Neighborhood making changes block-by-block

Neighbors are working to clean up the Garfield Park neighborhood.

One of the city's oldest neighborhoods is working hard to make a comeback. The Garfield Park neighborhood just south of downtown is working to improve its neighborhood, block-by-block.

Garfield Park is home to the city's very first park, known for its beautiful gardens and fountains.

Joe Quintana, who owns a barber shop in the area, said while the neighborhood itself is still strong, "around it, it's typically inner city with absentee landlords and very few good jobs. There's a lot of unemployed people."

And Shelby Street, once a bustling commercial corridor, has several vacant storefronts, but changes are in the works.

Friday afternoon, Donna Jacobsen was among a small group of volunteers digging up and spraying weeds along Shelby Street.

"It's not my property, but is my neighborhood and we need to make a good first impression," Jacobsen said.

She is among roughly two dozen residents involved in the Better Block campaign. It's a revitalization tool being used in neighborhoods across the country. Instead of taking on large areas, it seeks to make improvements one block at a time.

Jennifer Hurtubise, who bought a home in the Garfield Park area last fall, said, "We're all kind of drivers that think if we want to see change, we'll make it happen."

It's about much more than cleaning up the area. In this case, it's about convincing more people like Dan Sassano to take a chance. Sassano and his partner are in the process of opening a coffee shop and cafe in a former pub on Shelby Street.

They decided to do so after attending last year's Better Block Day event which encouraged residents to get involved.

"We all have that common sense of community that we want to do something better, we want something more for our families," Sassano said.

Piper Voge, another resident, said, "It's been a very grass roots effort," which she believes is key to improving the area.

"It's hard to have a sense of community if you're not organized around something, so we're very lucky we all have same intention to organize around being better," she said.

The goal is to make that one block of Shelby Street a thriving neighborhood center with local restaurants and retail.

"I just want to see more places where I can go out with neighbors without having to leave the neighborhood," Voge said.

Quintana said while he doesn't expect any changes overnight, "anytime anyone in neighborhood decides to step out and take control of neighborhood...that helps everybody."