City sets aim: Pull together

The Neighborhood Partnership Program wants to pool the energy of 80 groups to tackle problems.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Published September 25, 2007

LARGO - The city is launching a program to help neighborhoods cultivate their identities and forge networks with each other.

That effort could involve more residents in city affairs and help solve problems before they become major issues, city leaders say.

"One of the things that always concerned me was the lack of active participation in our city," said City Commissioner Gay Gentry.

On a basic level, the Neighborhood Partnership Program would help preserve well-maintained neighborhoods and rehabilitate neglected ones.

But more importantly, city leaders say, it ties in with the goals of the city's long-term strategic plan.

The program seeks to link more than 80 neighborhood groups, civic associations, religious groups, business organizations and nonprofits.

Darci Dore, who was hired as the city's neighborhood coordinator in April, said her research has shown there are more neighborhood organizations than officials previously thought. Several groups are active but most seem to concentrate their efforts within their own boundaries.

"We're giving neighborhoods the opportunity to define what Largo is to them and what they want it to be," Dore said.

"We're looking at models around the country of different neighborhood programs, but we also want to be responsive to what Largo residents want."

One of those models is St. Petersburg, which has a 50-year-old organization of neighborhoods called the Council of Neighborhood Associations. In the 1980s, St. Petersburg began city-driven efforts to connect with neighborhoods. Thoseefforts were re-energized several years later, CONA president Barbara Heck said.

"We want to foster the partnership with the city to do all of those things the neighborhoods want, but can't do alone," Heck said.

Working together, neighborhoods can be a powerful force.

Several Largo neighborhoods demonstrated that last year when they opposed a plan to build a large crematory near homes.

Recently, as the result of that effort, city leaders changed rules for where crematories could be located.

Some officials might see a drawback to empowering the city's neighborhoods.

In some circumstances, those groups could use their clout to block anything they don't like.

But Assistant City Manager Mike Staffopoulos said the program will help assure that decisions made by the commission represent those of the community.

And Gentry put it this way: "If we could deal with our problems at a neighborhood level, they wouldn't be problems at the city level."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

To learn more

Register your group

About the Neighborhood Partnership Program or to register your group, contact Darci Dore at ddore@largo.com or 587-6749, ext. 7350. Largo civic associations and neighborhood groups can also register online at largo.com.