Middle Main

A neighborhood just a little off center

Grassroots efforts are transforming downtown Poughkeepsie

Two more shootings on Main Street recently. No big surprise, right? Why should we expect Main Street to regain its footing anytime soon and approach a new day of commerce and culture and community?

Well think again, because there's a quiet transformation under way in downtown Poughkeepsie that doesn't grab headlines; it just taps into the vision and determination of the people claiming a new downtown where we can all come together once again.

It is evident that top-down solutions to the challenges Main Street faces are not working as effectively as they could or should be. It would be easy to spend our time lamenting this, or pointing fingers. But there is another, much more effective way.

Before the events of recent weeks captured headlines, Hudson River Housing was working to build a coalition of partners that could work together to advocate for, support, and undertake efforts to improve conditions for residents in the Middle Main neighborhood (Academy Street to Pershing Avenue), in order to create a more attractive, safer and more inclusive community.

Middle Main Revitalization is an initiative backed by Hudson River Housing, a nonprofit with almost 30 years of experience in the city.

But more than anything it is a grass-roots movement that has been steadily growing for almost two years.

In the past two years we've convened regular monthly community planning meetings open to the public. These meetings, which once consisted of four or five people in a room, have now grown to include 30, 40 or even 50 individuals representing business, residents, youth, nonprofits, municipal officials, and others.

We've successfully obtained $500,000 in funding to undertake building improvements in the area; we manage a social networking website that provides residents, business owners and others a means of interaction; we've conducted annual neighborhood surveys of residents, business owners and property owners, and a business inventory to identify business needs and identify solutions to vacancies; we've hosted networking nights at local restaurants to encourage people to come out onto Main Street and support local businesses; we've organized OpenHouse Poughkeepsie, a two-week celebration of arts, food and culture on Main Street; we co-sponsored a Hudson Valley Main Street Summit bringing downtown experts to Poughkeepsie to share their best practices.

Our focus is economic development, but along the way, we've found much more than we bargained for — in the best possible way. We've found energy, creativity, initiative, collaboration, neighborliness, support and community.

All of the things that any one of us would point to as the building blocks of a vibrant, cohesive neighborhood are here, including businesses that have been around for generations; new residents who are risk-takers and entrepreneurs; young people who want to build a positive future; a wealth of community-based organizations and, most important, people who want to work together to achieve change.

We are not wearing rose-colored glasses. We know the challenges; that is why the Middle Main initiative was launched by Hudson River Housing in the first place. But we have not let the challenges cloud the vision.

Furthering negativity whether by actions or words only helps create the very environment in which undesirable activity and crime will thrive. It creates a home for it. We need to change the dialogue about this community, and find ways to support the good things that we have so that those things will thrive.

You may be reading this and thinking that the events of recent weeks mean we have failed. I believe that response would be short-sighted. There are no quick, easy solutions. There is only hard work, dedication and the belief that we can and should do better.

Make no mistake. There's a new Main Street emerging. It may look and sound and taste different than the Poughkeepsie people remember, but it shares the irrepressible energy and elbow grease that will make downtown thrive again. We must move forward with a joint vision, and begin turning the curve in the right direction.

For more information, visit the initiative website at www.middlemain.com.

May 24, 2011

Poughkeepsie Journal

By: Elizabeth Celaya


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