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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — “This is my neighborhood. I love it,” said Cecilia Middleton about the Metro Park neighborhood west of downtown.

We stood on her porch and visited about her neighborhood as a church youth group from Texas was hard at work preparing her backyard for a replacement fence. Local donors provided the materials.

She told me she has lived in her home for 26 years. Habitat for Humanity built it to match the designs of the rest of the neighborhood.

She helped with a lot of the labor as well. Then, she helped construct other Habitat homes in the city.

“My children grew up here,” said Middleton with a big smile. “They made lifelong relationships and friendships. My daughter met her husband just down the street.”

“So, to me, this is a blessed neighborhood.”

She was one of those who benefited from a program that has been repairing and replacing backyard fences there this week because of long-running concerns of the neighbors about roaming and chained dogs.

Original character

As we looked up and down the 1800 block of NW 7th from Middleton’s porch we talked about the modest one-story homes all of which had big front porches and plenty of window space.

Trees that seemed to be about as old as the homes lined the street giving some relief on a hot, humid, and still July day.

They were built in a time when there was no air conditioning and sitting on the porch at night was the primary way of cooling off from a day of hard work. And most of those folks worked hard.

Metro Park is the northern half of a square mile of homes similar in design and age between N.W. 10th, Main, N. Penn, and N. Western.

Some of the houses have gone to rentals but many more are still occupied by their owners.

Beautification – safety

The fence project is a part of the “I Heart Metro Park” project focused on the Metro Park neighborhood that sits between N.W. 5th, N.W. 10th, N. Pennsylvania, and N. Classen.

The project is being coordinated by the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma (NACOK), a 44-year-old nonprofit that knits together and resources around 600 neighborhood associations all over the metro.

The project is because of a need that has been identified for months to find a way to get stray dogs off the street and get dogs that belong to particular owners off of chains.

“Many low-income neighborhoods have dogs that live tethered on chains. Most times it is because they simply don’t have the funds to repair weather damaged or unmaintained fences,” said Georgie Rasco in a prepared statement. She is the Executive Director of NACOK.

Metro Park organizing

The Metro Park Neighborhood Association was re-launched in 2018 by a handful of neighbors.

It’s one of three neighborhoods chosen to participate in the City of OKC’s Strong Neighborhoods Initiative – “a targeted revitalization strategy designed to tip up and coming neighborhoods into self-sufficiency” according to a NACOK news release.

Sam Fredrickson, who has been active in the Metro Park Neighborhood Association, praised the project as the “next step in the process of growing up as a neighborhood association.”

“I think we share a set of simple, but powerful ideas – show up and make things better, get to know your neighbors, and make big things happen a little bit at a time,” Fredrickson said.

Ownership

Ashley Dickson has been the NACOK Programs and Communications Director and has served in several capacities in the organization for 11 years.

Dickson acknowledged that the proximity to downtown is making the neighborhood more attractive to investors and others.

“Metro Park is special because it’s the last holdout neighborhood closest to downtown that has not been completely redeveloped,” she said. “And so, there are opportunities still here to preserve this particular neighborhood.”

Metro Park
Ashley Dickson, NACOK Programs and Communications Director, was keeping the project organized. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“We are really trying to make sure that up and coming neighborhoods can continue to have an ownership of the culture of the neighborhood, as well as welcome some of the changes that are going to happen because of the proximity to downtown and other amenities in the area,” Dickson told me.

“The way that you stabilize communities like this is through the built environment and social capacity building,” Dickson continued. “And so, our efforts at neighborhood Alliance is to help people navigate changes in their built environment, advocate for their neighborhoods, and build social capacity among the people who are the connective tissue of any neighborhood.”

Church group

William Banks, one of the youth in the group building the fence, is in White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas. He talked to me about why he values doing projects like Middleton’s fence project on mission trips.

“The value of being on this mission trip is to help other people who aren’t as fortunate as us and as privileged as us,” said Banks. “It’s being able to come out here and support and help other people [like] helping build fences, cleaning up the yard, weed eating, and picking up branches.”

Other members of the youth group said that they valued getting to know new people and learn how to put in actual labor to help people.

One of the pastoral leaders of the church, Jon Reeves, talked with me about the value of the trip for their youth.

“A mission trip gives them an opportunity to marry the spiritual growth with the community service aspect.”

Last Updated July 28, 2021, 9:43 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor