The Heart of Lincoln
Monitoring the pulse of the city
Workers at Collective Impact Lincoln have been knocking on doors in six neighborhoods for a little over a year, trying to find out what residents in the city’s most struggling areas want and need.
The group has gathered some interesting insights from the neighborhood canvassing, which is part of a three-year, $1.175 million project funded by the Woods Charitable Foundation.
And they are expecting to dig even deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of the neighborhoods as the canvassing continues in what will be the largest canvassing effort ever undertaken in Lincoln.
The ultimate goal is to raise the quality of living in the six neighborhoods, which were identified in the 2015 Lincoln Vital Signs report as being in extreme poverty. An area is considered to be extreme poverty if more than 40 percent of its residents are in poverty.
The timing was right for Collective Impact Lincoln to be in these neighborhoods, said Carl Eskridge, a member of the Lincoln City Council and vice chair of the Woods Foundation.
“It was kind of the perfect storm,” he said. “The health issues, the housing issues, the safety issues, all those things.”
But before tackling any of the issues, Collective Impact Lincoln is first knocking on doors and listening to residents.
“We wanted to take on this project and really get out there and talk to people and find out what they were seeking in their neighborhoods and communities,” said Collective Impact Lincoln program manager Nancy Petitto.
For example, the group found safety was a big concern for residents as part of its initial findings.
Residents also wanted better information about services, such as who to contact for utilities services or how they could get more streetlights in their neighborhoods.
By knocking on doors and talking with residents, canvassers learn what people love about their neighborhoods as well as what they want to change.
“It can be the littlest thing or it can be something really big,” Petitto said.
Some neighbors expressed a desire to get to know their neighbors through events like block parties and others want to fix up old parks.
Relationship building is important, Petitto noted, and it’s something Collective Impact Lincoln has been working on.
“We’re meeting people in every way that we possibly can,” she said.
Ultimately Collective Impact Lincoln wants to help turn the community conversations into action by empowering the residents and helping them create changes in legislation and policies.
In addition to door-to-door canvassing, Collective Impact Lincoln is helping residents form action committees. One such action committee is Renters Together, which helps create housing policies to help low-income residents.
“We help them get there,” Petitto said. “We want residents to be able to take these things on themselves.”
Collective Impact Lincoln also hosts community builder workshops, which are designed for residents to gain skills to collectively identify their community’s assets and learn ways to address public concerns.
“People want to become more connected,” Petitto said. “They want to get to know the person that lives next to them or down the street.”
The group has hosted three workshops so far and will have a fourth in December.
At these workshops, they try to identify people they think would be a leader in their community and continue to help the neighborhoods when Collective Impact Lincoln’s third year is up.
One of these people is Lindsay Limbach.
Limbach lives in the North Bottoms but works in Belmont and said she considers it her second home. She started coming to the workshops to build her own strengths and put them into action.
“It’s interesting for me to hear what other folks in our community are concerned about,” she said. “Some things are very different, while many communities/neighborhoods also share the same concerns.”
Community builder workshops are another way for residents to share their opinions and ideas.
“I feel this is an opportunity to empower folks and give them more of a voice,” she said.
Eskridge said Collective Impact Lincoln engaging with people in the neighborhoods in so many ways is encouraging.
“That’s really the exciting part, I think, is the community organizing piece of it,” he said.
Limbaugh sees great value in the Collective Impact Lincoln mission.
“If we work together to build each other up and create strong neighborhoods all around Lincoln, Lincoln will strive and be more successful,” she said.
“To have a healthy city, you need to have a healthy core.”
Statistics reveal neighborhood insights
Some startling statistics motivated Collective Impact Lincoln to launch a canvassing project in six neighborhoods to ultimately help residents find solutions to social and economic problems.
In 2000, Lincoln had no areas of extreme poverty yet 10 years later, the city had six neighborhoods in that category. Neighborhoods in extreme poverty are those in which more than 40 percent of their residents are below the poverty line.
About 15 percent of Lincoln residents, roughly 40,000 people, live in poverty in Lincoln, a fact that may go unnoticed by many in the city.
A deeper dive into the statistics of the six neighborhoods, Belmont, Clinton, Everett, Hartley, Near South and University Place, reveal additional insights.
The six neighborhoods share some similarities: relatively less educational attainment; a high percentage of people in the labor force; and more people per household, according to the Lincoln Vital Sign 2017 Annual Report.
All six neighborhoods have more residents without high school degrees than the average Lincoln neighborhood. Residents of these six neighborhoods are more likely to have only a high school diploma than the average resident in Lincoln as well.
Lincoln Public Schools works diligently to provide resources to low-income students that can help put students on track to graduate, officials say.
“Schools with 40 percent of students on free and reduced lunch get extra funding through grants, like the Cooper Foundation, which helps increase staff, have ELL (English-language learners) and behavioral support,” said Peter Ferguson, LPS youth development coordinator. “We want all our scholars to have all the resources necessary to learn.”
LPS has counselors at each school who work hands-on with high school students, mainly juniors and seniors, and help the students apply to college. The district also works closely with Education Quest, which helps students learn about the application process and financial obligations.
“We also try to make scholars aware of the significant difference in pay when comparing someone who drops out of high school to someone who graduates high school and to someone who graduates college,” Ferguson said. “It’ll ultimately add to the economy. It costs the country more to keep one person in prison than to keep one person in college.”
A person without a high school diploma can expect to earn over $10,000 less a year than the typical high school graduate, and more than $36,000 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Educating high school students about college is often the push needed to become successful.
“We have scholars that want to break the cycle,” Ferguson said. “Graduating high school is often taken for granted by scholars whose parents and grandparents went to college because it is expected of them. We want to encourage scholars with financial problems to gain more knowledge and encourage positive cycles, like graduating high school and going to college, and make that the norm for them too.”
High-quality education is especially important for children in low-income families because it has a crucial long-term effect on children’s ability to be ready for kindergarten, succeed in high school and eventually, find steady employment, said Clover Frederick, vice president of marketing for the Lincoln Community Foundation.
One of the major misconceptions about poverty is that people who fall below the poverty line are not working.
But in the six neighborhoods, 86 to 94.3 percent of the civilian labor force in these neighborhoods are employed.
More than 10 million people living below the poverty line are considered “working poor,” meaning they either have jobs or have been looking work for at least half a year, according to Congressman Mark Takano, who represents California’s 41st district.
The working poor often work low-wage, labor-intensive jobs. Jobs like these often limit the opportunity for growth, according to James Goddard, Nebraska Appleseed economic justice director.
“Despite Nebraska having one of the nation’s highest workforce participation rates, too many Nebraskans are experiencing low wages, poor job quality and a lack of opportunity,” he said in a 2016 press release.
In 2015, the median income for the city of Lincoln was about $61,300 per household. The neighborhoods in extreme poverty see incomes between $5,900 and $32,500 below the median income of the city of Lincoln. The neighborhood with the lowest median household income is Everett, at $24,800.
As for household size, five of the six neighborhoods have a higher proportion of seven or more people per household than the city of Lincoln overall. The city has 1.8 percent of households with seven or more people. Clinton has the highest proportion at 7.1 percent, and Hartley has 5.5 percent of households with seven or more people.
“I think these numbers are higher than the average because the refugee and immigrant communities tend to have larger families and they choose to live in areas like Clinton due to being around their extended family and for economic reasons,” said Kurt Elder, a GIS analyst for Lincoln’s urban development department.
Poverty is shown to be higher among those with larger family sizes. The average persons per household for the city of Lincoln was about three. Each of the neighborhoods, except for University Place, has more people per household on average.
The University Place, Near South, Everett, Belmont, Clinton and Hartley neighborhoods, which can all trace their histories to the late 1800s, make up the oldest parts of Lincoln. While all of these communities share the distinction of being some of the city’s earliest neighborhoods, they each have unique histories.
University Place was once its own town; Near South features the city’s oldest church and housed the mansions some of Lincoln’s first prominent citizens; Everett lies on the city’s original plat; Belmont was built as one of Lincoln’s earliest middle-class suburbs; Clinton was first settled by homesteaders; and Hartley is home to the city’s largest cemetery where many prominent Nebraskans are buried.
Ed Zimmer, the city’s Historic Preservation Planner, is responsible for incorporating Lincoln’s history into the decisions of the city’s planning department. It’s important for communities to recognize and preserve their histories, according to Zimmer.
“They (histories) can be a point of connection between long-time and new residents,” he said. “They can help residents and visitors recognize and respect their own connections to a neighborhood.”
The University Place neighborhood lies between 33rd Street to the west and 63rd Street to the east, with the community’s northern boundary being Fremont and Knox Streets and southern boundary being Holdrege Street. University Place’s history is distinctive because until 1926 it wasn’t a neighborhood, but actually its own independent town. From 1887 until 1926 the area was its own town, according to Zimmer.
“When a lot of the housing stock there was built, it was an independent, suburban town organized around Nebraska Wesleyan,” he said. “It provided all of its own governmental services — police, fire, water, electricity, school district.”
The building that houses Lux Art Center was built as the town’s city hall, Zimmer said. The building is now a protected city landmark, meaning the building is protected from changes without the history of the building being considered publicly first. Old Main, a building on Nebraska Wesleyan’s campus built in 1887, is another defining landmark of the University Place neighborhood. Both University Place’s old city hall and Old Main are still standing at 48th and 50th streets respectively.
University Place also contains a district designated Lincoln landmark district, as well as a National Register of Historic Places district. The Charles F. Crieghton district stretches from 54th Street to 57th Street on Leighton Avenue and features the single-family style homes characteristic of the independent period of University Place, Zimmer said. These protected landmarks and districts have helped maintain the neighborhood’s history and original character.
The Near South neighborhood lies between G and South streets and 13th and 27th Streets. According to the City of Lincoln’s website, the area has a mix of different styles of homes from the 19th and 20th centuries. The neighborhood is home to Lincoln’s first residential landmark district, the Franklin Heights District, or as it’s also known Mount Emerald. The district comprises the area around the first church established in Lincoln, First Plymouth Church, stretching from South to Sumner Streets and 27th to 24th streets.
In the 1880s, Lincoln’s prominent citizens built large single-family mansions in the area of Near South between 17th and 20th streets and A and F streets. The more modest single-family homes of the area south of A Street and west of 20th Street. Some of the larger single-family homes in the area were being converted into apartments or duplexes, or being torn down for new apartment complexes after World War II, according to Zimmer.
“In the 70s, the owners in the area around First Plymouth promoted getting a landmark ordinance in the Lincoln zoning code because they wanted some protection,” he said. “They were investing in their houses and they didn’t want to see nothing but slip-in apartments around them.”
Zimmer said that the new zoning from these efforts even made it so that new apartments can’t be built in the area, and credits the zoning for maintaining a lot of the area’s history and signature style of housing.
The Everett neighborhood stretches from G and South streets and Ninth to 13th streets. According to the City of Lincoln’s website, the part of the neighborhood north of A Street is part of the original plot of land Lincoln was laid out on when it was founded in 1867. According to Shawn Ryba, executive director of the South of Downtown Community Development Organization, the area has always been a low-income housing area and one where many college students in Lincoln live.
“It’s always been the most diverse, the most, I think, the most interesting because you have all walks of life here,” he said.
Zimmer said that while Everett and Near South are close in both age and location, Everett features more post-WW II built houses than Near South.
“A big part of Everett is a landmark district because it has had that mix of small, large, single, multiple (buildings) since the 1880s,” he said.
While there are less 19th century buildings in Everett, the neighborhood still features some historical landmarks from the time period, according to Zimmer. Barr Terrace and Lyman Terrace, the two surviving “row house” units, multiple housing units sharing common walls stand at 11th and H streets. Both of these buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places and are reminders of Lincoln’s “boom town” period in the 1880s. The Hall House, which is one of the largest houses in town, sits on 11th and D streets. The house remains a single-family home to this day, according to Zimmer.
The Belmont neighborhood makes up the area between I-180 and 27th Street from the west to the east, and Superior Street and Cornhusker Highway from the north to the south. The neighborhood was built as a suburb within the city limits of Lincoln in the 1880s. Zimmer said the town was experiencing a “boom” period that caused the city to grow northward. The suburb included the current Belmont area and the area that sits north of Superior Street.
The area north of Superior was a upper-class neighborhood that featured Worthington Military Academy and mansions. The military academy was destroyed in what was thought to have been an explosion caused by a gas leak, Zimmer said.
Belmont was more working-class portion of the suburb and the closest to downtown Lincoln.
“In the 1890s, when the national economy went bust, after booming through the 1880s, and people started leaving Lincoln, a third of Lincoln left and Belmont busted,” he said. “It was up north of the creek, and when the creek would flood you couldn’t get down to work.”
Many of the smaller houses in Belmont were moved to other areas during this period, and as a result little of the early construction remains in the area. The modern-day Belmont Elementary School is built on the same site as the neighborhood’s wooden school built in the 1880s; the oldest remaining portion of the school is from the1920s, according to Zimmer.
The Clinton neighborhood stretched from Salt Creek Roadway to X Street from the north to the south, and 16th Street to 33rd Street from the west to the east. The area was originally settled from 1864 to 1879 by settlers who either purchased the land from the US government or acquired it by farming under the Homestead Act, according to the City of Lincoln’s website. By 1897, the city had annexed the entire Clinton area. Clinton lies between the east and city campuses of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has affected the neighborhoods growth. The proximity to both campuses of the university makes it a popular location for students to live.
Zimmer described the scale of housing in Clinton as more working class than some of Lincoln’s other historic neighborhoods. The neighborhood features a mix of large and small houses, with some of the larger houses having been converted into apartments. According to the city’s action plan for Clinton, the area developed as a working class area in part because of the railroads that border three sides of the neighborhood.
Zimmer also noted that there are no streets entirely made up of historic homes, and no designated landmark districts in the neighborhood. The only house on National Register of Historic Places in Clinton is the Jasper Newton Bell House, located on Sheldon Street.
The Hartley neighborhood lies between X and O streets from the north to the south, and 27th and 48th streets from the west to the east. The neighborhood’s first development on record was filed with the Lancaster County Register of Deeds in 1885, according to the City of Lincoln’s website, A prominent landmark of the Hartley area is the State Cemetery, now known as Wyuka Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1869, and moved to its current location between O and Vine Streets and 36th and 42nd Streets in 1890. The cemetery is the burial place of six Nebraska governors and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another historic part of the neighborhood is Hartley Elementary School, built in 1919. Like Clinton, Hartley’s growth is affected by UNL, and is a popular neighborhood for students to live in. The area experienced a building boom currently in 1909, when the College of Agriculture was established on UNL’s east campus.
Like Clinton, the Hartley Neighborhood features a working-class scale of housing, according to Zimmer. On R Street, from 27th Street to 33rd Street, there are some larger frame houses that is referred to as a “professor’s row,” an area where UNL professors have historically lived.
For many of its residents, Belmont in north Lincoln feels more like a small town than a neighborhood.
It’s home to generations of families, yet attracts new and diverse residents. While it has had its share of set-backs and is facing a recent uptick in crime, residents take pride in their resilience and ability to come together to help one another.
“It’s a thriving community where we’ve got gas stations, grocery stores close by, and the elementary and the middle school are fairly close,” said Belmont Recreation Center director Jean Gerlach, a long-time resident who has worked at the rec center for 25 years.
Families that were raised in Belmont tend to stay in Belmont or will return later. Although many new residents have been circulating into different living arrangements – from houses, to townhomes to apartments for older adults and college students, Belmont is still home to generations of families.
“They may leave, but they come back,” Gerlach said. “It’s very family oriented – and I mean generations of families. So, that’s pretty cool.”
Like small towns, Belmont hosts a number of community events, including Belmont in the Park, an annual multicultural fair and Streets Alive the last two years. Those events contribute to the small-town atmosphere, said Laura Virgel, site supervisor for Belmont Community Learning Cent
“I don’t even live in this community and it ends up feeling like a small town most of the time,” she said. “It’s very welcoming, there’s always something going on that you can be a part of and get involved in.”
Many of the businesses embrace the small-town ethic. Schmick’s Market, located in the Belmont Shopping Center, tries to take an active part in the community by helping with fundraisers, donating products and trying to hire neighborhood people, according to co-owner Cody Schmick.
“There are needs all over the city, but we really wanted to serve the folks that are shopping in our store every day,” he said. “And it just felt like for us, there’s only so many donation dollars to go around. We wanted to keep them within a stone’s throw of this location.”
Belmont’s diversity is also appreciated. Nowhere is the neighborhood’s diversity more apparent than at Belmont Elementary School, which serves as a historical and social landmark for the community.
The original school, Belmont Community School, was constructed in 1889 on 12th and Belmont streets. Although the current elementary school has undergone several renovations over the years, it still boasts a historical remnant – the tall, brick portion on 14th Street, which dates back to 1921.
The school’s diverse demographics – and Belmont’s sense of community – were the driving forces behind Principal Kim Rosenthal’s decision to work there.
“We like to say we’re a picture of the world,” said Rosenthal, who has worked at Belmont for five years. “We have children from all over the world that attend our school and we call ourselves a family – we call ourselves the Belmont family.”
To help with residents who are not familiar with English, the school offers family literacy programs in which parents learn to speak, read and write in the language, as well as other important skills, according to Rosenthal. The program began in January, but it already has filled up and has a waiting list, she added.
The school’s diversity also is important to long-time resident Gloria Gress, whose children attended the elementary school and later Goodrich Middle School.
“It has become a very diverse school, which is good for them because my children also are mixed – Hispanic and their father was a white man,” Gress said.
That diversity was comforting when Gress and her late husband were new in the neighborhood.
“When we first moved into the neighborhood, there was a lot of mixed couples here, which made it very nice,” she said. “Some of us became friends and some of us are still friends, but there’s a lot of people that have moved.”
Belmont’s diversity is also applauded by store owner Schmick, who noted that the store brings in customers of various backgrounds and income levels.
“It’s a very, very much melting pot of the city right here at this store,” he said. “There’s not any specific demographic that comes through the doors; we literally get folks from all walks of life, all upbringings, which is kind of fun, too. It makes it for a more interesting culture for the store.”
While the elementary school serves as a historical marker, it also is a natural hub for the diverse community. Located near the school is the rec center, park and Educare Lincoln, which provides early education to children from birth to age 5.
The rec center and community learning centers at both schools provide before- and after-school academic programs and clubs that enrich children’s lives while providing them a safe place to go.
Every second Tuesday of the month, school programs, neighborhood events and crime updates are discussed during School Neighborhood Advisory Committee meetings at the rec center. School and police officials regularly attend. But the meetings, open to the public, are a great place for residents to express their concerns or provide suggestions, said Virgel of the community learning center.
“We’re always open for suggestions, so it’s a great space for neighborhood residents to come in and say, ‘Hey, I was thinking about this thing where my last neighborhood did this,’ or, ‘I’m worried about this,’” she said
Goodrich Middle School’s community coordinator, Andrea Chandler, started leading the advisory committee meetings in September, but the group hopes to find a resident to step up and guide them.
Not many residents attend the meetings because they are busy, Chandler said, but the group’s goal is to increase the participation of residents.
Belmont resident Barb Andersen, who is a regular attendee, said she’d like to see a stronger neighborhood association. She moved to Belmont 30 years ago, primarily because of the proximity of the schools for her children. Even though her kids have grown, she likes to attend the meetings to hear about volunteering opportunities and find out what’s going on in the neighborhood from police, she said.
While residents sing the praises of “small-town” Belmont, they also acknowledge that a recent spate of high-profile crimes has residents worried.
Since 2016, there have been six murders in the neighborhood, according to Angela Sands, Lincoln Police Department public information officer.
But the opening in October of a police substation in Belmont has been reassuring, Andersen said.
“The only thing is here, lately, within the last few years, we had a problem with crime,” she said. “Now that the officer at the meeting was telling us they have a substation here, I think that will help.”
The new substation was opened for the purpose of improving response times and having a presence in the neighborhood, Sands said.
Ironically, the substation is located in the basement of the Pet Care Center, which was set on fire in 2017 by a serial arsonist.
The Belmont Baptist Church also was a target of likely the same arsonist.
The fires destroyed the older section of the building that was built in 1959, and that part has since been demolished.
Janet Jones, who has been an official member since 1994 and has taken on numerous active roles in the church, is currently on a task force looking to start rebuilding in the neighborhood. After the fire, the church required a small addition on the southern end to install units and utilities, Jones said.
With the fire and an aging church membership, it’s time for change and for people to come together, said Gress, who has attended the church for 12 years.
“Basically, what I see now is that we need to bring in younger people, younger couples so that this church can be part of the community,” she said. “That’s what we need to do is just work together so we can help each other because people aren’t doing that anymore.”
For Jones, the aftermath of the tragedy showed Belmont’s defining feature – a community where people try to help one another and show generosity in tough times.
“I think one of the significant things about the church, though, is that the people have typically been generous and loving, even through hard times, and that God hears and answers prayer at Belmont Baptist Church,” Jones said.
Even though people don’t get involved as much as they used to in the community, according to Gress, they will still come together when crime and tragedy befall them.
“They kind of watch each other still, but yet a lot of them in this day and age, people don’t want to get involved too much,” she said. “But on the other hand, when it’s something devastating or something, the community is there.”
After the recent shooting of a woman who lived on Fairfield Street, Gress said people offered all types of help to the family. They showed the same kindness to her when her son died.
“Even when my son passed away, which was in 1995, everybody in that neighborhood at that time knew my son and that’s when the neighbors actually came together. They showed a lot of compassion,” she said. “Sadly, some of the neighborhoods are not like that anymore.”
Belmont’s population has grown – and sometimes that creates challenges for continuing the small-town feel, some residents acknowledged. The neighborhood population increased by nearly 900 people from 1990 to 2015, according to the U.S. Census figures.
With older residents leaving and newer residents coming in and out of the neighborhood, Gerlach and Andersen said it’s been hard to build comradery with neighbors.
“I’d like to be able to know my neighbors a little more,” Gerlach said. “That is more of a cultural thing. It’s just the way it is, you don’t get out and you don’t sit with your neighbors and talk like you used to.”
However, not knowing as many newer residents doesn’t prevent Andersen from demonstrating that small-town friendliness.
“We live on the corner, so when people go by, we’ll wave,” she said. “Even if we don’t know them, we’ll wave.”
She and her husband look out for their neighbors and help out in whatever ways they can, such as letting them know if they’ve left their garage door open.
“The lady across the street moved in a couple years ago. She’s a single mother, and so she’s always asking my husband, Dale, to go over and help her with chores,” Andersen said. “We put up her Christmas lights, and if one of her boys has a problem with the car, she’ll call Dale.”
Gress, who grew up in a small town, said she always wanted to live in a small town, which is what she considers Belmont, where she has everything she needs within walking distance.
She owns her house now and even if something drastic happens and she would have to sell it, she said she’ll likely stay and move in with one of her three daughters, who also have settled within the neighborhood.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Gress said. “I like this area; I always have.”
On the exterior wall of Alfourat, a Middle Eastern food market in the Clinton neighborhood, is a brightly colored mural of children playing.
The children each have different skin tones and some wear hijabs. But despite their differences, they have something in common: their smiles.
Inside the store, on the corner of 27th and Holdrege streets, Firad David runs the cash register. Of the seven years he’s been in America, the Iraqi immigrant has spent the last two living only a couple blocks from the store.
His two youngest children attend Clinton Elementary, where, he said, like the children in the mural, their friends come from all over the world, including countries like Sudan and Bosnia.
Two blocks down the street from Alfourat, Van Thai, 48, and his wife, Tuy Tran, 45, are busy at work in Hong Kong Market. The couple became American entrepreneurs after fleeing Vietnam in the aftermath of the war.
Clinton residents praise the neighborhood for its diversity. It boasts part of the 27th Street Corridor, where Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Mexican restaurants and markets share the same street.
The neighborhood is home for families, students, retirees and refugees.
“It’s such a great blend of people,” said Maurice Baker, a long-time Clinton resident.
Now retired, Baker, 83, moved to Lincoln more than 50 years ago to teach agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
When he was looking for a home, Clinton was the among last on his Realtor’s list of prospective neighborhoods, most likely because of perceptions about crime. But because of its close proximity to the university’s campuses, he moved into a large colonial style home.
He’s lived in the same house ever since.
“It’s much safer than it’s reputation,” he said.
Baker raised his family in Clinton, which has four parks where his kids could play. He said it was a great place for them to grow up, even with the Alpha Gamma Nu fraternity house right across the street.
Anyone else might consider raising a family next door to a fraternity a nightmare. Then choosing to retire there could be equally as frightening.
But Baker has had no problems with them.
“They’ve been some of the best neighbors we’ve ever had,” he said.
Van Thai and Tuy Tran agree that the neighborhood is safer now, but 10 years ago the sounds of gunshots and squealing tires late at night were common.
The couple, who opened Hong Kong Market 16 years ago, live in a house next door to the store. Although living close by helps them keep an eye on their store, it didn’t prevent the two robberies they’ve had since they’ve owned it.
Like Baker, Van Thai also said that his part of the neighborhood has many college student renters in Clinton.
He remembers a weeknight house party that got a little too wild. Once police arrived and everyone was sent home, Thai was surprised to see grown adults, not college students, leaving the premises.
“It’s been exiting to say the least,” Thai said of his time being a Clinton resident.
For Gloria Eddins, a co-president of the Clinton Neighborhood Organization, the students in the neighborhood often are an asset.
“They keep their partying to the weekends and they’re always around when you need help moving furniture,” she said.
Long-time residents the Rev. James Dank and his wife, Susan, say their neighbors have a tendency to “get a little rowdy on the weekends,” but they aren’t college students – they are members of a motorcycle club.
“They’re really friendly guys,” he said. “They wave hello every morning.”
Like the Bakers, the Danks raised their family in Clinton, where they have lived for 26 years. Now their grandchildren are playing in the same streets and parks that their children had enjoyed years before.
Dank, a priest at the Orthodox Church of Saint John of Kronstadt in the neighborhood, said his biggest complaint is that Clinton is not as community-oriented as it used to be.
“People come and go,” Baker said. “It’s a very transient neighborhood now.”
That makes maintaining relationships with neighbors difficult.
In hopes of strengthening this area, the Clinton Neighborhood Organization sponsors events to get people out and socializing while helping to better the neighborhood.
For at least as long as Eddins has lived in the neighborhood, which has been 14 years, volunteers have been gathering for an annual neighborhood cleanup.
This year some 20 residents turned up and helped to haul over two tons of trash from Clinton.
“It’s a joke every year to see who finds the first toilet,” Eddins said. “Because we always find one.”
Clinton is a neighborhood as unique as it’s residents. It’s a haven for refugees. It’s a home for families and students alike. It’s a place where clergy, bikers, fraternity brothers and retirees can happily co-exist.
Like the children on the mural, Clinton is a place where people may look different, but many share smiles.
“Diversity,” Eddins said. “It’s what makes Clinton ... Clinton.”
The Everett neighborhood is a true melting pot.
“We may have one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the state,” said Matthew Schaefer, president of the Everett Neighborhood Association, citing a study he read on Nebraska’s diversity. “Very ethnically diverse, financially diverse, and occupation and generationally diverse.”
The neighborhood is home to Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians and Middle Easterners. Wealthy people live alongside those who work multiple jobs just to get by. Some residents have lived in the neighborhood for decades while many college students are making Everett their temporary home.
That diversity enhances the neighborhood, Schaefer and other residents say.
“It makes it an interesting place to live,” he said. “The exact opposite of a cookie cutter subdivision. You can meet all kinds of interesting neighbors and get a chance to actually experience another culture.”
One way to experience the other cultures in the neighborhood is to visit Everett’s business district at the intersection of 11th and G streets. Here, immigrants have opened several shops and eateries.
Favian Sanchez first opened a restaurant, El Chaparro, in Everett; then in 2006, he opened Guerrero’s Market to fill the city’s void in Hispanic food. The market served as a pioneer of sorts, ushering in five other Hispanic businesses to the neighborhood and helping to revitalize Klein’s Corner, the anchor of the business district.
One of businesses is the ice cream stop, Neveria Arcoires, a popular place in the neighborhood. The store sells traditional ice cream flavors, like chocolate and vanilla, but they also sell more unique flavors like queso. One item that is particularly popular are the tostadas — a very tasty Mexican treat with deep fried tortillas at the base of it. Other items they sell are Mexican sodas and flavored water.
Lucio Sanchez owns the ice cream shop, but his daughter, Elizabeth Sanchez, is learning how to run it.
“All sorts of people come in here. It is not just Hispanics,” she said. “We get many people from the Middle East that come in all the time.”
Sanchez was a former resident to the Everett, but recently moved to a neighborhood in north Lincoln.
“I liked living in Everett more than I like where I live now,” she said. “It’s calm.”
Residents share a sense of belonging, friendship and family, Sanchez said.
She mentioned a woman in the neighborhood who runs a daycare, but keeps her fees low because she wants to help out the hard-working parents in the neighborhood.
“The people are so nice here,” Sanchez said. “The diversity makes it feel comfortable.”
Every neighborhood has an identity that changes over time. Demographics shift and modernity paves new ways of living, but some things remain the same. Hartley neighborhood, an eclectic melting pot of culture and lifestyle, is no exception.
Ray Reyes, who recently moved back to the same house he grew up in, doesn’t see much change from the safe and carefree neighborhood he knew when he was young.
“When I was growing up, my friend had an extra pair of rollerblades, and at 3 o’clock in the morning we rollerbladed up and down the streets,” he said. “I still would feel comfortable doing that.”
Perceptions of the Hartley neighborhood differ depending on who you ask. From an outsider perspective, Hartley carries a connotation of being unsafe because it is one of the lowest income neighborhoods in Lincoln. From an insider perspective, it is a neighborhood just like any other.
“I tell (people) where I live and their eyebrows raise,” said Tony Rodriguez, a Hartley Neighborhood Association board member and lifetime Hartley resident. “A lot of times these neighborhoods, because of the ethnic groups in them, people tend to be a little more cautious or wary, but I’ve always felt the neighborhood was safe.”
For him, Hartley is a vibrant and friendly neighborhood where he was introduced to Vietnamese cuisine at a friend’s house, learned to drive a stick shift car at Wyuka Cemetery and still lives next door to his childhood babysitter.
Rodriguez joined the association six months ago after a neighborhood meeting sparked his interest in civic engagement. Although the association remains relatively dormant, members like Rodriguez are looking to improve communication and foster positive growth in Hartley.
The new board member hopes to increase communication by leafleting the neighborhood on a consistent basis and creating more events and volunteering opportunities for the community at large.
At a recent neighborhood meeting, Curt Donaldson, president and original board member of the Hartley Neighborhood Association, led a discussion among 30 residents who were opposed to a CenterPointe development plan for a high-density apartment complex near Wyuka Cemetery.
“These were single-family home-owners, and they just felt that the land should be developed as single-family housing,” Donaldson said. “A key thing that has helped preserve this neighborhood is the low zoning. We do not have sixplexes.”
Donaldson also said residents think single-family homes are a better fit for Hartley than higher density properties and are looking to partner with NeighborWorks, a non-profit dedicated to community revitalization that has done work in Hartley before, to fill the space near the cemetery.
Jose Lemus, a Civic Nebraska community organizer who has been working closely with the Hartley area, said this is a typical example of what civic engagement looks like in Hartley.
“They know what they want for that side of the neighborhood,” he said. “That’s kind of the people’s power at its finest.”
While Lemus supports Hartley’s decision, he also said he would like to see the neighborhood become more knowledgeable when working with outside organizations or developers.
“The issues that were raised were raised because there was a lack of knowledge about the reality of the project,” he said. “It’s a critical thing to understand how to engage and how to get a realistic voice of the neighborhood.”
Donaldson, who has been a board member in Hartley since the 70s, drew parallels between the Wyuka development opposition and other problems the neighborhood has faced.
As a rental property owner, Donaldson has run into what he calls “bad landlords” who don’t meet neighborhood expectations of keeping tenants from causing problems.
A few years ago, one landlord became particularly problematic, and Donaldson called for a meeting with the mayor to straighten things out. The properties were sold to the city and eventually to NeighborWorks.
The non-profit has worked on dozens of homes in Hartley and works to revitalize distressed areas through construction, education and down payment assistance.
Marti Lee, operating officer for NeighborWorks, said one of the biggest things she’s learned from her time with the non-profit is “the importance of empowering people, instead of doing it ourselves.”
Like any neighborhood, Hartley has its issues, but what sets Hartley apart is its ability to face problems head on and find solutions that benefit the entire community, residents say. With the Hartley Neighborhood Association bringing in new blood and NeighborWorks alleviating the stress of troublesome properties, the community feels comfortable with where they’re at and where they’re heading.
“It’s one of the lowest income neighborhoods in the city, but yet, it is safe and the schools are decent,” Donaldson said. “We just don’t have many problems. We live and let live.”
The Near South neighborhood, first established in the late 1880s and located south of downtown in between South 13th and 27th streets, is considered to be one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods because of its stately older homes and deep-rooted history.
That history, coupled with diverse residents and an active neighborhood association, make the neighborhood even more appealing. That’s why Near South is home to an interesting community of families, college students, single households, renters, owners, and new and old residents of a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and varying socioeconomic statuses.
Even though it’s an established neighborhood and has one of the oldest neighborhood associations in Lincoln, there’s no resting on its laurels, association members say.
The association — also known as one of the city’s most active — never runs out of things to address and is always working to improve and accommodate all residents in the neighborhood as challenges, big and small, arise in the community, said Vish Reddi, the neighborhood’s president and a University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professor.
“We interact with city council members, public works and state officials to make sure we are aware of any changes and the voices of the neighborhood are being heard at the city level,” he said.
Some challenges neighborhood residents face are population density that creates traffic problems, parking issues caused by the proximity to downtown and nearby businesses and an aging infrastructure that needs updating.
“The infrastructure is historic and sometimes a disadvantage to keep up with,” he said. “We spend a lot of time coordinating efforts across the city to make sure the infrastructure can keep up.”
To put density into perspective, Near South has a population density of 10,533 residents per square mile of land, making it the second highest densely populated neighborhood in Lincoln, according to the statistical atlas of 2018. Nearby Everett is first at 11,287 residents per square mile of land.
“The historic value of the homes and buildings of Near South also play a major role in the neighborhood’s challenges. The Near South may have more historic buildings than any other in the city, Reddi noted.
But these challenges don’t stop new residents from moving to Near South.
Reddi, who moved to the neighborhood five years ago, was intrigued with the area.
“My fianceé and I were looking for a home to start a family and we both liked the historic charm of this neighborhood,” he said. “We also liked the proximity to downtown and the university.”
University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Nathan McNeil also likes the neighborhood’s convenient location.
“I like that rent is low enough that I can afford it as a college student but still close to campus and downtown,” said McNeil, who has lived in an apartment near Lincoln High School for about a year.
The neighborhood atmosphere can vary day to day, he said.
“My neighborhood can be really chaotic or calm on a given day like Nebraska weather. One day there might be some drunk guy yelling at the Lincoln High Football field at 3 a.m. and the next day nothing will be going on,” he said.
Byron Rockett moved to Lincoln four years ago from East St. Louis, Illinois, and is definitely sold on the Near South. He moved to Lincoln at the urging of one of his brothers.
The Near South is a better place to live than East St. Louis, he said, adding that it’s a great place to raise children and to find jobs. He plans to stay and live in the Near South long term.
“It doesn’t seem like a bad neighborhood,” he said. “It’s different. It’s cleaner, modern, a mature environment. A lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities.”
He especially likes to spend time at Hazel Abel park located on South 17th Street.
“It’s a friendly atmosphere for kids, not too many people come here. It’s a quiet area,” he said. “I like to come here.”
Parks are particularly important attributes for neighborhoods like Near South, Reddi noted.
“Residents here especially the ones that live in apartment complexes and rental units like to have accessibility to safe parks for their children,” he said.
That’s why the association also has been raising efforts to improve the Near South parks. Some recent parks that were updated in the neighborhood were Breta Park and Near South Park.
“We will focus on parks now and after that we will determine what to focus on next,” Reddi said. “Long term planning begins next year to continue our mission to improve the neighborhood.”
On a short stretch of North 48th Street is a small business district with a big story to tell.
It’s a district that has seen its fair share of problems, including a devastating fire in the 1900s. But then, just as now, people weren’t daunted. They rebuilt and pressed on.
About 25 years ago, the neighborhood received a major upgrade. The city rebuilt sidewalks, added bus routes, added traffic lights and crosswalks and helped renovate older buildings to make them feel like new.
Today, this neighborhood business district is thriving despite Lincoln’s continuous retail growth.
University Place is a neighborhood closely attuned to its history. The neighborhood was once a separate town in the late 1800s. Some of the buildings from those early days remain as testaments. The LUX Center for the Arts was the city hall and still has the words chiseled on the entrance to the building.
Eventually, when the neighborhood became surrounded by Lincoln, it became part of the city in the early 1900s.
Today, University Place is a large neighborhood with an estimated population of 11,643 people. The historic Nebraska Wesleyan University campus lies in the heart of University Place while the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus is at the southwest edge of the neighborhood.
But both businesses and residents alike work hard to keep the small-town feel alive.
One such business is Heart of Gold Jewelers, which has been a fixture in the North 48th business district for over 40 years.
“We’re northeast Lincoln people, plus we just really like this area,” said owner Charlie Yost, who co-owns the shop with his daughter, Toni.
“People benefit from the small-town feel that our shops offer,” said Toni Yost
The family-owned jewelry shop makes and sells jewelry and restores broken or tarnished pieces. Heart of Gold has been 2701 N. 48th St. since 2009, moving a few blocks from where it use to be at. The new building offers more natural light and more room for the business to grow.
The small district has a lot of personality, residents say, and each building has a story to tell.
These buildings have housed many different businesses over time -- boutiques, flower shops, art centers and even doctor offices. Business owners say customers often comment about how they remember when the buildings housed something else.
Yet landlords have taken the time to keep the unique style of many of these buildings intact. For example, many stores share the same original ceilings.
University Place is a working-class neighborhood so for some business owners the cheaper rent is a big factor on why they chose this area. But they also like the small-town vibe.
When Nathan Ushio, who is from Alliance, said looks out the window of his restaurant, Pau Burger, at the corner of 48th Street and St. Paul Avenue, he said he gets the feeling like he did back at home.
That small-town feel is encouraged by the University Place Community Organization, which sponsors farmers markets, concerts in the park and holiday get-togethers.
“The board has really made a positive change to the neighborhood by having events for its residents,” said long-time resident Amy Bart. “It really makes the neighborhood feel like a small town.”
Getting all of the neighborhood’s diverse stakeholders involved in the community is the organization’s primary mission. Board members said they want everyone to be feel like they belong.
The University Place Community Organization also devotes time to preserving the historical elements and character of the neighborhood and improving its appearance.
Board members say they want to teach the residents, especially children, about the buildings and what they mean to the area.
One of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood is the iconic Whitehall Mansion. Built in 1910, the majestic mansion has been a home to many families, an office space for companies and is now protected as a historic site.
In October, for example, the neighborhood held its Fall Festival for children and their families there. The mansion came alive with games, face painting, crafts and trick or treat stations.
“Events like this really help teach people what Whitehall Mansion is and why history is important to the neighborhood,” said board member Stacey Blizets.
But the stately mansion serves a bigger purpose. It also is the site of neighborhood organization meetings; a place where all residents can come to express their hopes and dreams for their neighborhood. As such, residents gain a better appreciation for historic preservation.
Along with big events, like the annual Easter egg hunt, the neighborhood organization teams up with the Lincoln libraries to host weekly events. Participants can practice their skills by reading books to dogs or attend trivia nights.
The events the organization hosts have wonderful outcomes, board members said. They not only create a sense of community, but also help new residents meet people and allow long-time residents to reconnect.
“I think the board has done a good job of giving the neighborhood a good name throughout Lincoln,” Bart said.
This multimedia project was produced in the Fall 2018 semester by the following students in the Nebraska Mosaic course, a capstone for journalism majors in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications:
- Kaleb DeCora
- Lauren Ewinger
- Morgan Gassert
- Brittany Hamor
- Alli Lorensen
- Riley Slezak
- Rebecca Schrack
- Taylor Stortenbecker
Also contributing to the project:
- Tyler Loebig, a UNL advertising/public relations student who created the Heart of Lincoln graphics.
- Sierra Karst, a UNL journalism student, and Gabriella Parsons, a former journalism student and UNL alumna, who shot the drone video footage for the Near South and Everett neighborhoods.
These stories are part of a larger effort undertaken by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications in its One Project, One College, which involved students in eight courses in a civic engagement initiative. See additional news stories about the Heart of Lincoln.
For more stories about refugees and immigrants in Nebraska, see the Nebraska Mosaic website.