By AARON WORMUS
Palms West Monthly
Posted July 28, 2019
Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive a personally guided tour of the Broadway Corridor at the north end of West Palm Beach by former city commissioner and downtown businessman David Smith.
Smith, who grew up in the north part of the city, is from a family of motel owners. He still has fond memories of riding his bike to school, working and living in a bustling and prosperous neighborhood.
Broadway was the business corridor from the 1920s to the ‘50s, as thousands of tourists, honeymooners and businessmen drove down U.S. 1 to spend the night in one of the many motels before getting an early start to Miami the next day. Business was good for the dozens of motels that lined what came to be known as the area’s “Motel Row.”
When I-95 was built in the ‘60s, it took away traffic – the lifeblood of the Broadway Corridor. The decline was so rapid that in 1967, during a city commission meeting on zoning changes to attract larger hotels to the area’s waterfront, a resident was quoted as saying, “We need another motel row like we need a hole in the head!”
While other parts of the city have done well over the ensuing decades, the Broadway Corridor offered little to the residents. Statistics from 2018 show a 29 percent poverty level with a per-capita income of a mere $18,000. Sadly, 97.9 percent of students here are on free or discounted school lunches.
Thanks to a national program, this part of the city now has a new opportunity through a partnership with the non-profit Purpose Built Communities. It’s an organization that works to revitalize downtrodden neighborhoods around the country.
Purpose Built Communities started in the early ‘90s when Atlanta-based philanthropist Tom Cousins committed to changing the destinies of the people living in the devastated neighborhood of East Lake Meadows. Known to the locals as “Vietnam” from the ‘70s to the ‘90s, the neighborhood had some of the worst crime rates in the country, rampant drug use, a substandard school and extreme poverty.
Cousins created the East Lake Foundation, which worked with Atlanta agencies and local non-profit partners to create a holistic approach to revitalization. They launched a three-pronged approach to community wellness:
• Cradle-to-college education pipeline;
• Community wellness.
The plan worked and by 2007 crime was down by an impressive 87 percent from a decade earlier, welfare recipients plunged from 60 percent to 5 percent and children who passed the state math test soared from 5 to 74 percent.
In 2009, the non-profit consulting organization Purpose Built Communities was created to work side by side with local leaders to bring the same successes to other downtrodden neighborhoods. To date, Purpose Built Communities has worked with 17 cities.
Last year, West Palm Beach was chosen to be part of this program. Locally, the organization is called Northend RISE. It’s already partnered with Quantum Foundation, the City of West Palm Beach and many other local non-profits. The organization’s executive director and “community quarterback” is Craig Glover.
The “RISE Impact Area” starts just north of Northwood Village and 25th Street and stretches to the northern edge of the city. It includes multiple neighborhoods, those on Flagler Drive to the east, the neighborhoods surrounding Broadway through to Lake Mangonia to the west.
Northend RISE has very ambitious goals for the next 10 years. They include:
• Quality housing options for residents of varying income levels;
• Highly rated neighborhood schools;
• Improved resident health and general wellness;
• More employment opportunities with a pathway to lifelong careers;
• Walkable streets, reliable public safety and creation of a sense of place.
In an interview, Glover recently laid out some of the challenges that are in front of this brand new organization.
“Breaking the cycle of poverty is a hefty goal,” Glover said. “However, we know that our model will work, over a period of time. What excites me today is the ability to help one family at a time, to connect with the resources that will improve their lives today.”
He added, “Often our neighbors just aren’t aware of a solution to their life challenge that already exists. What an opportunity to make those connections! A few healthier families can transform a block and a few improved blocks can transform a whole community.”
According to Glover, the first step is to gain extensive resident engagement. Some ideas that have already surfaced include encouraging much-needed grocery stores to open in the area and establishing a local museum for African American history and culture intended to honor the neighborhood’s historic residents. Other ideas include offering new opportunities for learning and engagement.
Glover knows it will take a massive amount of work to make this a reality.
“We ask that others will share their best practices in the areas of housing, education, health and wellness and employment with RISE,” he says. “Together, we can improve the lives of all of our neighbors.”
For more information, go online to northendrise.org.
Pictured above: Craig Glover, executive director of Northend RISE, a Purpose-Built Community in West Palm Beach, discusses the nonprofit’s goals to attendees at the July meeting of Urban Sprawl in West Palm Beach. Photo by Aaron Wormus