When you think of community revitalization work, what comes to mind? Improving your downtown? Encouraging new businesses to move in? Maybe building a new park?
From Gabe Peña’s vantage point as the Deputy Resource Coordinator for the Fayette County Commission, revitalizing your community starts on a much more foundational level. It starts with addressing the dilapidated homes and structures in your community.
“When you talk about livability, dilapidated and vacant buildings are an assault on the livability of a community,” Gabe said. “… I’m not going to move into a community with dilapidated houses. I’ve got kids. I don’t want them around there, and I definitely don’t want the kind of activities those vacant buildings attract in my neighborhood.”
In this week’s UpThink, Gabe shares in more detail what community redevelopment work requires and why it’s critical that young people get involved.
Q: Why is community redevelopment work so important?
A: Honestly, community and economic revitalization is hard work. Overcoming the numerous obstacles that have developed over decades which have contributed to population decline, disinvestment, and dwindling tax revenues is a slow and difficult process. But this work is absolutely necessary and is foundational to helping communities across West Virginia that are in need of economic transition.
Q: What does this kind of work require?
A: Meaningful, equitable, community revitalization requires a ground-up approach, and struggling communities – both rural and urban – must bring all of their assets to bear to achieve success. Chief among those assets are our people. From the dedicated transplant coaching youth soccer, to our elected lawmakers working at the municipal, state, or federal level, we all have a role to play.
Q: Under the larger umbrella of community revitalization, where do dilapidated structures or crumbling historic buildings come into play?
A: Renovating historic buildings to highlight Appalachian heritage and demolishing dilapidated structures to protect and promote public health are absolutely a part of community revitalization. No young family wants to live in a neighborhood dotted with decaying houses, and no business can thrive in a downtown lined with vacant structures. Planning and implementing projects that will address and mitigate blight must be a focus of town councils, planning commissions, urban renewal authorities, and any other governing bodies.
Q: What should everyday citizens do if they want to get involved in their community’s revitalization work?
A: Maybe attending monthly town council or board meetings isn’t your idea of an enjoyable weekday evening and reviewing bylaws or comprehensive plans isn’t your idea of a weekend well spent, but this is what is required. It’s like homeownership (hopefully not terribly foreign to you all): No one wants to climb up on the roof to clean last season’s foliage out of the gutters. But if you aren’t diligent about clearing debris to manage stormwater runoff, you could end up with a shifting foundation that threatens your entire house. So, considering the state’s health outcomes and the amount of dilapidated structures tanking our property values, it’s time for all of us to step up and help shape the future of our communities.
Q: Why is it important for young people to get involved with their community’s redevelopment work?
A: I didn’t understand this until I became a homeowner in Fayetteville; until I became a card-carrying stakeholder. But when young, motivated professionals commit their skills and vision to local boards and government entities in a genuine spirit of collaboration, local leadership will be hard-pressed to turn us away. When we combine our passion for creating unique, livable communities with the seasoned experience and wealth of wisdom found in many longtime city council members and community leaders across the state, we build a springboard from which to launch and sustain transformational projects and policies that will attract entrepreneurs, young families, and businesses to help rebuild our tax base and revitalize our communities. As young people, our fresh eyes and vibrant desire to impact positive change are just a few of our assets, and, as previously stated, successful community and economic revitalization requires that we bring all of our assets to bear. We have so much to offer. Step one is committing to our communities.
A Texas transplant who has been playing in Fayetteville since ’07, Gabriel Peña is the Deputy Resource Coordinator for the Fayette County Commission. From the third floor of the historic Fayette County courthouse, Gabe works on local foods development, solid waste management (sexy, right?) and community redevelopment. When not behind his desk or in a meeting, Gabe is running amok with his two daughters or gardening with his wife. A runner, capricorn, and taco-snob with political ambitions, Gabe is the Chair of New River Health Association, a Federally Qualified Health Center serving Fayette, Nicholas, and Raleigh counties.
Like party favors, but for your brain. Enjoy these weekly goodies including viral videos, interesting articles, curated playlists, and more!
- LISTEN: Here’s a playlist dedicated to mellow, synthy, electro Peter Gabriel sounding tunes from Francis and the Lights, a favorite of Gabe’s.
- LEARN: Gabe’s watched the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum grow from the ground up. And if you ask him, it’s worth a visit.
- HELP OUT: If you’re like Gabe, stuck at work but wishing you could drop everything to go help with disaster relief in TX, LA, and FL, here’s something that you can do. And Gabe’s going to do it, too.
Scholarship Deadline Extended!
Philanthropy West Virginia is offering up to eight scholarships to help rising leaders in West Virginia attend Philanthropy West Virginia’s 2017 Annual Conference. The scholarship deadline has been extended to Tuesday, Sept. 19. The conference brings together professionals from grant-making foundations, corporate giving, giving circles and individual philanthropists across West Virginia Sept. 26-28 in Morgantown.