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Is Now the Time for a Neighborhood Center in Tenney-Lapham?

The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood plan articulates a need for more community services for residents. Eight years after it was written, the scene has changed a bit. There are loads of development projects underway and neighborhood density increasing. Is now the time to make a Tenney-Lapham neighborhood center a reality?

Tenney-Lapham is the first neighborhood I've had the pleasure of getting to know as a home-owner and parent. The first few years I lived here, my understanding of the place and its history was shallow. My involvement with the renovation of Reynolds Playground introduced me to some wonderful people, and resources, including the dedicated members of the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association and the TLNA master plan.

The neighborhood plan was created by people who care more than most. I say that because I can imagine a process that included many meetings, a large amount of research, and a high level of sensitivity. Fifty neighborhood volunteers, as part of five task forces, looked to the earlier 1995 plan to analyze progress and lay a course for the future. The resulting 58+ page document was endorsed in 2008. It is not a legal document, but the fact of its existence gives the neighborhood association, and its steering committees, a legitimate voice at the table with city entities. I've personally been told by city planners that the neighborhood plan holds weight and is an important guide in their considerations.

The plan is impressive. It lays out a vision that I find simultaneously reasonable and radical.The twelve 'major threads,' listed here, are explained and then clumped into six topics, each with a set of goals and action steps. You can take a look at the plan here.

Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood aims to:

1. Preserve the central city architectural history
2. Enhance the Yahara River Corridor as a place to live and play
3. Link new and existing parks to the neighborhood
4. Provide community services to residents by forming a closer partnership with the Wil-Mar Center
5. Improve cross-Isthmus transportation to shopping, schools, and social service agencies
6. Strengthen the vitality of the neighborhood commercial core
7. Attract and retain businesses that blend with the artistic, Bohemian nature of the area
8. Ensure that affordable, quality housing opportunities continue throughout the neighborhood
9. Maintain older housing stock
10. Increase home-ownership in the Lapham Elementary School area
11. Redevelop underutilized properties
12. Beautify main traffic corridors

Building a Community Center for All

I bring the idea of a community center up now because I think there is a wonderful opportunity at hand. There is great and obvious need for services for the homeless population. If the County’s intentions to provide for the homeless were aligned with neighborhood interests and resources, we might co-create an exemplary community center.
The County’s Day Shelter plan has stalled for a number of reasons.  This is an opportunity to think big and integrate the needs of the neighborhood, the City, and the County to build something to last, something visionary, a place that is grounded in the unique needs of this place as a whole

It would take time, and dedicated action, to create something of this nature. The kind of time and dedication that this neighborhood has demonstrated in the past, by developing a comprehensive neighborhood plan, and recently in its patient commitment to the process of working with developers. We want to provide for our homeless citizens, and we want services for our kids, our seniors, and everyone else, so that we have a strong, vibrant, and diverse urban community. Wil-Mar Center and Goodman Community Center are two nearby examples of more full-service community centers. Could either of these models be adapted to offer services called for in the day-shelter plan alongside other wonderful neighborhood services? I believe we are smart enough, creative enough, and committed enough to do this right.

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