Groups bring change to historic neighbourhood
Windsor’s Ford City neighbourhood may bring to mind a number of negative perceptions about its residents and community, but local groups and the University of Windsor are attempting to revitalize this once thriving area.
Through the Community-University Partnership at the university, social work students are working with the Ford City Neighbourhood Renewal. FCNR is focused on neighbourhood revitalization through four pillars: community image renewal, economic revitalization, commercial revitalization and neighbourhood engagement.
“We are currently looking to expand our partnership with different faculties from the university, [such as] environmental science, political science, engineering, arts [and] business,” said Stephen Lynn, community development co-ordinator for FCNR.
There are a number of events and ongoing projects taking place within the community by FCNR and other concerned organizations, and this week
proves to be a jam-packed one for Ford City. On Nov. 3, Ford City – Sharing Our Vision forum will showcase recommendations from residents and business owners that were collected over a three month process.
Local artist Virginianne opens her gallery Atelier Virginianne on Nov. 4 with help from other local artists, including Rosina Riccardo, Teresea Carlesimo and Broken City Lab in an event called Listening + Learning: Visions of Ford City. The event will also feature a silent auction of photographs of Ford City taken by its residents.
“A future project we will be exploring is the feasibility of creating a vibrant artist hub in Ford City. We have many beautiful historic buildings that would make amazing live work spaces. With the opening of Atelier Virginianne, we hope more artists will come experience our neighbourhood and see how much we have to offer,” says Lynn.
Two recent projects in the neighbourhood include Ford City Community Garden, started by Windsor Essex Community Supported Agriculture in 2010.
The garden, located at 984 Drouillard Rd., consists of three vacant lots transformed for vegetable planting.
In June, BMR Windsor Building Centre and Windsor Police Service sponsored a program that offered discounts on security upgrades for homes and businesses in the area.
“We are currently in the last stretch of our Paint the Towne project, which saw the facades of a couple vacant buildings on Drouillard Road primed by local children and then painted as a faux storefront by a local artist,” said Lynn. These recent improvements in Ford City are breathing life back into a once vibrant neighbourhood.
The area has a long and rich history dating back to 1884. When the Ford Motor Company moved into the neighbourhood at the turn of the 20th century, the area boomed. Ford City expanded without much concern over city planning, and was geographically closed off from the surrounding neighbourhoods.
After Ford Motor Company pulled out of the area in the mid-1950s, the city was left with a largely unemployed and somewhat secluded population. Since then, the neighbourhood has garnered a reputation that doesn’t actually reflect the people that live there.
The Ford City Redevelopment Committee, formed in 1997 and consisting of various neighourhood stakeholders, applied to the United Way for a grant to
develop an initiative that challenges the negative perceptions about Ford City.
The result was the formation of Ford City Neighbourhood Renewal in July 2010. FCNR is receiving $35,000 annually over the next three years from
United Way, according to Lorraine Goddard, senior director, community impact for the United Way. FCNR is also receiving $300,000 from the East Windsor Cogeneration Centre Sustainability Fund.
Lynn and and fellow community development co-ordinator Karlene Nielsen, lead the FCNR initiative. Lynn’s background is in urban planning
while Nielsen graduated from University of Windsor in 2010 with a master’s degree in social work. The combination of these two individuals with different backgrounds has brought two perspectives to the project that is essential to its success.
- Residents in ward five, which includes Ford City, have an annual household income that is about 14 per cent less than the rest of the city, according to the 2006 Census. The area also suffers from aging properties, lack of commerce and a reputation for crime.
- UWindsor plays an important role within the FCNR. Mary Medcalf, co-ordinator of field education programs in the School of Social Work, has been partnering students in areas of Windsor and Essex County that are in need of revitalization since 2005.
- There are 40 students currently receiving hands-on work experience in six neighbourhoods throughout the city.
When the initiative was first put in place, Nielsen and Lynn went door to door in the neighbourhood to meet the residents. Learning that residents
wanted to be able to connect with others in their community, the FCNR set up Residents in Action neighbourhood meetings.
“We held the first meeting and nobody came. We had the second meeting, three people came, and then it just started to snowball. They’ve got 12 members to date that are representing all the areas of Ford City,” said Nielsen.
One of the goals of the RIA was to bring neighbourhood traditions back. Kerry Ippolito, a 37-year-old resident of Ford City, has lived in the area for most of her life. “I moved out for a short while when I got married, but I bought my mom and dad’s house and moved back into the neighbourhood when they couldn’t take care of the home anymore. I love this neighbourhood.”
Ippolito explains how the community traditions were an important part of her childhood. “It’s a great place to be. I have fond memories growing up here. All the kids’ days, Fun Days in the park, and fireworks nights. It’s a very tight-knit community.”
Those Fun Days that Ippolito recalls are now back in place thanks to the RIA. Nielsen explains that the Fun Days for kids took place before school started again and included activities like a Jello eating contest.
“It’s about building the leadership capacity within the residents of the neighbourhood so that they’re then able to engage with their municipal,
provincial, and federal government to get things done without us. It’s all about sustainability,” explained Nielsen. Speaking about her her greatest hope for the neighbourhood, Nielsen said, “[I hope] that it becomes the place to live, work, worship, play and create.”
Want to get involved with Ford City or another Windsor community through the university? Contact Mary Medcalf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 519-253-3000 ext. 3065.