ROCKFORD — A 33-page revitalization strategy unveiled Monday night is meant to create a comprehensive guide for residents and city officials working together to improve neighborhoods and quality of life across the city.
The document calls for tapping into the power of neighborhood organizations, emphasizing the architectural character, cultural personality and value of green spaces, and marketing “positive stories and accounts” of living in Rockford.
“Rockford faces real challenges, but there is a clear way forward,” the report says. “Revitalization will take many years, but the city is poised to harness recent momentum and take advantage of opportunities to drive towards a future in which residents can live, play and thrive in their city and in their neighborhoods.”
The report was created though a partnership with the National Resource Network that previously provided a grim analysis of the city’s finances. Valued at $102,000, the city paid $25,000 while the balance was covered by a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
Consultants said it became clear during its work analyzing the city’s budget, that an increase in property values was critical. More than 200 residents provided input during four workshops and several focus group meetings.
Included in the document are several maps in which Rockford neighborhoods are categorized in groups and subgroups of strong, middle and emerging areas. A lengthy matrix of revitalization strategies and ideas included in the report provide what its authors say are “best practices in community revitalization” and are tailored to each neighborhood category.
Categories were determined by taking into account home sale prices, sale price trends since the housing market crash of 2008, code enforcement violations, foreclosures, vacancies and home ownership rates. The report does not delve into what it calls “special neighborhood” types like downtown, areas with intensive commercial or institutional uses, or areas with a large number of subsidized housing units.
City Administrator Todd Cagnoni said the report builds off blight reduction initiatives the city has already put into motion that are working, but provides them with a comprehensive framework and adds ideas from across the nation. Rockford is also benefiting from new data sets compiled during the analysis process. He said that for the first time, the report gives the city the chance to tailor neighborhood improvement efforts to the specific needs of given areas of the city.
Alderman Bill Rose, D-9, said he appreciated suggestions in the report to both encourage and recognize responsible landlords while holding bad landlords accountable.
“There is a reward program with a top-ten list for rental operations that are doing the right thing and I thought that is really innovative,” Rose said. “But I also like the idea for a top-ten list for worst slum lords.”
There are also suggestions on ways to improve the housing market and strengthen neighborhood placemaking in hopes of increasing propery values.
Alderwoman Linda McNeely, D-13, said she was disappointed the report didn’t delve more into how to help people in living in distressed neighborhoods.
“I just wanted to see more in there,” McNeely said. “I wanted to see some thoughts, especially in my area, about not just getting rid of the vacant properties, but utilizing the people who are there.”
Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374; [email protected]; @jeffkolkey
Rockford Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy