BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
When people or organizations work together to accomplish shared goals, amazing things can happen. With that realization in mind, two associations and one nonprofit group have joined forces to create a synergy for positive change in a swath of Long Beach where many businesses are struggling to survive.
The three organizations– California Heights Neighborhood Association (CHNA), Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) and the Atlantic Avenue Corridor Project– gathered last week to discuss improving the quality of life and the business climate in an area that includes California Heights, Bixby Knolls and a portion of North Long Beach. They came together during the monthly CHNA meeting at the Long Beach Petroleum Club last Thursday evening. About 30 people attended the event.
Blair Cohn, who has been BKBIA executive director for about six months, told the audience that the first thing he did after assuming the office was walk through the entire BKBIA area to see what it contained and to determine what possibilities for positive change existed. “I told people, ‘We have a lot of good things here Let’s bring it to the surface’,” he said.
Early on, Cohn determined that BKBIA had to showcase the businesses of its members and connect them to the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. To do so, he started Bixby Knolls Strollers and the Bixby Knolls Literary Society, both of which connect residents to businesses and nonprofits in the area. To increase that connectivity, Cohn persuaded business owners to invite area residents to their mixers.
Cohn noted that he has also been seeking input from local residents. He asked, “If I don’t connect with Virginia Country Club, Rancho Los Cerritos, Bixby Knolls and Cal Heights people, how are they going to support our businesses?” Cohn added that he has spent the past several months working with city officials, business owners and residents to bring positive changes to Bixby Knolls. “My solutions are partnerships and better communications,” he added.
CHNA president John Royce praised Cohn for his efforts and accomplishments. “We need to support the businesses, and the businesses need to support us,” he added. “But there’s more besides businesses that make us whole.” He explained that people getting to know their neighbors and taking part in community events are two important aspects of improving the quality of life.
Stressing that the Atlantic Avenue Corridor Project is a wonderful venue for accomplishing those two things, Royce introduced Corridor Project Manager Carina Cristiano Leoni to the audience members, most of whom already knew her as the general manager of Nino’s Ristorante. “We need connectivity,” Cristiano Leoni said. “As you know, Atlantic Avenue is one of the two streets that bisect our city.” She explained that the corridor has a wide range of businesses, residents and socio-economic groups that often see no reason to connect with each other.. “Our mission is to transform multiple neighborhoods into one community,” she said. “By doing that, we are going to create the connectivity and empower the stakeholders, the people, to have ownership of what they want and to have ownership of their successes.”
The Atlantic Avenue Corridor Project is being undertaken by Leadership Long Beach, a nonprofit organization. Funding for the project comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the Long Beach Community Foundation.
Cristiano Leoni explained that the Corridor Project, nicknamed the Connected Corridor, is not a matter of outside experts coming to tell locals what is good for them, but residents making decisions and working to improve their area. She added that the project began at the northernmost section of Atlantic Avenue and is slowly moving toward downtown.
The project began in November 2007 with a meeting of community leaders and residents, which led to a second meeting that included city council representatives, school officials and Long Beach Transit officials. That helped the Connected Corridor identify the assets and needs of the area. Cristiano Leoni said the needs include business development, workforce development, media and technology utilization, education connections, and arts and culture enhancements.
Cristiano Leoni explained that the Connected Corridor spends much time working with all the community associations in the corridor area. “We understand that neighborhood groups are the backbone of the city,” she said. “They make the difference.”
She told the audience that Long Beach has many underused resources. “We need to work together and share those resources,” she said, explaining that part of the Connected Corridor’s work involves connecting various groups with each other to bring them to the next level. “We’re not here to reinvent or recreate something,” she stressed. “We’re here to see what you’re already doing great, tap into that, enhance resources and make new connections.”
Cristiano Leoni noted that the project has already had successes including the startup of a mentoring program for middle-school students and the beginning of a project that will enable A.C.E Academy students to build an entire house from the bottom up.
“It’s important that we continue to work together to bring life back to our corridor,” Royce said in closing. “We need to revitalize our businesses and make the area more environmentally friendly so we can continue to live here and have the things we need for our families.”
For more information on the Atlantic Avenue Corridor Project, phone (562) 343-1218 or visit www.connectedcorridor.org.