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Students, faculty help develop neighborhood revitalization plan

Fresno State students and faculty are taking part in advancing the development of Fresno’s Downtown Neighborhood Community Plan, which is expected to be adopted in 2014.

Fresno urban planning specialist Wilma Quan manages Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s priority projects, particularly Downtown revitalization.

Quan said the community plan is a broader policy document than the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan, a detailed plan involving Fulton Mall that will return two-way through traffic to the mall.

The community plan has been under way since 2010, Quan said.

The city, she said, hired consultant group Moule & Polyzoides to help canvas neighborhoods and create policies.

“The plan is 7,200 acres of Fresno’s urban core, which includes the Downtown triangle,” Quan said.

Together, the city and Moule & Polyzoides divided that area into seven different neighborhoods: Jane Addams, Southwest, Lowell, Jefferson, Southeast, South Van Ness industrial and Downtown.

The city aims to make neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly and active to create a stronger sense of community, Quan said.

“The goal of the plan is to make sure that people have easy access,” Quan said. “We talk about a five-minute to 10-minute pedestrian shed. So in a five to 10 minute walk from your residence, you should be able to have access to transit, a school, a park or open space and a grocery store.”

Together, the city and consultant group conducted community outreach in each neighborhood to get feedback about the wants and needs of residents.

“We met with community groups in those neighborhoods and found out through a weeklong session, as well as other additional meetings, what they wanted in their neighborhoods and what their neighborhood was missing,” Quan said.

Fresno State, its faculty and students have been fairly involved in the plans for the Lowell neighborhood, Quan said.

“The mayor did a pilot project about neighborhood revitalization and focusing city resources on one neighborhood in particular, and she chose the Lowell neighborhood,” Quan said. “Through that, we partnered with a lot of the nonprofits that already exist in Lowell, a lot of the neighborhood groups within Lowell and Fresno State.”

American Humanics professor Don Simmons lives in the Lowell neighborhood and is the chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

He said students from humanics, a branch of the sociology department, and other departments have volunteered in the Lowell neighborhood.

“Humanics students were part of doing surveys with neighbors, asking what they would like in the neighborhood and what aspects in the neighborhood they’d like to maintain,” Simmons said. “They gathered information that went into the initial neighborhood plan.”

Simmons said humanics students provided a grant through the Students4Giving program to Lowell’s community benefit organization, Fresno Institute For Urban Leadership. Construction management students also provided a grant to Lowell Community Development Corp.

Simmons said he would like to see the Lowell neighborhood maintain its cultural diversity and historic buildings while creating a close-knit community.

“Once people kind of see how historic it is and say, ‘Whoa, that’s not the ghetto,’ it could be a beautiful historic neighborhood if we would invest,” Simmons said. “It’s just ready for investment.”

To create the plans and policy, Quan said a little more than $2.6 million was allocated by Community Development Block Grant, which came from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant.

“The $2.6 million wasn’t just for the community plan,” Quan said. “It was for the Fulton Corridor, the new zoning ordinance update and the environmental documentation.”

Though community plans do not provide actual construction for the neighborhoods, Quan said Fresno’s grant provide policies for the existing neighborhoods to follow.

“What happens in the code and the plan is that anybody who wants to modify their building has to follow a set of design criteria,” Quan said. “It talks about what’s allowed and not allowed.

“It’s like a clearer recipe or a set of instructions so that residents or the city now can apply for grant opportunities to help.”

For more information regarding the community plan, visit www.fresnodowntownplans.com. For information regarding volunteer opportunities in the Lowell neighborhood, visit www.lowellfresno.org.