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Housing, safety, beautification on central Columbia residents’ minds

For now, Stephanie Hursey’s neighborhood is quiet.

Hursey lives on Lasalle Place, not far from Douglass Park. She grew up in Columbia, and moved onto Lasalle Pl. in 2004. She’s sometimes seen the violence that comes with living in central Columbia.

“I’ve also seen a couple of boys laid out dead,” Hursey said.

Pockets of the central city experience waves of violent crime, an area roughly bound by Business Loop 70 to the north, Providence Road to the east, Ash Street to the south and Sexton Road to the west. Hursey had a simple message to city leaders Tuesday on how they can make the area a better, safer place to live.

“Before we can make a plan, we first have to love ourselves,” Hursey said. “Then, we go out, and love our neighbor.”

Hursey and more than a dozen others met at Hickman High School as a part of Columbia’s strategic plan to enhance life in certain areas of town. The city chose three neighborhoods, determined by factors like homeownership and poverty rates, to improve the economic, social and health conditions there.

North neighborhood residents decided last month that they needed more community resources there, such as a recreation building or other public space. The Columbia City Council recently selected an architectural firm to design the new police substation in the area, at International Drive and Rangeline Street, which police leaders have promised will also hold several spaces for community use.

Planners started in the central city last summer, but turned their focus to north Columbia throughout most of 2016 and early 2017. Reconnecting with residents there will take some time, presenters said, and hoped it would lead to greater participation.

Glenn Cobbins, an outreach specialist for the city alongside Judy Hubbard, said he was happy to get back to reconnecting with central city residents. A native of that area, Cobbins said he hoped he could empower people there to take control of their circumstances, and connect them with any help the city can offer. A more well-established part of the city’s fabric, Cobbins said the central neighborhood had better access to that help than the north or east neighborhoods the city identified. Those include church groups and nonprofit organizations.

“If we can get the people empowered to police their own areas, set up neighborhood watch programs, encourage them to go to the parks, it just makes the central neighborhood the best neighborhood in the world,” Cobbins told ABC 17 News.

Residents there spoke about housing needs of their neighborhood. Census data shows that 64 percent of homes in central Columbia were rentals, with another 11 percent vacant. Some residents asked for tougher enforcement against landlords who leave homes in disrepair, creating eyesores throughout the aging area. The city performed 7,762 code enforcement cases since 2000 in the central neighborhood.

The city will host a follow up meeting for central city residents on April 6.

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