Block party on Bennington's Pleasant Street aims to improve neighborhood, reduce crime


BENNINGTON — Part of Pleasant Street will be closed at the end of the month for a block party aimed at bringing the community together and reducing crime.

On July 30, a Saturday, vehicle traffic on Pleasant Street will be prohibited between School Street and Park Street between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The party itself is between noon and 2 p.m., with a street clean-up effort starting at 1:30 p.m. The town is sponsoring the event and will provide bags for the Green-Up Day style cleaning.

First-responders will be serving food to party-goers and there will be a number of family-friendly activities.

The idea for the party came through Project Catalyst, Bennington's version of the Rutland initiative "Project Vision" which has reportedly reduced crime in the neighborhoods where it has been applied.

Project Catalyst was announced in 2014 at a well-attended forum on how to tackle opioid addiction in the community. The project, it was said, would focus on a specific neighborhood to improve. If it worked, it would be replicated in another neighborhood. Pleasant Street, which has a reputation for being a high-crime area, was selected.

"One of the things Project Vision found that worked was block parties to strengthen attachments," said Nissa Walke, substance abuse prevention consultant for the Vermont Department of Health Bennington Office.

Last August, a survey was sent out to residents of Pleasant Street asking them how they felt about their community and how it could be improved. The survey netted 72 responses.

A little more than half said reducing crime would make Bennington better. About the same said more activities and programs for residents would improve things, along with jobs. These respondents said cleaning up the street and things like block parties would help as well.

Walke said most of the respondents want to see an increase in police presence, namely cops walking the street on foot or riding on bicycles and actively engaging residents in conversation.

When asked how safe they feel on Pleasant Street, 15 said "not at all safe," 19 said "a little bit safe," 12 were undecided, 18 said they were safe, six said "very safe" while four wrote, "other." Comments indicated that drug activity and guns were primary concerns.

Most of those responding were between 24 and 60 years old. Most, 40, have never married. Nine said they were married, 14 were divorced, three widowed, and six said "other." Thirty-five reported being childless, 14 had one child, while 23 had two or three children.

As for employment, 15 said they did not work by choice, six are retired, 12 work less than full time, eight are in need of work, 9 work full time, while 25 listed "other." According to the survey, "other" included things such as being on maternity leave, stay-at-home mom, looking for work, on disability, ill, unemployed, and self-employed.

Walke said few people who responded have been living on Pleasant Street for more than 10 years. In fact, the survey will have to be adjusted next time to allow for more increments between one and 10 years. Twenty-five respondents reported living there less than a year, while 38 said they were in the one to 10 year range.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115


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