The Upper Savannah Council of Governments has won a National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) 2013 Innovation Award for administering the City of Laurens Community Safety Initiative, NADO announced recently.
The Upper Savannah COG's Community Development staff administered the project from start to finish with the help of partnering agencies.
The Laurens CSI project has made a positive impact on a low-income neighborhood by improving the appearance, helping lower the crime rate and giving its residents hope.
This pilot Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project improved a neighborhood that was spiraling out of control with high crime, slum and blighted buildings, overgrown lots and dilapidated housing.
The City of Laurens demolished 23 structures and cleared eight lots. The vacant structures were being used by drug dealers and gangs as hideouts, and children were exploring in and around the buildings which were structurally unsafe and infested with rodents. Fourteen owner-occupied houses received exterior façade improvements.
New LED street lights were installed to improve visibility, providing security and pedestrian safety at night. Emergency two-way call boxes and video surveillance tied directly with 911 were installed to give residents protection. The 17 security cameras and two emergency call boxes are monitored by the City Police Department.
According to the Police Department, there has been a 17 percent reduction in calls for service in the area compared to one year earlier. Two police WiFi hot spots were installed, allowing officers to utilize their laptop computers while making routine patrols or when answering calls.
The project also provided materials for a picnic shelter at the River Street Park, which had been underused due to poor conditions. Laurens City employees supplied the labor to construct the shelter. The City contributed more than $113,000 for other park improvements.
In the beginning stages of the $500,000 CDBG project, Upper Savannah Council of Governments (USCOG) staff held neighborhood meetings to describe the project to residents. Staff helped determine which houses could use exterior improvements, and also helped identify which structures needed to be torn down.
USCOG staff worked with law enforcement officials to assist in the crime prevention aspect of the grant, and worked with City of Laurens officials as well as Laurens Commissioners of Public Works with other parts of the project. Staff maintained contact with residents until the project was complete.
The S.C. Department of Commerce expressed that if they were satisfied with the project and if they met the designated completion date, a Phase II would be forthcoming. The project met all expectations and a second grant award of $500,000 was recently announced to improve water and sewer services in the neighborhood as well as continuing demolitions and minor home exterior improvements.
The 2013 NADO Innovation Award winners will be recognized during NADO’s Annual Training Conference to be held Aug. 24-27 in San Francisco.
NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s regional development organizations. The association and its members promote regional strategies, partnerships, and solutions to strengthen the economic competitiveness and quality of life across America’s local communities. NADO includes a national network of 540 multi-jurisdictional regional planning and development organizations.