In November and December of 2017, the York SC Forward team conducted a community input initiative. This initiative included three publicly advertised and facilitated input sessions, a short list of presentations to various existing community groups with question/answer sessions, and a longer list of meetings with various people in both the public and private sector.
While the people who participated had a list of negatives that they carried in with them, the events were positive in nature, and the focus was on how to create positive change. There was open and engaged dialogue, some of which went into socially difficult issues. There were challenges of opinion. And, all the while, the whole thing was positive and productive. People demonstrated high-levels of interest in participating and in helping even beyond these meetings. Also, one constant was a fondness for and emotional attachment to York and, in many cases, Western York County. Also a common theme was lots of family in and connections to the eastern part of the county as well. Each person spoke lovingly of York and York County. And they loved their own activities and inner circles and their own neighborhoods, as well.
The list of concerns/opportunities generated at the meetings includes:
- Water & Sewer
- Housing Diversity
- Biking Trails, Sidewalks, Parks, and Green Spaces
- Amenities (Hotel, Grocery Store, Swimming Pool, etc)
- Downtown Shopping & Restaurants
- Jobs & Industry
- Workforce Readiness & Development
- Public Transportation
- Equitable Distribution of Services & Resources
- Activities for Children & Youth
- Arts & Entertainment
- More Progressive City Council Leadership
- Recognizing York as County Seat
- Not a Business Friendly City
- Neighborhood Clean Up/Beautification
- ML King Street
- ML King Day of Service (Volunteer Recruitment)
YEDC Board Support
The board showed visible support. All public input sessions included several board members.
The public input sessions and presentations drew an eager, interested, and good-sized crowd. The calls and lunches and meetings have been plenty and positive. People seem ready to participate in positive change.
Low Minority Participation
The Rec Center audience was the most diverse of the public sessions. Out of approximately 30 participants, nearly half were African-American. The other sessions were conspicuously missing any minorities excepting one or two people. There was no visible participation from any other ethnic minority groups.
Race & Class Issues
Race and class issues surfaced during the Wesley Social Services Group session, the Harold C Johnson session, and the Rec Center session. These were handled with civility. Many expressed thanks for the opportunity to even have that dialogue. It is commonly understood that York is segregated in a negative way. And it is commonly understood that said segregation is a complex mixture of social, historical, economic, and race-related issues. It is believed that low participation by African Americans in the input sessions and process reflects a general disillusionment with the city, a general belief that their concerns will not be addressed regardless of input.
People are Connecting
People are making connections for actions already (and have been before we got started on our project). Some examples include: Dr. Vernon Prosser (District 1 Schools) and Charles Gary (Jasmine Café & Catering) connected at the Rec Center Session and have met to discuss the possibility of a Culinary Arts Internship Program. The project seems to be moving forward. Two people from the Rec Center Session have joined the Community Development Committee. County Council representatives have participated in presentations and conversations around projects for change in York. And some of the conversations are already altering people’s potential plans in different ways.
Community Development Committee
The community development committee has lots of energy around the Park Study, Children & Youth, and Parent Engagement. The committee continues to attract new people. Current Projects include 1) Park Study and 2) Community Wide Reading Initiative & Literary Festival.
Downtown YEDC Committee
This committee is focused on working cooperatively with the city and landowners to develop solutions and designs for placemaking in the downtown. This work includes improvements and beautification for parking, sidewalks, green spaces, public spaces, crosswalks, and more.
Downtown Business Association
This crowd showed a lot of energy. The mayor, city staff, and the chamber were in attendance. The passion for success is palpable. And the vision of success is shared – a quant, but vibrant downtown that enriches the lives of all. The downtown businesses are eager to collaborate with one another and with the city. There was no shortage of creative ideas. The disconnect seems to be that there is not a single person or entity that is charged with the coordination and execution of those ideas. It’s more of a group input session, and then random execution by individuals beyond the meetings. They did discuss collaborative events that they thought were successful, such as the balloonazon. We discussed the possibility of the city contracting the chamber to coordinate collaboration among the downtown businesses, to design and facilitate events, and to market the downtown. There was general enthusiasm about such an idea.
Informal Neighborhood Organizations
There are informal neighborhood groups and leadership in most neighborhoods. For example, there is an informal network of neighborhood leadership that represents Maiden Lane, Johnson City, East End, and The Valley. These are predominantly African American neighborhoods. Volunteering is also strong in neighborhoods. For example, there are individuals in Forest Hills who take it upon themselves to cut grass and clean trash on property owned by the city.
Ideas for Change
There is no shortage of ideas for change for York. There have been some great comments added by citizens to a discussion forum on this website. There have been many compelling conversations and shared ideas for positive change.
Hope for Change
People have varying perspectives on whether real change will occur. The hope among those who attended is probably indicative of them attending and cannot be a real measure of the public’s feelings on this.
Resources & Communications
Some resources are underutilized simply because people don’t know about them.
Arts Facilities & Venues for Everyone
This topic generated significant discussion in the public input sessions. Discussion circled around new facilities. But a conversation at the Rec led most present to agree that much more can be done with existing facilities with a little upfitting and some program coordination. This will be a way to get something good started quickly and let it grow into needing new facilities as it takes shape.
Opportunity for Dialogue and Input
People want to talk and seemed to appreciate having the opportunity to talk, though some are skeptical about the outcome.
People want positive change, and they are excited about at least discussing it. There is mixed opinion if any real change will happen, but there is a strong crowd that is hopeful and willing to participate.