The line “if you build it, they will come” may be from a movie, but it has become an outdated way of thinking about community development. The 712 Initiative’s way of thinking is to make Council Bluffs a community where the needs and wants of neighbors are folded into the decision-making process.
An Iowa West Foundation initiative, the Neighborhood Network was launched in 2014 to strengthen neighborhoods in Council Bluffs and connections between residents.
“The strength of our neighborhoods is critical to creating a place where families want to live,” said Pete Tulipana, President and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation. “Strong individual neighborhoods can add up to create one united and vibrant community.”
That’s where Turner Morgan, The 712 Initiative’s new Neighborhood Coordinator, comes in. Morgan is Council Bluffs’ resident Mister Rogers. His goal is to reinvigorate the Neighborhood Network.
The network is designed to build relationships between residents and decision makers in Council Bluffs through three main activities; city-wide neighborhood support, downtown walkability projects and a West End listening project.
One major city-wide project which launched this summer is the Block Party Trailer. The trailer is a project aimed to strengthen relationships between neighbors.
“The Block Party Trailer provides a great opportunity to develop and build strong relationships in our neighborhoods,” said Chief Tim Carmody of the Council Bluffs Police Department. “It’s been our experience that strong relationships grow into safer environments and cohesive neighborhoods.”
The trailer provides just about everything you need to host a block party and it is available for free to residents of Council Bluffs. With street barricades, tables, chairs, chest coolers, water coolers, a sound system, yard games and even more, it is a great way for neighbors to get to know each other and have some fun.
Being so popular in the community, the Block Party Trailer is booked out for the rest of the season. The trailer will have been used for more than 20 block parties across neighborhoods in Council Bluffs by time it gets parked for the winter.
Additional city-wide projects include the Neighborhood Leadership Academy and Neighborhood Network Quarterly Meetings. The meetings are meant to create interesting and engaging opportunities for neighborhood residents to interact.
Morgan’s first Neighborhood Network meeting brought out more than 60 community members to the gallery space adjacent to Lincoln’s Pub on the 100 Block. Attendees were able to meet their neighbors and other members of the community, along with hear Mayor Matt Walsh speak on the happenings of the city.
“These meetings are open to everyone and are great opportunities for increasing neighborhood cohesion,” Morgan said. “Just like in the business community, it’s important for neighbors to have a chance to network and share in each other’s successes and challenges. My hope is that we can empower residents to be proactive in the changes they want to see in their neighborhoods.”
Morgan is about to begin a 100 interviews listening project in the West End. The focus of this project will be to get neighborhood input on the dynamics of the area.
“This information also will be shared with the Iowa West Foundation as leadership seeks to identify future strategies for the area,” Tulipana said.
Morgan said, “As our town develops, it’s critical that the dreams, passions and concerns of the neighbors who live in the area are taken into consideration and that they have a seat at the table when projects begin.”
Currently, The 712 Initiative is helping six downtown neighborhood associations in Council Bluffs identify and complete resident-driven downtown walkability projects.
While many of the projects include street beautification Morgan said these projects are really going to be about what the associations want to do.
“I’ll be playing a supporting role and helping these projects move forward; making calls, getting bids, and connecting projects with the right resources,” Morgan said.
“I’m so excited to be working in my hometown and having the chance to create positive change where my family lives.”
Before starting at The 712 Initiative, Morgan had worked eight years at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, most recently as the Volunteer Manager. He has also been the president of the Gibraltar Neighborhood association for the past two years.
“Turner is an outstanding addition to the team,” said Sheryl Garst, CEO of The 712 Initiative. “He holds the perfect skill set to make the program meaningful- leadership, relatability, empathy and good listening. He holds the passion to make this community a great place to live, work and play.”
For more information about The 712 Initiative’s Neighborhood Network or if you would like to volunteer on community projects, contact Turner Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 712-396-2476.