half the zones have been through training, Schneider said.
The city has designated Community Development Committee members who will act as facilitators, providing guidance to get the groups started and giving tips on how to problem solve or have healthy dialogue.
Schneider emphasized that residents will have full control over their zone plan.
"The job of the city is to facilitate the process, unite the resources in Belleville," Schneider said. "The resources are all here."
The intent is to have the city be only one resource in a network of partner organizations that include schools, service and faith-based organizations, the BASIC Initiative, the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce and the Human Relations Commission.
For more information about the Belleville Neighborhood Partnership, call City Hall at 233-6810 and ask for Peggy Hartmann or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hartmann will help identify what zone you're a part of and connect you with an existing zone leader.
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at email@example.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville. How do I get involved?