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2006-04-19 / Front Page

Former slum saluted as model community

By Charles Batchelor
STAFF WRITER

 

Chesterfield County had a problem with the Park Lee Apartments on Jefferson Davis Highway. The deplorable housing was breeding crime. Residents were making more than 1,000 calls to police a year.

That was in 1996. In 2006 it is seen as a safe and affordable place to live. Now a mixed-use, mixed-income community, little in the community is the same, including its name, which is now Winchester Greens.

It's a great story and the American Public Health Association said everyone in the U.S. that cared about communities should hear it. As a way "to implement change to build a better environment and improve children's health," the group is showcasing Winchester Greens in front of a national audience.

The Richmond-area group that made Winchester Greens a success is the Better Housing Coalition. Lynn McAteer, director of fund development and marketing for the group, says Winchester Green is the largest of its Richmond area projects, with 240 townhouses, 175 senior apartments, a child care center, a fitness space, outdoor swimming pool along with a retailer, restaurant and a bank on its 80-acre property.

The APHA story on Winchester Greens is blunt. "The dilapidated Park Lee apartment complex just outside of Richmond, Va., was falling apart," the official report states.

"Home to lower-income families, many with children, the complex was in complete disrepair. Numerous fires had left the structure unsafe. The apartments were small and dark and lacked insulation."

"While there was significant space between each building, this no-man's land was not clean or safe for children. The complex had become a magnet for violent crime, with residents making more than 1,000 calls to police a year."

McAteer confirms the APHA report. Asked how the turn-around was achieved, she said the first step was to get the community involved and then help give them what they asked for. "We got a huge grant from HUD [U.S. Housing and Urban Development], and Chesterfield County helped us sell development bonds," McAteer explains.

The crime rate dropped 90 percent, says McAteer, because what was built was "interactive. Everyone has a front porch. There are safe places for children to play where adults could watch. And, we manage our own property by working with the residents  -and we do not tolerate bad behavior."

According to the Blue Ribbon Award, Winchester Greens works as a place to live because it is "walkable, with narrow streets, sidewalks, 'pocket parks' and other green space incorporated into the plan."

"The new homes and other buildings were constructed with environmentally-friendly designs and materials that lower energy costs and ensure indoor air is healthy for kids to breathe," the APHA review explains.

Winchester Greens was the first project of its type in the state to integrate services such as child care, after school programs, and job training into the housing program.

"The number of calls to police has decreased by 80 percent, and violent offenses have dropped by 94 percent. Because adults and kids now have safe places to walk and play, neighborhood play spaces and sidewalks are filled with residents. Changes in the built environment have had a ripple effect into other areas as well. Test scores at the local elementary school have risen dramatically, and there have been no teen pregnancies among participants in the community's after school program," according to the APHA's report.

The Winchester Greens community was honored during National Public Health Week 2006, which focused on community design as it impacted health.

Along with Winchester Greens, four other communities were selected: Riverside County, California; Highlands' Garden Village, Colorado; Centennial Place, Atlanta, Georgia and Delaware County, Ohio.

On the web Better Housing Coalition www.betterhousingcoalition.org

National Public Health Week www.nphw.org

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