Place Matters gives residents tools to transform their communities

Place Matters has spent the last decade giving residents the tools they need to transform their communities because they know the places we call home matter.

The Place Matters initiative is a partnership between local funding agencies convened by United Way of Greater Cincinnati and neighborhood nonprofit organizations. Place Matters provides support to a leading community-based organization in communities across the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region so they can work with their neighbors to make holistic and comprehensive improvements.

People — the ones who already call each neighborhood home — are at the center of Place Matters' work. Place Matters agencies, such as the Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington, spend as much time reaching out to residents as they do developing property.

“They were really out there. They were out in the community,” Covington resident Bobbie Kays say of the Center. “It was never, ‘Here’s what we can do.’ It was always, “What do you want us to do?’ They just listened to what was the desire of the people, not just collectively, but individually.”

Place Matters tackles neighborhood health and safety through creative placemaking, often using art and events to bring people together. An example is Price Hill Will, the lead Place Matters agency in Price Hill on Cincinnati’s west side, which has successfully united its diverse families around MYCincinnati, a free youth orchestra program. The orchestra and its home, the Warsaw Avenue Firehouse, are the center of family life for every part of the community — new residents, the growing Hispanic community and longtime white and black residents. Some parents even have started learning instruments alongside their children, and other parents have formed clubs after meeting at MYCincinnati rehearsals and concerts.

“Price Hill does community engagement right,” says Tamara Thrasher, whose two children participate in MYCincinnati.

Whether through programs like MYCincinnati or community events like the Five Points Alley clean-up and mural painting in Walnut Hills, Place Matters initiatives have proven over the past 10 years that good things happen when you bring residents together to celebrate their community.

“It’s that one-on-one relationship,” says Walnut Hills resident Kathryne Gardette. “You see these people. You may not know what street they live on. You may not know all the details of their day. You may not even know their name. But you cross them in the neighborhood, and you can celebrate being neighbors.”

Place Matters also gives community leaders a chance to highlight positive aspects of their neighborhood. When a community needs improvement — if houses are vacant or crime is visible — residents tend toward complaints when they get together. Events and programs that take advantage of a neighborhood’s assets change that.

“It gives us the opportunity to have a different kind of conversation about Avondale,” says Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation board member Henry Brown.

Place Matters communities come together in a monthly peer network. The lead agencies learn from each other’s successes and share strategies and best practices. When agencies have a wider network — both of residents in the community and resources in the region — they can tackle more projects.

“It’s a base for building more community involvement,” says Keith Blake, West End Community Council president. “There are a lot of connections that are being made, that are coming out of the energy of Place Matters.”

After 10 years, the impact of Place Matters is being felt in Greater Cincinnati. Neighborhoods have fewer vacant houses. Residents report seeing less crime. People know their neighbors. They get excited about their communities — the unique events and businesses that make their neighborhoods special.

“We just do the best we can and fix a little piece at a time,” says Avondale resident Michael Pinkston. “Things are changing. Things are looking up. Things are improving.”

Most importantly, each Place Matters neighborhood is working on making improvements while retaining and celebrating their community’s history and character.

“I don’t want Madisonville to be the next Hyde Park. We already have a Hyde Park. We already have an Oakley,” says Kayla O’Neal, a board member for the Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., a Place Matters agency. “Madisonville is special. We want it to be nice for everybody.”

Place Matters agencies are focused on changes that help existing residents, that make their neighborhoods unique and celebrates what makes them special.

The series, Community Stories, is supported by LISC Greater Cincinnati. Learn more at
LISC supports contributing journalist, Hillary Copsey. Read more stories about community development from Hillary here.

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