Kent neighborhoods look for a facelift

Elise Franco

Lately, much focus has been on the restoration of downtown Kent. Now, with the Neighborhood Enrichment Plan, City Manager Dave Ruller hopes neighborhoods will get the same attention.

Ruller said the motivation behind the plan is to create a broader framework for the community to monitor how well Kent’s neighborhoods are doing.

“First and foremost, we think creating this framework should let us manage neighborhood services better and use our resources more effectively,” he said. “Likewise, we think it also gives a chance to be more innovative and to experiment with tactics that we haven’t necessarily tried here in Kent but have been used successfully in other cities.”

Most of what is built into the framework of the plan are things the city has been working on for years, Ruller said, but instead of each city department doing its job separately, the plan allows them to work together to create efficiency.

“Like cities all over the country, the movement of housing tracks out to the suburbs has left many of the older neighborhoods at risk,” he said. “We have seen certain tendencies, like declining homeownership, increasing rentals and blight, spread into neighborhoods that used to be some of Kent’s best.”

Kent Police Chief James Peach said the police station is just one “spoke in the wheel” in terms of how the city is working to restore neighborhoods to the standards residents should expect.

“Most of our concern is with unlawful noise, loud parties and those who break the law within the neighborhoods during those parties,” he said. “It’s about conserving and bringing back quality in neighborhoods.”

Although many people think it’s Kent State students who make the most trouble, Peach disagrees. He said most of the young people are doing well in Kent, and it’s just a small portion who are causing problems.

“Often once you have parties, people come from the outside where you have less control,” Peach said. “We want to make people more aware of how to comply with the laws and standards, not get in trouble and be within the standard that is expected of them.”

He said whether this aspect of neighborhoods improves comes down to behavior, so the police department needs to find some type of leverage to get those causing problems to comply with law and standards.

Kent Fire Chief James Williams said the fire department’s main concern is finding a way to lessen the amount of dumpster and couch fires.

“While we’re responding to those calls, it pulls us away from other, maybe more important, incidents,” he said. “Overall our strategy plan is to figure out how to clean up those things.”

Ruller said those issues, as well as issues with trash and maintenance, go back to people who rent apartments and houses not having as much pride in their ownership.

“We want to restore the balance in those neighborhoods so it’s a place that everyone wants to call home,” he said.

William Lillich, Kent safety director, said the major issue is trying to improve the environment as a whole.

“It’s an old town, and it needs revitalization, and that’s the city manager’s whole direction with the plan,” he said. “I think if we can improve the appearance and conditions it will make neighborhoods more attractive to residents.”

Jeff Ingram, executive director of Standing Rock Cultural Arts in Kent, said he likes the plan because it will be good for the city as a whole.

“If neighborhoods are able to take responsibility for themselves, energies can be focused on taking care of downtown,” he said. “It’ll be good for the image of the city. Families and businesses will want to move here.”

Ruller said many young families, retirees and students within the community have expressed their concern for the lack of available quality housing in some of Kent’s older neighborhoods.

“This is our effort to respond to their needs and step up our focus,” he said. “All of this should be good news for Kent neighborhoods.”

Contact public affairs reporter Elise Franco at [email protected].