Written by Bethany Williams, Director of Community Development, City of Beaver Falls
Community work takes time. Trust me, when I started talking about doing creative community development work as a government official, I knew that even building the trust that was needed to do that was a near-impossible dream. And, even if it was possible, it would talk a long time to work through the barriers of mistrust and economic decline. But, when I was able to announce that the City of Beaver Falls received funding to start the redevelopment of the park in between the Carnegie Library and the News Tribune Building, it was an emotional moment of relief for me personally as the City’s Director of Community Development.
When we created the Department of Community Development in 2014, the first thing I did was listen. I attended countless community meetings and met with stakeholders of all kinds to try to get a sense of what the community was hoping to see happen in Beaver Falls and how we, as the local government, could help connect the pieces to facilitate growth. Through all of that listening, I heard the pain of a community that had faced immense loss, the passion the lifelong residents had for their city, and the relentless hope that maybe there might be a better future out there for us. As the community started working together to accomplish some of these goals, the City officials acknowledged that, if we are going to ask our residents and stakeholders to invest in the City to create a better future, we needed to be doing the same.
The park next to the Carnegie Library was an obvious place to start. This public space looked as sad as our community was feeling about the state of our city. By the end of 2014, I had begun putting together all kinds of plans that I submitted to City Council and worked with my community partners to try to prove the value of investing in this small, yet pivotal space.
It was a tough sell, though. The crumbling concrete and empty planter beds in that space have done little to inspire creativity or hope. And, because it looked like no one cared about it, the park tended to attract the kind of negative behavior that would prevent anyone from wanting to spend time there.
Yet, despite the park’s appearance and negative reputation, it has been used regularly by community groups to host Santaland, regular children’s programming, free meal distributions, and festivals because it was centrally located. We appreciate that community organizations have consistently “made it work” in the park to bring incredible opportunities to the residents of our city. But, it’s time to create a public space that actually meets our needs and instills a sense of pride over what can be accomplished when we stay committed to the long-term success of our community.
So, it gives me an incredible amount of joy to announce that, after 7 years of advocacy, the City of Beaver Falls was able to secure $250,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Program for Phase 1 of the project which will cover the demolition of the current space, restructuring of the park layout, providing better ADA accessibility, implementing sustainable rainwater management, and installing of the electrical conduits for Phase 2 installations. We are currently working to apply for funding for Phase 2 that will invest in public art installations, landscaping, seating, and other design elements.
I’m excited to continue sharing this journey of revitalization with you and to show a small example of how persistence and commitment to the future of our city can produce a public space that is worthy of the resilient people of Beaver Falls.
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