Community activist Adam Barlow-Thompson says it’s time for residents of south central Wichita to revitalize the area he affectionately refers to as “SoCe” by taking ownership of its identity.
He said he’s proud of his neighborhood, which starts just south of downtown and runs from Kellogg to Pawnee. But he’s quick to acknowledge the stigmas of crime and poverty that many people associate with it.
“It’s a neighborhood that’s usually known for its needs and its problems,” said Barlow-Thompson, executive director of the Neighboring Movement by SoCe Life.
“There is a stigma in Wichita when you go south of Kellogg, and especially when south Broadway is your corridor.”
But he said those perceptions don’t define SoCe residents.
“The kind of people that live in this neighborhood are the kind of people who are resilient,” Barlow-Thompson said. “That adversity has shaped us in a way that makes us unique and quirky and interesting.
SoCe’s diversity will be on full display from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 20, at the Wichita South Central Neighborhood Plan Pop-Up Event.
City buses will run a route around the neighborhood, making various stops for residents to enjoy live music, community-building activities, a Guadalupe Clinic health booth and a free farm-to-table lunch for the first 200 people.
Resurrection Community Church is in the beginning stages of converting an education wing into a community center, and residents will be invited into the space to weigh in on what they want to see it become.
But the crux of the event is giving community members the opportunity to share their ideas and priorities for the neighborhood’s future as the city finalizes a new version of the South Central Neighborhood Plan.
“If the community is going to experience that kind of revitalization, it’s going to happen from the actual residents being involved — speaking in one voice,” Barlow-Thompson said.
“Yes, the plan helps to give direction to city staff and elected officials, but even more than that, we hope that it inspires the people who live here to get involved and be educated about their own community.”
Developed in 2006, the first neighborhood plan focused primarily on keeping certain types of businesses out of the area — namely cheap motels, used car lots and bars, Barlow-Thompson said.
The original plan has been moderately successful, but activists see the updated version going much farther, he said.
“The hope is to start defining ourselves not by what we don’t want but by what we do want,” Barlow-Thompson said.
“In the new plan, we’re saying things like, ‘We want some more public spaces.’ Whether that be green space like parks or public facilities like community centers where people can gather and collaborate.”
James Clendenin, District 3’s representative on the city council, said he sees the plan as a vision for what projects will give residents their best quality of life.
“It’s great to see a community rally around a plan,” he said.
Clendenin said he would love to see alleys that he called a “haven for crime and illegal dumping” get converted into park space.
“My main hope is that this plan can help get rid of the stigma that south Broadway has as being a crime corridor,” Clendenin said.
In doing so, he said, the community can galvanize a new identity and sense of pride in south central Wichita.
Barlow-Thompson and his wife Ashley just celebrated the five-year anniversary of moving into their SoCe house.
“What we’ve found now after years of going around this neighborhood and asking people, ‘What do you like to do? What are your interests?’ is that we have a bunch of people who could rebuild the whole neighborhood by themselves, because they’re masonry people, they’re fencing people, they’re carpenters, they’re chimney sweeps, they’re housekeepers,” Barlow-Thompson said.
“We’re kind of tired of the idea that someone needs to come in and fix us, and we’re ready to show the people that live here that we have all of these gifts and talents already here.”