Twenty years ago this month Neighborhood Services printed the first issue of NLR Neighborhood News. Back when we started this publication, Bill Clinton was in his first term as President and Mariah Carey and Boys II Men had the number one song, “One Sweet Day”, but “The Macarena” was on its way to the top. In the city, Patrick Hays was the mayor, Mary Munns the city clerk and collector, Randy Morley the city attorney, and Mary Ruth Morgan the treasurer. We had eight organized neighborhoods back then.
Neighborhood Services Department has had the same staff since 1995. We were then, and are now, the smallest and cheapest department in the City. With the third longest serving department head (in the same job) and as the only department with no turnover in twenty years, we feel like we provide important institutional memory for the City as a municipal organization. But we do more than just that. Back in 1995 we were “charged with assisting and coordinating Neighborhood Action Groups, loaning equipment, making technical assistance available, and serving as a liaison with other City departments”. We continue to do all those things, but now we have shortened it to “helping make our neighborhood groups stronger”.
Twenty-one of our neighborhoods now have at least one neighborhood organization, up from the original eight. We have twenty-eight neighborhood organizations working in North Little Rock. We provide regular training for our neighborhood groups about effective advocacy and running productive meetings. We staff the City Beautiful Commission and host the monthly Community Garden Committee meetings in our office in Park Hill. We still loan equipment for neighborhood events, and some of that equipment is the original stuff from 1995. (It is the heavy stuff.) We process event applications for neighborhood events wanting to close a street, and more recently we work with food trucks in the city. We have been involved with the JumpStart grants awarded to Levy and Park Hill.
During our tenure we have seen big changes in North Little Rock. We have seen the Riverwalk Area developed, the Verizon Arena built, the Dickey Stevens Ball Field built, the trail systems developed (including both the River Trail system and the Levy Spur Trail). We have seen miles of sidewalks installed and major street improvements that increase traffic safety for our citizens. We have seen our population increase, the fiscal health of our city improve, and the housing increases in our neighborhoods to the East and in the apartment buildings close to Maumelle. We have seen significant improvements in city services offered. Sanitation, Code Enforcement, and the Police Department have never been better than they are right now. While not part of the City, we are proud that the school district has all new or renovated schools thanks to the far-sightedness of our citizens. Our City Council is progressive and hard working.
Other Duties As Assigned
Over the past two decades we have performed our share of “other duties as assigned”. We went to New Orleans with the History Commission staff and unloaded at-risk items from the Razorback submarine in the summer of 2004. We can attest that unloading an unairconditioned 311 foot black metal tube in New Orleans in the direct summer sun by lifting everything in buckets is hot work. For more than a decade we were responsible for the Northshore Riverwalk area. If you had an event in the park, from a wedding to a major concert, you got us as an amenity from setup to teardown. We continue to work major events in the Riverwalk, and still process event applications for events that happen in our neighborhoods. We have flyered most of the neighborhoods in our city at one time or another, going door to door to distribute information the residents of that neighborhood needed.
Mostly, we have worked with our neighborhood activists. We have learned that for long term success, a neighborhood association must continue to bring in young people into the group, or the group will eventually fail.
Over the years we have lost many of our original activists. We miss Elise Dreher, Inez Ballentine, Lorene Joshua, Jim Roberts, Curtis Sykes, Polly Wilks, Lowell Alderman, John Degroodt, Geraldine Finch, Joe Simmons, Mary Munns, Bob and Carolyn Ringer, Fred Days, Don Strickland, Jack Finnegan, Harold Heffington, Mary Hess, Richard Heerboth, Evelyn James, and Susan Gunter. This is not a complete list, but looking at it makes us proud to have worked with these fine people and to witness the positive changes they made in our city. They not only improved their neighborhoods, they changed the way the City does business and made us realize that neighborhood associations are crucial to the health of where we call home. We are also proud of our new leaders who have been inspired by those earlier pioneers.
Finally, we would like to thank you, the citizens of North Little Rock, and our elected officials for keeping our office open. We hope to continue to serve you for the foreseeable future.