From Healing Bodies to Healing Neighborhoods
One retired physician has committed to helping his town eradicate blight by cleaning lots, clearing debris and creating green spaces and safe places for the community.
Jim Johnston is on a mission. “Blight is a cancer,” Johnston says. “It spreads, and eventually it will kill a community. It starts on a street, perhaps. Then spreads to a neighborhood. Eventually blight will kill our city.”
A retired doctor, Jim approached treating this urban cancer the same way he approached a diseased patient: evaluate the symptoms, determine the cause of the illness, research and apply a treatment with a cure as the ultimate goal.
He has partnered with other concerned citizens to cure the problem. His keen analytical skills and diagnostic training were important to finding a solution, but the real key was listening to neighbors and making them partners in the success. Early on, Jim came to the Community Foundation for help. Through the Revitalize Jackson Fund, he focused his fundraising efforts and project plans to root out and destroy dilapidated, abandoned and trash-filled properties. He convinced others to contribute money to realize the dream of a revitalized capital city. So much so, the nonprofit Revitalize Mississippi took shape and is now working across the state to identify vacant lots and houses and put them into the hands of neighbor groups to maintain and redevelop.
That’s the short-term treatment. The long-term cure requires something more. “Blight eradication is the essential first step,” he says. “But real revitalization requires the active participation of the residents for it to work.”
To that end, a group of like-minded people created the Action for Jackson Fund and is securing financial resources to create a Community Land Trust (CLT). This model will let neighbor groups take ownership of and rehabilitate these properties. “We need partnerships with the city, the county, the state, neighborhood groups and the private sector to make this work,” Johnston says.
The Rosemont neighborhood is first up. Once a blighted area with rampant crime, it is now a testament to the power of neighbors committed to turning things around. “There is so much potential here,” he says. “The neighborhood has already done the hard part – addressed crime, cleaned streets and lots. They are excited about using the Community Land Trust model to truly revitalize the area.”
Long-term community change means working together to diagnose the problem, research and begin a treatment and ultimately find a cure. You might even say it takes a village. What does your village need to cure? What can your community become? Imagine the future you want to see. We can help.
To learn more about how the Community Foundation can help you imagine ways improve your community, email firstname.lastname@example.org.