Raleigh community development group follows Extension strategies
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Raleigh community development
group follows Extension strategies

Leading efforts to improve southeast Raleigh neighborhoods are James West (left), Richard Liles, Charles Haywood, then-city planner Lauren Swift and Bill Mullins.  (Photo courtesy City of Raleigh)

Like many inner-city areas, southeast Raleigh has longed for the kind of development and prosperity that have taken root in other parts of North Carolina’s capital city. With the help of professionals from North Carolina Cooperative Extension, citizens of southeast Raleigh have begun the process of making that dream a reality.

In March 2001, Raleigh’s City Council created the Southeast Raleigh Assembly, a group of 45 citizens charged with the mission of developing a strategic plan for the area. Group members included residents of the area and community business leaders.

Charles Haywood, N. C. State University associate vice chancellor for student affairs, and developer Bill Mullins, president of DSM Inc., were chosen to lead the group. But even the local newspaper questioned how a group of 45 people could accomplish anything.

Such challenges are nothing new to Cooperative Extension. Raleigh City Councilman James West, who retired in 1995 as county operations director for Cooperative Extension, knew first hand of Extension’s strength in strategic planning.

“I had experience with Extension in facilitation, especially in bringing together diverse groups of people to identify priorities and solve common problems,” West said.

He approached Richard Liles, head of Extension’s Personal and Organizational Development System (PODS), about developing a strategic planning process for the assembly.

Liles, along with Mitch Owen, Extension innovation and organizational development leader, and David Jenkins, associate director of PODS, pulled together a team of Extension facilitators to develop a system for guiding the large group and helping the assembly realize its goals.

Facilitators came from across Cooperative Extension. They included county directors Cheryl Lloyd of Durham County and Fletcher Barber of Orange County; agents Katherine Williams and Morris Dunn of Wake County; Extension faculty at N.C. State University, Bernadette Watts, Judy Groff and David Mustian; and Thelma Feaster of N.C. A&T State University.

Both Haywood and Mullins praise the role that Extension played in facilitating the process that led to a strategic plan for the area.

“Our immediate difficulty was to identify key issues,” Mullins said. “That’s where Extension played a key role. Their facilitators kept us away from special interests and gave us a structure to help keep us going.”

Liles said, “We followed a tested model for visionary planning.” The group started by identifying strengths and opportunities in the community, relying heavily on the city’s demographic and other research data.

Out of that process came six priority issues — housing, community, public safety, human capacity building, business and commercial development, and equity resource development.

Team members analyzed each issue, looking at symptoms and causes of problems, then discussed how these could be resolved. Once goals were identified, each team developed strategies and action plans to meet those goals.

Liles urged assembly leaders to seek community input throughout the process. In March, group leaders organized a Town Hall meeting in southeast Raleigh to solicit ideas from citizens. About 180 people turned out to discuss the plan.

One of the facilitators was Bernadette Watts, Extension training and development leader, who worked with the business and commercial team.

The real reward for the community will be getting Raleigh’s City Council behind priorities the assembly has laid out for southeast Raleigh. Though the council is still awaiting a final report, members approved $350,000 this year to begin work on some of the assembly’s priorities, West said. He expects to see additional council funding in coming years.

One of the short-term goals outlined in the plan is cleaning up dilapidated properties in a more efficient manner to improve neighborhood appearances. The council also approved additional inspector positions to track down dilapidated properties, as well as an attorney position to handle the legalities of nuisance property abatement.

—Natalie Hampton


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