Cape group seeks to create more neighborly downtown

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

One neighborhood in downtown Cape Girardeau is trying to bridge a socio-economic gap through the power of hot dogs and neighborly conversation.

Volunteers will fire up the grills June 2 for Neighborhood Connections, a community meet-and-greet event that they hope will improve unity among neighbors in the city blocks between Spanish, Sprigg, North and Independence streets. Anyone who lives, works or owns property in that area can go to Neighborhood Connections, which begins at 6 p.m. in May Greene Garden Park at the corner of Fountain and Themis streets.

Barbara Port, who lives on Themis Street and is helping organize the meeting, said volunteers are creating Neighborhood Connections because many people within the area do not identify with each other well or even know their neighbors. This could stem primarily from the wide range of backgrounds among people in that section of town, she said.

"Some of us in this neighborhood are poor, some of us aren't. Some of us have lived there our whole lives, and some of us rent and are in and out in six months," Port said. "We're a real mix, and to make this group relate to each other is the purpose."

Port said a few volunteers originally became concerned about some of their neighbors after visiting homes in the area in sub-standard conditions.

"They were seeing buildings that had too many people in them and didn't have things like sufficient water and plumbing for the amount of people there," she said.

However, Port said the volunteers are more concerned about the issues of poverty in the neighborhood that have created the inadequate housing conditions.

"We started out worried about housing, but then we realized that this was just a symptom of a larger problem, and we needed to not point fingers but get all the neighborhood together to say 'This isn't right,'" Port said.

Volunteer Joan Jones said she hopes Neighborhood Connections will allow people to talk about their housing concerns and other neighborhood problems. She said a new Neighborhood Watch program or other community plans could come out of the get-together.

"We just want to help people, make them feel good about where they live," Jones said.

Representatives from local churches and organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Boys and Girls Clubs also will be at Neighborhood Connections to talk to interested people. The volunteers will serve food, and a clown will entertain children.

If the first Neighborhood Connections is successful, Jones said volunteers may be interested in expanding their efforts to other parts of the community.

"We would love to have it move all out, and make this a happier, healthier place to live, where just about anyone would want to move here," Jones said.

Tom Neumeyer, former city councilman and member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said the advocacy group formed about 12 years ago to promote downtown restoration and the minimum property maintenance code.

"It was an effort to reward good landlords and get rid of slumlords," Neumeyer said.

However, Neumeyer said the association has not been as active in recent years. The Downtown Neighborhood Association is not involved with Neighborhood Connections.

wmcferron@semissourian.com

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