Led by Superintendent Jim Hinson and City Manager Robert Heacock, a group representing the school district, city and business community travel to Atlanta to visit the redeveloped neighborhood that spawned 12 Blocks West in Independence. The goal of the trip is to visit several sites of redevelopment in south Atlanta as well as to meet Robert Lupton, who inspired the 12 Blocks West project.

(Note: This article originally published Jan. 19, 2010.)

 

A group of nine community members will make their way to Georgia this week (the week of Jan. 18) to see how they can apply principles used there in neighborhood revitalization to improve western Independence.

Led by Superintendent Jim Hinson and City Manager Robert Heacock, the group represents the school district, city and business community. They will travel to Atlanta Wednesday to visit the redeveloped neighborhood that spawned 12 Blocks West in Independence, returning Thursday night. The goal of the trip is to visit several sites of redevelopment in south Atlanta as well as to meet Robert Lupton, who inspired the 12 Blocks West project.

“I am elated about the response from our community in regards to the 12 Blocks West project,” Hinson said. “This is an opportunity to see what is taking place there (in Atlanta) and how we can make something like that work here.”

The project 12 Blocks West, refers to 12 blocks west of the Truman Home or what is commonly known as western Independence. The goal is revitalization – creating a holistic approach that combines the efforts of a variety of city organizations from the school district and city of Independence to the church community, the Independence Chamber of Commerce and the Independence Council for Economic Development, among others.

The basis for this revitalization effort is the East Lake development project in South Atlanta. A prominent place to live in the early 1900s, the neighborhood fell into disrepair by the 1960s. The South Atlanta East Lake Foundation was formed in 1995 with the purpose of rebuilding the area, which was stricken with poverty and crime. Today, an estimated 97 percent of students in the neighborhood graduate from high school, and violent crime has been reduced by 95 percent.

“I had heard so much about the previous trips that I am excited about what they have done there,” said Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Council for Economic Development, who is also going on the trip. “I like community development, and I am anxious to see for myself what has been done and what we can bring back to implement here.”

Heacock said he is looking forward to seeing the revitalization efforts in Atlanta for himself.

“Neighborhood revitalization is an important topic and something the city has long been focusing on,” he said. “To get a first-hand look at the success of another community and how they did it is very important. We hope to gain a better understanding of their success story and learn how to make it applicable to Independence.”

This will be the third trip to Atlanta to visit the East Lake development as well as to visit with Robert Lupton, who founded the FCS Urban Ministries more than 30 years ago. The first two trips largely included school district officials along with individuals from the business and church community. Of those going, only Hinson and Bill Rogers with LINC have been before.
The excursion costs $500 per person, which includes hotel, meals and the air fare, but it is not being funded by the school district. District officials going on the trip are paying for the cost out of their own pockets, Hinson said.

In the case of the delegation from the city of Independence, Heacock said the city is paying for the three city officials out of a established travel/training fund used for similar trips.
“The purpose of this trip is really to speak with the people who have led the efforts in Atlanta and see for ourselves what has taken place,” Hinson said. “We can talk about what happened there all we want. But until you see it for yourself, you do not become a believer.”

FCS Urban Ministries focuses on urban Atlanta neighborhoods including East Lake. Among other things, FCS constructs housing, operates businesses and provides educational programs for at-risk children. Currently, FCS is implanting a “re-neighboring” strategy in south Atlanta, creating “wholesome places” for families.

“I think this is really going to take a community approach to work, so seeing what has been one in Atlanta will help in our efforts here,” Lesnak said. “If we come together and work toward a single goal like this, we cannot help but be successful.”