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Fairmount community survey: Residents willing to work together

John Bardo, president of Wichita State University, talks to about 30 Fairmount residents and WSU faculty about survey results. (Sept. 28, 2017)
John Bardo, president of Wichita State University, talks to about 30 Fairmount residents and WSU faculty about survey results. (Sept. 28, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

A survey of the Fairmount neighborhood in northeast Wichita shows 90 percent of respondents think people of different races work together and get along with their neighborhood.

A similar number – 93 percent – said they are willing to work with police.

In addition, 52 percent are concerned about property maintenance and 36 percent are concerned about illegal drugs. Ninety percent want additional lighting in the neighborhood.

The survey of 400 people by Wichita State University stemmed from a partnership between the Shocker Neighborhood Coalition, made up of university faculty, staff and students, and the Community Engagement Initiative to support residents in communities with elevated health risks.

A homicide in Fairmount Park prompted the groups to come together three years ago to reclaim the neighborhood. Letitia Davis, a 36-year-old mother of four, was raped, beaten and set on fire as she was walking in the park the night of Nov. 14, 2014. She died a week later at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis.

The killing galvanized the neighborhood and college.

“The university, the park and the neighborhood that surrounds it have a shared DNA that runs through the history of all three,” John Bardo, president of WSU wrote in an open letter to Wichita Eagle readers published on Tuesday. “It’s important to the university that the neighborhood thrive, but it’s also personal.”

Bardo told about 30 people gathered Thursday that he wants WSU to create a template of how to address needs across the city.

“We want to reach out not just in this neighborhood but across the city where there are needs,” Bardo said. “What we know is that needs are always greater than resources and so we can’t possibly take on everything at one time. Can’t do it. It would drain our energies and disappoint the people we are trying to work with. What we are trying to do is take a small section of the city and find out what their needs are and help them match their needs with resources available. And, then, how do we help the city and county understand (those neighborhood) needs so they can direct their resources to public good.”

The Public Policy and Management Center at WSU worked with the Shocker Neighborhood Coalition to develop an improved understanding of the neighborhood and the challenges that need to be overcome to promote neighborhood vitality consistent with a community of choice, Bardo wrote.

One of the participants Thursday was Lavonta Williams, a City Council member whose northeast Wichita district includes the Fairmount neighborhood.

“This is so important. Downtown is part of District One but so is the community,” Williams said. “The community is at the heart of what we do as a city. We are surrounding this area with love. Sure there was one incident, an isolated incident, but from that has come good. It caused Wichita State to begin to wrap its arms a little bit tighter around this community.”

The WSU research team spent three months going house to house, meeting with Fairmount residents.

Funding from the Kansas Health Foundation provided dedicated resources for staff, community engagement expertise and a support network for WSU to work more comprehensively with the community.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner

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