Opinion Columns & Blogs

Creating a community of choice in the Fairmount neighborhood

WSU organizations set up booths during the Celebrate Safe Communities event at Fairmount Park on Sept. 15, 2015.
WSU organizations set up booths during the Celebrate Safe Communities event at Fairmount Park on Sept. 15, 2015. File photo

A horrifying murder in Fairmount Park three years ago mobilized residents, city officials and many of us at Wichita State University to come together, pledging to reclaim one of Wichita’s finest historic neighborhoods.

There’s been significant progress since then, built on combining grassroots neighborhood leadership with resources from the university, city and Kansas Health Foundation.

On Thursday, we’ll be releasing and discussing the first wave of survey results based on face-to-face interviews with hundreds of residents.

The university, the park and the neighborhood that surrounds it have a shared DNA that runs through the history of all three. It’s important to the university that the neighborhood thrive, but it’s also personal. Going back 40 years to my time as a broke young professor, Fairmount Park was where Deborah and I shared many happy hours while we courted and later as young marrieds and as new parents.

In response to global economic challenges, the mission of WSU has evolved to function as an economic engine for south-central Kansas. The university is employing a place-based economic development strategy that works best when the university and the Fairmount neighborhood are seamlessly and collaboratively connected, creating a “community of choice” where people want to live, learn, work and play.

Strengthening university-neighborhood collaboration begins with an improved understanding of the needs and concerns of Fairmount residents. The Public Policy and Management Center at WSU has been working 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.

The PPMC research team, including some dedicated graduate students, spent three months going house to house, meeting with Fairmount residents. Nearly 400 of these residents took the time to respond to a survey to provide an improved understanding of their needs, concerns and strength of connections to the neighborhood.

Fairmount residents are invited to participate in the first of three discussions of survey results on Sept. 28 in Fairmount Park. The survey findings allow us to look through the eyes of residents to better understand how they see the community in which they live.

This dialogue will provide an improved understanding of how residents currently view quality of life in the neighborhood and their willingness to work collaboratively with their neighbors to make improvements.

This discussion will also examine issues related to public safety. Community policing can be a particularly effective approach for addressing public safety, assuming that citizens trust and are willing to share information with police to prevent and solve crime.

Research findings also explore the willingness of neighbors to work together and with the Wichita Police Department to create a defended space and community of choice where crime is unacceptable.

Neighborhood diversity is a celebrated part of Fairmount’s history. It is important that issues of race are addressed in a straightforward fashion. The research provides evidence the Fairmount neighborhood can become a model for embracing diversity to contribute to the creation of a community of choice.

I’m looking forward to the discussions to come and having the park, the neighborhood and the university flourish together.

John Bardo is president of Wichita State University.