Clean and Safe program making gains in Allentown and Mt. Oliver
Mount Washington Community Development Corporation intern Kit Durrett enjoys learning about local history and now he is becoming part of it.
The MWCDC had him working at 16 hours a week for 10 weeks to participate in planning to help improve the public safety of Allentown and Mount Oliver. He was involved in sharing, communicating and distributing a public safety plan prepared in 2010. Mr. Durrett was also active in helping to identify partners – such as contractors, security systems providers and building products stores – needed to put the plan in place.
"We're calling this whole idea Clean and Safe," Greg Panza, MWCDC program manager, said.
The MWCDC lent Mr. Panza for a limited number of hours each month to the Allentown CDC to help add neighborhood improvements desired by that organization. Mr. Durrett, 27, Whitehall, graduated with a B.A. degree in history in August from the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied art history and community architecture.
"My goal with this project was to help local residents feel safer," Mr. Durrett said. "We did whatever we needed to do."
Mr. Durett was interested in outreach and getting experience with a neighborhood organization.
The first phase for Allentown and Mount Oliver improvements was aesthetic - with gardens, signage and upgraded street lighting. The second phase was to continue the improvement trend by making safety plan recommendations a reality, Mr. Panza said. The plan's creators call it Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or CPTED.
MWCDC and Zone 3 representatives walked through the communities' business districts looking for areas that were detriments to safety or might provide places for criminals to hide.
Shrubs over four feet high, where perpetuators might hide would be cut. Dark alleys would be lit and alleys between buildings would be made more secure. There would be steel bars or doors for back windows.
Mr. Panza said vacant lots could be improved by adding fences so fleeing criminals would not seek refuge there.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority has awarded the MWCDC partial funding to be used by commercial district property owners to make such improvements, although the owners would still need to pay part of the cost. Mr. Durrett sent those property owners letters requesting their interest and assistance.
"The issue needs to be addressed. We want to help them find solutions. We hope that they get back to us," Mr. Panza said.
When the Zone 3 police station was relocated to Allentown, crime was reduced by 31 per cent in the area according to police statistics.
The Bureau of Building Inspections will be inspecting properties alleged to be "hiding places" for area youth or criminals. Inspectors will also be recommending weeds and vegetation in such areas be cut.
"We are attacking this from every angle," Mr. Panza said.
He hopes the area enhancements will be made prior to and during the spring. He said Guardian Security is willing to work with small businesses. Contractors and electricians are still needed.
"This is also an opportunity for volunteers to build gates or add murals to blighted areas," he said.
Some communities focus instead on specific events. Mr. Panza hopes this project could be a prototype for showing what can be done to improve neighborhoods.
For more information, contact him at 412 481-3220, ext. 203.