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Column: Residents key tools in Ninth Street improvement

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COLUMBUS’ Ninth Street Park is one of the smaller ones in the city. Through the years it has experienced its ups and downs, situations controlled for the most part by the changing demographics of the neighborhood around it.

The situation today, with considerable justification, can be described as one of the down times. Actually, the park is only part of a bigger problem many residents in the downtown area are trying to address in cooperation with city authorities.

Many of the problems associated with the park — fights, drug activity, suspicious behavior and juvenile problems — are common to the neighborhood in which almost three-quarters of the households have low to moderate incomes and 67 percent of the homes are renter-occupied.

Fortunately, there is a segment of the neighborhood that is attempting to change the direction of the area, and city officials are reaching out to help them in their efforts.

Columbus police, in particular, have taken extraordinary measures, focusing extra patrols in the neighborhood. Through mid-November officers had made 374 extra patrols in the area. The patrols either were the result of calls from neighbors or because of incidents that were noticed by police during routine visits.

Mayor Kristen Brown and other city officials met with Ninth Street neighbors to discuss the neighborhood’s issues last month, and the city’s chief executive indicated she is considering introduction of tougher ordinances that would address criminal activity and abandoned homes.

Central to bringing a sense of order to the area, however, is the attitude of residents. In that respect there is hope for the Ninth Street neighborhood.

Although the demographics have changed during the past several decades, there is a core group who have shown a willingness to improve the area from within.

It was evidenced in the early 1990s when a group of residents led by Jackie Combest and Terry Anderson put together a plan to clean up and reinvigorate the Ninth Street Park and its surrounding area. That effort not only improved the appearance of the environs but established a network of neighbors intent on keeping it that way.

Many of those original activists — Combest and Anderson included — still live in the area and have signed on to efforts to once again improve their neighborhood. They are working with police to reduce and eventually eliminate the suspected criminal behavior. Many of those extra patrols made by Columbus police have been in response to calls from neighbors.

There are no quick and easy fixes to the problems in this particular neighborhood. Many of them stem from the transient status of a growing number of those who live there.

However, there still is a significant number of residents who are willing to act to improve the situation around them. They’ve been joined by city officials who have already used targeted efforts to reduce unwanted behavior.

Those are pretty powerful tools.

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