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New Town Success Zone Five Years Later

After Five Years, Has Jacksonville’s New Town Success Zone Made a Difference? James B. Crooks, University of North Florida professor emeritus, author of two books on Jacksonville history and past chair of the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, takes a look.

Published May 21, 2013 in Urban Issues      6 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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New Town is located west of downtown Jacksonville between Kings Road, Myrtle Avenue, Beaver Street and CSX's Moncrief Yard.

Almost five years ago in July 2008, Mayor John Peyton and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission established the New Town Success Zone (NTSZ) to turn around a blighted city neighborhood just south of Edward Waters College on the city’s northwest side. Bounded by Myrtle Avenue on the east, Kings Road on the north, Beaver Street on the south and the railroad to the west, New Town according to the 2000 Census was home to approximately 5000 folks including 1575 children. One-third of the adults were unemployed, 35 percent were poor, less than half had high school diplomas and 98.8 percent were African American.

The neighborhood’s children had the highest asthma rate in the city; the schools were failing; and the residents viewed crime as their number one problem. New Town fit the stereotype of inner city collapse.

Mayor Peyton knew the numbers about school kids failing and dropping out. He knew Jacksonville had the highest per capita homicide rate for large cities in Florida. He also recognized that his city could not begin to achieve greatness without improving conditions for folks living in New Town and similar neighborhoods across Jacksonville.

A year earlier at the suggestion of Linda Lanier and her staff at the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, the mayor had taken a group of community leaders to New York to tour the Harlem Children’s Zone, the highly praised program begun by Geoffrey Canada to provide hope for his city’s impoverished children. Canada’s pre-school to college curriculum with wrap around services appeared to be working. Ninety-eight percent of his high school graduates continued on to college.

Returning to Jacksonville, Peyton enlisted a team of supporters led by former sheriff  Nathaniel Glover, and volunteer citizen extraordinaire, Pam Paul, to work with Lanier and the Commission to create a comparable program locally.

After much discussion, New Town was selected from among several inner city neighborhoods based on  its having two neighborhood schools—S.P. Livingston Elementary and Eugene Butler Middle—and Edward Waters College, a potential hub for serving the community. It helped that Glover had become EWC’s president. He had grown up in New Town, graduated from the college and symbolized the potential for success any young person from the community might achieve. There also were a number of churches and businesses along the bordering thoroughfares, plus HabiJax, the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, which already had built or refurbished more than 100 homes in New Town.

A major problem was money. The city and nation were deep in recession. Budgets were tighter than tight. Co-chair Glover suggested building on agencies already serving the community to develop partnerships using existing dollars. A private benefactor was the Chartrand Foundation. Others would follow.

The challenges were great. Residents accurately perceived a high crime rate. The sheriff’s department reported 443 offenses in New Town in 2008, 81 of them violent. S. P. Livingston had an F rating, Eugene Butler a D. Unemployment at 33 percent was three times the city average. Boarded  up buildings next door to inhabited homes often served as drug sites. There were no public parks, supermarkets, pharmacies, libraries or financial institutions. Residents had little access to medical care other than the emergency room at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center.

A coalition of public and private agencies went to work. Barriers existed. How does one find jobs for men and women with relatively little education or technical skills in the midst of a recession? How do nonprofits and the city squeeze dollars from tight budgets to provide programs? How do teachers, youth professionals and volunteers reach kids, many of whom had what Linda Lanier calls toxic stress, the inner city equivalent of PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder?

These children lived in dilapidated houses sometimes without heat, often with one overworked parent or grandparent. Some were in foster homes or homeless. They ate fatty, fast foods in lieu of nutritious meals and read few books. Less than half the kids had internet access. Asthma attacks and other health related disorders interrupted school attendance. Random violence and drugs pervaded the neighborhood. No wonder many were anxious, stressed or depressed.

The question became: given the circumstances, limited resources and seemingly mammoth challenges, could anything substantial be done to enable children and adults in New Town live any semblance of the lives lived by  the more affluent residents of Jacksonville?


Kings Road in 2010


Kings Road in 2011



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6 Comments

vicupstate

May 21, 2013, 05:13:28 AM
This sounds a lot like the Intensive Care Neighborhoods effort that Mayor Delaney did early in his first term.  Has any analysis been done on the long-term success of that effort?

tufsu1

May 21, 2013, 10:43:26 AM
great article....this community is definitely on the upswing...and a simple drive through the neighborhood shows that

sheclown

May 21, 2013, 12:51:00 PM
Years ago infant mortality rate in this zip code was at third world levels --  is prenatal care addressed ?

A very heart warming program. Glad to hear about it

jaxlore

May 21, 2013, 01:41:33 PM
excellent to hear this. hopefully if the data looks good they can expand the model to other neighborhoods.

Jim Crooks

May 21, 2013, 04:09:02 PM
Unfortunately, Mayor Delaney's Intensive Care Neighborhoods were discontinued under Mayor Peyton. Jacksonville mayors have a tendency to want to make their own mark and not continue or expand the work of their predecessors. New Town continues because it is now largely in private hands with the city funding only the executive director's salary (thru EWC) and the Boys and Girls Club program.

Re-prenatal, the "Baby University" works with expectant mothers (and fathers when available) as well as with new mothers. JBC

Tacachale

May 22, 2013, 03:50:24 PM
This is an inspiring story. Hopefully this can be replicated in other neighborhoods as well.
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