GUEST COLUMN: Join a team ready to ReImagine North of Main

Sentinel & Enterprise

UPDATED:   04/12/2015 06:31:47 AM EDT

By Lisa Wong and Robert V. Antonucci

Much of Fitchburg was born of the vision of a single individual. Alvah Crocker saw a city filled with potential. He imagined it as a flourishing industrial and manufacturing hub and let that vision guide his investment in building a thriving community. A considerable amount of Fitchburg's development and history of success was the result of one person's belief in possibility and a team that helped transform his vision into a reality.

There's no denying that areas of Fitchburg are no longer thriving or flourishing. Neighborhoods have taken a series of hits over the years, and some have been left abandoned by residents, businesses and leaders. One area that has been particularly affected by these blows is the neighborhood north of Main Street, what we're calling the North of Main. The neighborhood that remains struggles with poorer health, lower income, less education, older housing stock and reduced public safety. But we've decided that the North of Main area has carried the weight of this loss for long enough and have developed a team of residents and community leaders ready to tackle the many needs of this area and to help it to rise to its potential once again.

Our team is called ReImagine North of Main and we're working to revitalize one of the city's most promising neighborhoods.

Through funding from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, the ReImagine North of Main team includes citizens and community leaders working to make the neighborhood a better place to live, work, play and invest. The initiative is being led by the city of Fitchburg, Montachusett Opportunity Council, Fitchburg State University and Twin Cities CDC in collaboration with more than 30 local businesses and community organizations.

After a year of working "behind the scenes," the ReImagine team has stepped into the spotlight. Recently, we were in the news as we celebrated our first year of work, which focused heavily on learning about the area and communicating with residents to identify North of Main's strengths and assets, as well as immediate priorities. The data collection came from area experts -- nearly 150 North of Main residents who participated in visioning sessions, focus groups and interviews. Following this year of learning, we kicked off our transition to the action phase after being awarded funding from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts that will support future work in the neighborhood.

Over the next several months, we'll be focusing on key goals that have been identified through our assessment as the most critical to the future of the neighborhood: increasing resident engagement, enhancing the quality and diversity of the area's housing, improving public safety and quality of life, promoting healthy people and neighborhoods, fostering economic and workforce development, and improving educational outcomes for youth and adults.

Our project is led by core values that help make this work meaningful to us and the community. Openness, reciprocity and innovation are just a few of our guiding principles. We want as many people on our team as possible, and if you care about this work, we want you to be a part of it. The key to building a system that will sustain the community we hope to achieve is only through strong collaborations and supporting one another. Those on our team can expect a reciprocal relationship that will offer opportunities in exchange for sharing something that you think will help -- your expertise, time and energy, resources and knowledge, etc. And innovation -- the crux of a thriving community. We want this initiative to be focused on solving old, intractable problems in new ways. Ultimately, we hope our innovative work will serve as a model for the rest of the city, the region and the commonwealth.

While there are many things that make the ReImagine North of Main project unique, its most inspiring aspect is its heavy focus on resident engagement and the many ways we are including them in the development of our work's activities. The end of March saw our first ever Neighbor Summit that connected nearly 200 people: residents, businesses, and others committed to improving life in the neighborhood. Residents are asked to take the next step with us and get out and get things done. On Saturday, May 30, we are partnering with Crossroads Community Church to get 500 people out on the street in the North of Main, working together to improve the community. If you'd like to be a part of this, we'd love to have your help.

Over the next several months we will be sharing our progress with you through a series of columns about the many ways we are making changes in the neighborhood. We hope that you will not only be inspired but compelled to take part. Much of what Alvah Crocker imagined centuries ago remains, and the power to turn our Re-Imagining into a reality will be even stronger with you on our team.

Lisa Wong is mayor of Fitchburg, and Robert V. Antonucci is president of Fitchburg State University.

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