Neighborhood Summit gives 400 folks tools to improve their communities

By Maria Saporta

Community empowerment was the theme at the fourth annual Neighborhood Summit held Saturday at the Loudermilk Center.

More than 400 people from 23 metro counties came to learn about how they could effect change within their communities by accessing new web-based tools that now are bringing sophisticated information to help them better understand their neighborhoods.

“This is my favorite day of the year,” proclaimed Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, which put together the event. “This is what community is all about.”

The day began with a “shout-out” to all 23 counties. When each county’s name was called, the attendees from that area would cheer. It quickly became a pep rally and joyful event that helped everyone realize that we can be leaders in our communities while respecting the entire region.

The attendees could not have been more diverse — racially, ethnically, by gender, age and geography. And they represented leadership at the micro-level — census tract by census tract, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Then showpiece of the morning of the unveiling of neighborhoodnexus.org — a website where people can go to find a wealth of information about their communities and how they relate to the region.

Mike Alexander, chief of the research division of the Atlanta Regional Commission, teased the audience with some questions. What is the most diverse area of the region? Johns Creek. Where is there the greatest concentration of an elderly population? Buckhead. What is the densest part of the region? Midtown.

“Some of this information is not available anywhere else,” Alexander said. “We have done this to let you know more about your community.”

The idea behind neighborhoodnexus.org is that when people have good information, they can make more informed decisions that will lead to better results. The site includes information about foreclosures, bankruptcies, student test scores, census data, land development, etc.

The keynote speaker of the day was Ann Cramer, IBM’s director of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs for the Americas, who said it was about “using this data to transform communities.”

In addition to neighborhoodnexus.org, Cramer mentioned a few other web-based tools that can help people better know their community — nextdoor.com, which helps people connect with their neighbors; and walkscore.com, a tool that can let people know the walkability of their neighborhoods.

In one of the breakout sessions called “Bob the Builder,” two communities working with Families First were highlighted for building stronger ties in their neighborhoods — the Norcross Community Home Mobile Park, which has a large population of people who need to learn English and have better access to community services; and the Edgewood community in the part of Atlanta that is in DeKalb County.

In both cases, the effort is to work with community leaders to improve their areas rather than be an external force that tries to tell communities what is best for them.

“We are here to help, but we are not here to tell you want to do,” said Kim Anderson, CEO of Families First in metro Atlanta. “You can lead and do what best for your family and your children.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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