NLA Alumni Newsletter – Fall 2013

Creating Livable Communities

In this edition:

Alumni Spotlight: Andrew Yawitz and The Grove Merchants Association

 Andrew Yawitz 

Andrew "Roo" Yawitz, NLA 2012, is the owner of the Gramophone, a bar and music venue in the Grove neighborhood. Photo provided by Andrew Yawitz.

For Andrew “Roo” Yawitz (NLA Alum ’12), the Neighborhood Leadership Academy was the “crash course” he wanted in community development, engagement and involvement. He had spent the past five years focusing on his business, The Gramophone, a local bar and venue this year named the 2013 Neighborhood Business of the Year for the 17th ward by the St. Louis Development Corporation. Now, Yawitz was ready to see “the other side of the coin.”

Yawitz, the first business owner to participate in the NLA started working on his community project, The Grove Merchants Association in early 2012. A collaborative idea that originated through conversations with other business owners in the area (Chip Schloss of the Atomic Cowboy and Tatyana Telnikova of the Handlebar), the Association was initiated to help businesses better communicate with each other, as well as with other groups in the community. The association’s goal was to address any issue that might arise before it could become a community crisis.

Within the last year, Yawitz and the core group of the Merchants Association have been successful in engaging over half of The Grove District businesses in the organization. Yawitz says that the Association has been a great avenue for businesses to support one another, as well as to welcome new businesses to the neighborhood, such as Amy’s Corner Bakeshop and RISE Coffee House. The Association holds monthly meetings and often invites guest speakers from local stakeholder institutions, including Park Central Development and the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation.

One of the next projects of The Grove Merchants Association is to increase their communication with area residents. This was one of the aspects that Yawitz learned from his experience in the NLA. “People want to control the destiny and have a say in the neighborhoods where they live.”

This past month, the Merchants Association helped to support the Grove Fest neighborhood street festival, which Yawitz co-chaired for the second year. Fifteen local establishments participated in Grove Fest – about double the number that participated the previous year – reaching a crowd of as many as 10,000 attendees.

When asked about strategies he would recommend to other neighborhood leaders, Yawitz encouraged alumni to reach out to local businesses. “Don’t overlook your neighborhood businesses for help and support,” Yawitz urged. Businesses are important neighborhood stakeholders that want to see their local communities succeed and have a lot to contribute to community efforts.

Community Tools of the Trade: Nextdoor

Nextdoor and the City of St. Louis announced their partnership in the Clifton Heights Neighborhood. Photo provided by Nextdoor user, President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed.

The buzz is in the air in St. Louis communities about Nextdoor. People are logging on, sharing recommendations for local service providers, collaborating on projects, and inviting neighbors to upcoming events. But let’s back up a minute.

What is Nextdoor? Nextdoor is a social networking site that is restricted to a particular geographical area. According to Michael Powers, NLA Alum, Class of 2012, and legislative director to President of the Board of Aldermen, Lewis Reed, “It’s Facebook for a neighborhood.” Users verify their home address and use their real names to get to know others in their neighborhood.

Community members can use Nextdoor in a variety of ways. The page has features allowing users to share recommendations about local businesses and services, add events to a community calendar, upload photos of lost pets or home repair projects, and generate printable flyers for upcoming events or projects. In addition, users can decide if they want to receive updates and announcements from surrounding neighborhoods.

“Nextdoor takes down the barriers for concerned citizens to being involved and gets them right to the type of projects they are interested in,” says Powers. He has hope that this online tool will appeal to a younger population and bring new involvement to community efforts.

On October 16, 2013, the City of St. Louis announced its partnership with Nextdoor. This partnership will allow the city to have a standardized way of communicating with residents across the city about heat advisory warnings, crime alerts, tips on navigating City Hall, information on suspects, and inclement weather tips. It also will create a new avenue for residents to share the gaps and needs they see in governmental services.

The city’s campaign is hoping to see 20–30 percent of households signed on in every neighborhood in St. Louis. So far, about 5,500 residents in the city’s 79 neighborhoods have signed up for Nextdoor. Let us know how you use Nextdoor to build neighborhood connections, ownership and responsibility in your community. To sign up, visit For City of St. Louis residents, contact Michael Powers with questions at

What’s Brewing 2013-2014: Rebound Communities in St. Louis

The older parts of the St. Louis region have faced serious challenges in the past 40 years. But some neighborhoods have done better than others and have found a way to rebound from this decline toward stabilization and, in some cases, growth. What explains this success? What are the lessons for other communities struggling to find their way?

The 2013–2014 “What’s Brewing?” series of breakfast forums will focus on the research of Dr. Todd Swanstrom, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Community Collaboration and Public Policy at UMSL, and Hank Webber of Washington University. Swanstrom, Webber and their research team reviewed income and housing data for 256 census tracts over the past 40 years to identify neighborhoods that have rebounded, taking advantage of their assets to bounce back from decline.

“What’s Brewing?” sessions, sponsored by the Community Partnership Project, will focus on the following rebound communities:  Maplewood, Mark Twain, Central West End and Botanical Heights. Each session will feature an overview by Dr. Swanstrom, followed by a panel of local representatives who will discuss what has contributed to their neighborhoods' resilience. A key component of each “What’s Brewing?” session will be opportunities for group discussion on how these strengths and strategies might be applied to other communities.

Events will be held on Thursdays mornings (7:30 – 9:00 a.m.) in November, December, February, and March in each of the identified communities. Check for updated information on these future sessions at The events are free; however, registration is required. Call (314) 516-6989 or email to register.

"It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the That Way You Do It": Community Building Principles

That’s the title of an old calypso song recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Harry James in the 1930s, with some recent adaptations. But it could also be a lesson (albeit grammatically incorrect) in community building for those of us working in neighborhoods. Our intended outcomes may be to build houses, reduce crime or generate new businesses, but how we work in and with the community to reach those outcomes is a critical factor.

As a result of working with neighborhoods and communities across the region, the Community Partnership Project at the University of Missouri–St. Louis developed a set of Community Building Principles that serve as the foundation for our annual Neighborhood Leadership Academy. These principles apply regardless of the community, issue or project.

  1. Effective community building efforts are community-driven. Community building is a democratic process, and the people who are most affected by what happens in a community have the right to play a major role in decisions about what and how things are done. Building social capital is a primary objective of community building and it will not be achieved unless the residents themselves “own” the process.
  2. Effective community building requires the development of a vision and a comprehensive approach. Community building goes beyond a single issue focus (e.g. affordable housing, business development) and integrates strategies that address broader social, cultural and environmental issues.
  3. Effective community building is based on community assets. The most effective way to create change is to start with the many assets (people, institutions, etc.) that are already in the community. Community building identifies community strengths and assets, rather than making a “laundry list” of deficiencies or what’s wrong.
  4. Effective community building starts from local conditions. Plans and strategies must meet local realities, rather than “cookie cutter” approaches that were used in other communities. Learning from successful projects and best practices is an important strategy, but community projects and initiatives must be tailored to neighborhood scale and condition.
  5. Effective community building recognizes that strong communities are built on the strength of their residents and the relationships among them. Community building works to weave or repair the social fabric of a neighborhood by strengthening informal ties among residents. It also works to link community members with supportive individuals, organizations and resources outside the neighborhood. Social gatherings are a key part of community building.
  6. Effective community building is collaborative. Successful development and change comes from forging partnerships and working in collaboration with all sectors of the community: residents, businesses, schools, religious institutions, governmental agencies, health and social service organizations, etc.
  7. Effective community building supports the development of civic leadership. A community must have active and effective civic leaders who can engage residents and represent their interests. A community also must have strategies in place to produce and support new leaders over time.
  8. Effective community building strengthens community institutions, from formal public, private and nonprofit institutions, to informal networks and civic groups. Supporting community institutions enables them to respond to local concerns and promote general well-being. Effective community building also facilitates links among institutions so that they can work collectively to improve the community.
  9. Effective community building is self-monitoring. If community residents are to drive the agenda, they must also monitor the results to determine if they are reaching their goals. To do this, communities must formulate meaningful ways to evaluate their efforts, measure progress, and apply what they’ve learned to strengthen their achievement of goals.
  10. Effective community building requires future planning and sustainability. Community building efforts cannot rely solely on outside resources, but must develop strategies that can be sustained by the community itself.

These Community Building Principles are based on the work of the Community Partnership Project at UMSL, along with resources from the National Community Building Network, the Community Development Society, and the National Civic League. To have your own copy of the Community Building Principles, download the poster here.