The City of Niagara Falls has begun a weekly project that targets selected neighborhoods and addresses quality of life issues within them. Every Tuesday from now until weather no longer cooperates, city crews will carry out what is known as the ZOOM Program.
Crews began their first ZOOM sweep this week, gathering at the City Market at the intersection of Pine Avenue and 18th Street. Mayor Paul Dyster says in the past, inspectors would go door-to-door but, if coming across a suspected crack house, lacked the authority to act further. Through the ZOOM Program, members of several city departments go out into city blocks and work with local community representatives to resolve neighborhood concerns.
"What we've done, taking a cue from the U.S. military, is we've created an all arms operation," Dyster said. "All hands are on deck from Police, to Fire, to Animal Control, Code Enforcement, Department of Public Works, so that whatever problem we have marching down the street, we've got solutions and not excuses."
This year, Dyster explained, ZOOM is focusing on the Pine Avenue Business Corridor, known more affectionately by longtime residents as the city's "Little Italy" section. Dyster recalled a time when the neighbors shopped together, worshipped together, dined together and looked out for each other. The neighborhood, over the years, has evolved and become more ethnically diversified. But there's still that want by new occupants to keep the neighborhood vibrant.
"Whether you're talking about the old residents or the new residents in the neighborhood, you can see the people that are taking care of their properties," Dyster dais. "It's very frustrating to see someone who has their porch clean, their hedges trimmed and tulips are coming up in their garden, while next door there's a building where the grass hasn't been cut all season and where the yard is strewn with trash. It's just not fair to the good neighbors to let that situation develop. That's why we're out there."
Code violators are issued tickets and given three days to fix the problems cited. If no action is taken, city crews will make the necessary repairs and pursue payment by the property owner.
Dyster says many neighbors have cheered when crews arrive to address ongoing needs. While some of the responsibility rests on the residents, the mayor says the city has a role to play, too. And by addressing blight, they're addressing its by-products, including the attraction of crime.
"I don't know if it's exactly the 'broken window theory' that was associated with Mayor Giuliani in New York, but one of the things that we have found is that when we take care of the public realm infrastructure, when we make sure that streets are paved and that street lights are working, and where the exteriors of buildings are taken care of, when we're enforcing code and making sure that driving down the street doesn't expose you to an unsettling set of conditions, it just seems to calm the whole neighborhood down and crime rates go down," Dyster said.
According to the mayor, Pine Avenue itself is in "good shape," but several side streets have need of improvements.