#LifeOnTheAvenue: Byrne Grant spurs positive community action in Flint and beyond

The Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) Program grant -- part of the Obama Administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative -- provided $1 million over three years to help convert the University Avenue Corridor into a vibrant region.

#LifeOnTheAvenue is a series that will profile the people, organizations and places in the University Avenue Corridor that make the region unique, compelling and – most importantly – vital to Flint’s bright future. Follow along on social media using the #LifeOnTheAvenue hashtag

It’s been two years since Kettering University and the University Avenue Corridor Coalition received a grant that would make a major impact in the community, its people and future success.

The streets have been cleaned up, blighted structures have been razed and new, family-friendly businesses and parks have replaced blighted corners and properties.

That’s only the start.

In October of 2014 the UACC, with Kettering University acting as the fiduciary, received a $1 million community engagement grant from the Department of Justice. The grant, along with other partnerships, focused on crime prevention and blight elimination along the corridor.

With one year left on the grant, the positive effect of the funds and partnerships has been felt along the corridor.

“We really set a model of the importance of using data to inform decision making. There is a great importance of mapping, looking at data, looking for patterns and then setting a model,” said Tom Wyatt, Byrne Grant coordinator at Kettering. “Now that we know where our weaknesses are and our strengths are, we can move forward in that.”

Byrne Grant Highlights

  • 20 community partners
  • A $150,000 award was leveraged from the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Council
  • 16 research professors from four universities
  • 2,500 community participants
  • A 24 percent reduction in crime
  • The Local Initiative Support Corporation has expanded its focus area to include the entire corridor
  • 24 Service Saturdays with more than 2,000 Kettering students participating
  • 70 people trained in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)
  • Mott Park Blight Squad was established and 12 blighted properties were addressed
  • 50 members joined the Mott Area Patrol
  • $10,000 in grant dollars from the state of Michigan were received
  • $12,000 for Lighter Quicker Cheaper placemaking was received
  • Habitat for Humanity made University Avenue Corridor a Neighborhood Revitalization focus area
  • Habitat for Humanity Kettering University Campus Chapter was created

A focus was put on strengthening community, creating a sustainable solution past the life of the grant and forming an environment that allowed the residents, business owners, key institutions and volunteers to come together to make an major impact on the region.

The Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) Program grant -- part of the Obama Administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative -- provided $1 million over three years to help convert the University Avenue Corridor into a vibrant region by developing and implementing sustainable crime prevention strategies that spur community engagement and development and promote health and safety. Kettering and Flint were one of only six communities nationally to receive the BCJI grants.

Prior to receiving the grant, efforts had already begun to create a safe, walkable University Avenue Corridor region connecting McLaren Regional Medical Center, Kettering University and surrounding neighborhoods to downtown Flint along University Avenue. Those efforts were bolstered significantly with the $1 million federal grant.

“Our plan and vision was unique when it first came out. We had 16 research professors from four universities. We have more partnerships than any other Byrne grant that I’ve ever seen.

We have two state agencies, local and county government, chambers of commerce and churches - every sector covered,” Wyatt said. “That’s been huge. We are seen as a resource.”

Two years of change

Besides seeing a change in the landscape of the University Avenue Corridor, there has been an intentional effort to create a cohesive community working together to make a substantial change.

Community members, institutions and key players have joined together to make a difference and create a better quality of life for the area. It took a team effort and collaborative spirit to bring everything together.

Thousands of community partners have joined forces to make a difference in the University Avenue Corridor, whether it be through blight elimination, property clean up, placemaking events, block parties or community patrol.

Even though the University Avenue Corridor Coalition had already begun making meaningful change since it was founded by Kettering three years ago, the Byrne Grant gave Kettering and the UACC the resources to gather data, do much needed research and empower others to make positive change.

The planning phase of the Byrne Grant initiatives took place from October 2014 to December 2015. The implementation phase started in January 2016 and will go through September 2017.

“I think for one, the grant has really shined a light on this area. The UAC has surpassed a lot of other areas doing great things because of University Avenue Corridor Coalition and the Byrne Grant. People are working together and others are taking notice,” Wyatt said. “The grant has brought more things here. More attention brings more partners. It’s also been a really good example of breaking down institutional or cultural silos.”

In the UAC there have been some really unique examples of grant dollars coming to the area, and as a group members discuss where the money will best be served, Wyatt said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that before in Flint,” Wyatt said.

The teams and community partners rallied together to collect community and crime data, pinpoint three hotspots, identify sustainable strategies to make a change, meet with neighborhood and community groups, hold placemaking meetings and get out on the streets to make physical improvements.

The Renew the Avenue initiative is a blend of crime prevention, community development and neighborhood revitalization strategies with the goal of reducing crime and improving the quality of life. The goals are to reduce property crime, drug related crime and assaults by 20 percent, reduce blight that facilitates crime by 50 percent and increase community participation at all levels.

Kettering University faculty and students from a range of academic disciplines have worked in tandem with the UACC to include their expertise on sustainable planning. Students have joined other community volunteers to clean up blight and talk with residents to hear more about what they envision the future of the corridor.

“One of the things that I think has been a big part of this process is building trust with the community. Over the three years by doing the different pieces of the Byrne Grant, the community trusts Kettering and trusts the process a lot more,” said Jack Stock, director of External Relations at Kettering.

There’s still work to do

In the last year of the Byrne Grant and beyond there is still work to be done to create a sustainable, cohesive and safer community.

The good news, however, is that it appears there is no shortage of teamwork when it comes to improving the University Avenue Corridor.

“There are a lot more people willing to work together,” Stock said. “It’s contagious. The work being done brings people along on the journey.”

Moving forward there will be a lot of focus on redevelopment. There will be continued work done to strengthen the neighborhoods to have an economic and social impact.

More placemaking and community outreach events will take place. Community cleanup events, blight removal and increased engagement with law enforcement will continue to move the University Avenue Corridor forward toward its goals.

Wyatt said one things they really want to ramp up is the usage of tracking and reporting tools as a way to alert each other and law enforcement to what is going on in the community.

Wyatt and his team will also be working with Kettering students to create mobile apps to report issues that do not warrant an immediate response from emergency responders, as well as a data mining tool to extract key information to provide a clear and comprehensive view of the environment in which an emergency responder is entering into. The data gathered will serve as a tool for developing additional strategies and prioritizing projects.

The work done by Kettering and the UACC has been used as a model in other communities. Wyatt and others from his team have traveled across the state to hold training sessions on what they are learning through this process and how CPTED methods are making a difference. The team has already trained 60 people in CPTED in Detroit and helped start the Warren Avenue Corridor Coalition.

“What we are doing shows that this community can manage a grant like the $1 million Byrne Grant,” Stock said. “Our No. 1 objective is to show this can be successful here and other places. Good programming behind this will be the legacy that will help us continue to be successful.”