Harrisonburg looks to improve connection between Northeast Neighborhood, Downtown
Economy, Local

Harrisonburg looks to improve connection between Northeast Neighborhood, Downtown

Crystal Graham
Downtown Harrisonburg Virginia
Photo courtesy City of Harrisonburg

The City of Harrisonburg just got a boost to reconnect the Northeast Neighborhood to the downtown area. The city was one of 15 selected by Smart Growth America to participate in a Community Connectors program which aims to repair the damage of divisive infrastructure in small and mid-sized cities.

In this case, the construction of North Mason Street and additional urban renewal activities resulted in the displacement and the loss of many Black-owned homes and businesses.

“We are committed to creating a ‘City For All’ here in Harrisonburg – a community where all people have access to city services, and where all feel safe and valued while having abundant opportunity,” said Harrisonburg City Manager Ande Banks. “We know barriers to reaching that goal still exist in our community.

“While our Community Connectors effort is about physically improving the connection between our diverse Northeast Neighborhood and Downtown Harrisonburg, it is just as much about establishing and improving partnerships, trust and bonds that have been eroded by negative actions throughout our community’s past,” Banks said.

The city will work with the Northeast Neighborhood Association, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project and the broader community to develop a plan to reestablish a safe, vibrant corridor.

“The Community Connectors program will help provide the city resources needed to have in-depth, vital conversations with community members in order to gain the information we need to potentially drive a future project in the Mason Street/Northeast Neighborhood area, among other benefits,” said Michael Parks, Director of Communications for the City of Harrisonburg.

The project will receive a grant of up to $130,000 to build local capacity to co-design projects alongside impacted communities to advance new transportation infrastructure projects that repair damage from divisive infrastructure.

The Community Connectors program will take place over the next two years and features a learning exchange this November in Atlanta, Ga., and links local leaders to experts and other cities attempting to accomplish similar objectives in reconnecting communities.

“These locally-led projects aim to remove divisive transportation infrastructure that has too long created barriers to access and economic opportunity,” said Beth Osborne, Vice President of Transportation and Thriving Communities at Smart Growth America. “The Community Connectors program will accelerate these communities’ efforts by supporting strong community-based partnerships, providing capacity building grants, and offering technical assistance from national transportation leaders through workshops and direct support to advance their projects’ goals.”

The Community Connectors program is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and conducted in partnership with Equitable Cities, the New Urban Mobility Alliance and America Walks.

“We are thrilled to welcome 15 exceptional teams to the Community Connectors program, a transformative initiative that stands as a beacon of hope for small and mid-sized communities nationwide,” stated Charles T. Brown, CEO of Equitable Cities. “Together, we will harness the power of collaboration, tapping into the wisdom and resources of public entities and nonprofit organizations, to heal the wounds of divisive infrastructure and forge a more united, accessible, and equitable future for these communities.”

For a presentation on the program made to City Council, click here.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.