EDITORIAL: York City neighborhood plan has merit

York Dispatch Editorial Board
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich

There is no shortage of challenges in the city of York and, over the years, there has been no shortage of ideas for tackling them.

But a newly unveiled initiative may hold particular promise — especially if the necessary stakeholders join forces.

The York City Community Ecosystem Initiative would address some of the city’s more intractable problems by winnowing them down to more manageable size. The city of some 44,000 would be divvied up into 16 separate neighborhoods — each with a designated coordinator to identify specific needs and organize local support.

This strategy has real potential: Rather than seeking to solve citywide issues with one-size-fits-all answers, coordinators and neighborhood leaders can rally the resources at hand to seek and implement customized solutions.

The initiative is not a done deal. The City Council has yet to approve the $125,000 grant from WellSpan that would help pay for the neighborhood coordinators. Needless to say, it should lose no time in doing so when it next meets on Feb. 19.

Once trained, the coordinators will do a deep dive in their respective neighborhoods, even going door to door, to determine specific needs and potential paths to problem-solving.

While different pockets of the city face different challenges, Mayor Michael Helfrich points to five overriding issues: taxes, crime, trash, housing conditions and the performance of students at York City schools. 

That’s a daunting citywide to-do list, but one that Helfrich and Diaz Woodard, the city’s recreation program specialist, are confident can be effectively tackled at the neighborhood level. Woodard, who has been put in charge of the initiative, will oversee five soon-to-be-hired neighborhood coordinators and, ultimately, the success of the effort.

That success, however, will depend as much on city involvement as on Woodard or the coordinators. The city’s neighborhoods have not only individual challenges but specific strengths. As coordinators ascertain the former, they will be reaching out to local resources to secure home-grown solutions.

This reliance on existing resources is key. For the ecosystem initiative to thrive, city organizations like schools, churches and community centers must be full-fledged partners. Their leaders must work with neighborhood coordinators to identify new ways of teaming up and marshalling resources.

This is the wisdom of the plan: It is not only more realistic to target city problems with city amenities — given the lack of financial resources at the local, state and federal levels for such endeavors — it is far more likely to succeed. Local leaders using local assets can best identify specific issues and impactful responses and, ultimately, reap real results.

Is the ecosystem initiative a panacea? Of course not. Those schools, churches and community centers — and the many local activists who work to improve the city every day — will need to continue their good and necessary work.

Still, coordinated efforts at the neighborhood level offer legitimate paths to improvement.

But for community-level strategies to prosper — for coordination of neighborhood organizations and services to succeed — community input will be vital.

The York City Community Ecosystem Initiative offers a chance to improve city life by improving the lives of city residents — not one neighborhood at a time, but in all neighborhoods all at the same time. City organizations, leaders and residents should work to make the most of this creative and promising venture.