New Castle News

September 20, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: New Visions launches drive to save New Castle

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s no secret that New Castle has its problems.

Just drive around. Empty storefronts. Deteriorating, boarded-up houses. Lots of “For Sale” signs. High weeds and grass in spaces both public and private.

On the other hand, there is another visible New Castle. It’s one where property owners display pride. Where homes and land are maintained. Where businesses put up a pleasant front. Where the historic character of buildings and infrastructure signals both the magnificence of the past and the potential for the future.

But how do you tap into New Castle’s positives and erase the negatives?

That question was front and center at a public forum Tuesday night, where more than 100 people turned out at the request of New Visions for Lawrence County. The gathering was presented as New Visions’ opening step toward bringing the larger community into its efforts to revitalize Lawrence County in general and New Castle in particular.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, and one that prompted a respectable public response. But the task ahead is challenging and full of pitfalls.

Those of us who have been around Lawrence County for a while know that similar efforts to draw community resources together have been attempted in the past, only to fade away. Typically, what begins with good intentions founders on the rocks of apathy, pessimism and frustration.

And inevitably, making improvements involves stepping on the toes of those who aren’t interested in change. If you are fighting to make a stronger community, you had better be prepared for battle. Emotions can get you started in this effort, but gritty determination will be needed to carry the day.

Tuesday’s session began with an explanation of New Visions, what it hopes to accomplish in promoting progress in the community, its steps to date and what it anticipates with broader public participation.

Later in the program, those attending broke up into four groups to focus on communications, clean and green, safety and celebrating New Castle. The group members discussed some of their concerns and advanced ideas for community projects.

The goal was to identify activities or programs that could enhance the community in a short period of time, to help demonstrate the potential for longer-term success.

I sat in with the clean and green group, a reflection of my interest in the subject and my membership in the nonprofit Tri-County CleanWays, an anti-littering and beautification organization that serves Lawrence, Butler and Mercer counties.

I wanted to make sure the New Visions participants were aware of CleanWays, along with the expertise and support it could provide in crucial areas.

But more than that, I wanted to stress that success in what New Visions hopes to achieve depends on avoiding some of the pitfalls experienced in the past and dealing effectively with the inevitable challenges that will arise.

Impediments to success in volunteer efforts can come from a variety of sources. For instance, if a group bites off more than it can chew, participants become frustrated and give up. Also, too much talk and planning alienates individuals who want results. Some people may like attending meetings and discussing issues; most of us prefer to act.

And I suggested whatever is pursued needs to be visible. Not only that, I encouraged efforts in New Castle’s neighborhoods, rather than focusing on the downtown. City residents worried about high taxes, blight and other problems should be given a reason to hope for a better future.

All of the New Visions groups need to keep one point in mind when it comes to dealing with New Castle. I have lost count of the number of people who have walked away from attempts to enhance the city. They had concluded their efforts were not supported or appreciated by the powers that be.

It needs to be communicated to city officials — early and often — that they no longer can afford to take for granted those citizens who want to donate their time and resources to the community. Dealing with debt issues and the erosion of its tax base, New Castle needs all the friends it can find.

At the end of the evening, the four subgroups agreed to meet again on their own. The clean and green participants will gather at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Cray House, at the corner of Highland and Lincoln avenues. The communications group plans to meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Prevailing Word World Outreach Center, 114 Oakland Ave. The other two groups had yet to select a time and location to meet again.

But lists of potential projects were presented, ranging from creating a comprehensive neighborhood watch program for the city to establishing new arts and entertainment programs in downtown parks.

And the communications group received a round of applause when it announced a new slogan: Stand up for New Castle.

If people are going to stand up for the city in a variety of ways, this is the time to start. We will see what New Visions can accomplish from here.