The City of Commerce has contracted with Toole Design Group, a national urban planning firm, to devise a plan to improve the city’s downtown and transportation corridors. Planners and city officials held an open meeting in the Norris Community, the historically African-American neighborhood on the northeast side of Commerce, on Aug. 8.
About 15 people from the neighborhood attended the event at the Norris Community Center, and their message for planners was clear: Norris needs more and better sidewalks, and Ivory Moore Park needs to be maintained better.
“The things down at the park that the children are playing on are the things that were there when my children were kids, and they’re grown with grandkids, now,” Dora Pannell said. “So they need to update the park at Norris Community to look like the rest of the parks.”
The lack of sidewalks, and the poor condition of existing sidewalks, was identified as a concern by almost everyone who spoke at the meeting.
“They gave us a grant back in the 80s for sidewalks from Charlie Drive all the way to the park, but they never put them down,” Pannell said. “I still have the documents where the state gave them money for them to put sidewalks down here. And we definitely need them for the children to walk to the park, because the people drive so fast through here that it’s not safe for children. It’s a lot of children in this community now.”
Another Norris resident, Garrick Sampson, said that poor conditions at Ivory Moore Park inspire children from the neighborhood to walk down to City Park, south of downtown, and that parents worry about their children who stay at City Park until dusk and then walk back to Norris through dimly lit streets.
“The bathroom most definitely needs to be fixed,” Sampson said. “We need toys and stuff – new swing sets for the kids, a sand pit for the kids, something they can climb on . . . maybe even a water spout or something, when it gets hot, they can stay cool.”
Sampson also lamented the neglected state of the location of the former Norris School, which served the community during the era of segregation. The lot is currently unused.
“They won two state championships (in boys and girls basketball) there and nobody really recognizes it,” Sampson said. “There should be something there like a historical marker, or a facility (where) kids could learn, like a learning center.”
“I would love to see that,” Veronica Reed said. “That’s an option. I just think those types of centers help to bridge the educational gap for those who cannot afford private tutors or who are failing academically, and it can bring people together.”
Norris residents also mentioned the neglected state of vacant residential lots in the neighborhood, some with decaying structures, others overgrown with weeds or fallen trees.
Those in attendance voiced no objections to improvements for downtown or the streets around the university. But they did want to make sure that when improvements are made, that some long overdue attention to the Norris Community is part of the plan.
Opportunities for the public to participate in the process continue. Toole Design Group will have materials on display at Commerce City Hall from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday. On Thursday evening, there will be a city-wide public meeting at the First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall from 6:30-8 p.m.