A project that started in Macon this summer is improving the physical appearance of senior homes in hopes of reducing crime. Because youth in the community are often the ones most affected by violence, they will be making the repairs, reducing the gap of misunderstanding between two generations. 

The Safe by Design project began in May in the historic Pleasant Hill neighborhood. Pleasant Hill has deep historical roots. Founded by Black professionals after the Civil War who couldn’t get housing in other areas of the community, it has fallen into disrepair ever since the construction of Interstate 75 split the neighborhood in half, leading to high rates of blight and crime.  

Many houses are boarded up or overgrown, almost invisible from the sidewalk. Sherman Kind is a contractor who has lived in the area his whole life. He’s proud of his community, but he said that blight can wear down morale. 

“Just imagine everything you see is abandoned and just raggedy; and what kind of sense of community will that give you?” Kind said. “It'll make you feel like your community was worthless. So why would you care about anything worthless?” 

Amanda White has also lived and worked in Pleasant Hill her whole life.

“It's a neighborhood that has everything to offer you, you know, it just needs more people to help build it back up,” White said.  

Her brother lives in one of the houses that are becoming overgrown from lack of care. He’s a veteran who's had three strokes and he can barely get around. He is one of the senior residents whose home will receive renovations this year with the help of United Way of Central Georgia. 

“What United Way is doing for the elderly, I think that's good because a lot of the people don't feel comfortable anymore even living in a neighborhood," White said. "They just stay shut up in their houses.”  

The first phase of the project was to conduct safety audits of the neighborhood. Over the course of three Saturdays, volunteers from the community gathered at the local elementary school and spread out across different streets in Pleasant Hill. They surveyed each house with a clipboard, looking for things like the visibility of the address, how overgrown the plants were, and if the home's entrance was well lit.  

These techniques are part of a well-known urban planning strategy called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design; the idea that improving the physical appearance of areas can make them less susceptible to crime.  

After United Way gathered the data from the surveys, they decided which houses need the most work, and then brought in youth from the community to do the repairs, such as installing ring cameras, lights, and peepholes. They’re able to do this through a grant with Macon Violence Prevention.  

Frank Dixon works with Cure Violence Macon, a nonprofit fighting to reduce gun violence. Dixon brings in middle and high school students whom he mentors, and the grant provides them with a stipend as they do the repairs over the summer.  

Rising sophomore Naiem Moore participated in the safety audits. He’s looking forward to learning construction skills and doing repairs.  

 “We’re really excited to fix those up,” Moore said. “I could be like Grandad.” 

While his friends and family make the neighborhood home, Moore said it’s getting more dangerous. 

“We grew up in this neighborhood, and people don’t want to come back no more,” Moore said. 

Terry Moss, Japheth Moss, and Algernon William help conduct a safety survey of the Pleasant Hill neighborhood as part of the Safe by Design project on June 24, 2023, in Macon, Ga.

Terry Moss, Japheth Moss, and Algernon William help conduct a safety survey of the Pleasant Hill neighborhood as part of the Safe by Design project on June 24, 2023, in Macon, Ga.

Credit: Eliza Moore / GPB News

Like Moore, many of the boys Dixon mentors have lost friends to gun violence, a grim reality for teens in the community. In 2022, 15 teenagers in Macon-Bibb died due to gun violence, a number that has been increasing in recent years.  

This is why Dixon said the Safe by Design project is so important. It encourages the boys to care for their community, have work to do over the summer, and build relationships.  

“Hopefully these kids become like grandkids for the elderly and these relationships go past the initial work,” Dixon said. “These youth can rebuild that village. It's not rocket science. We are just reestablishing our culture as a vibrant, historic community.”  

Sundra Woodford, the Project Manager and director of Community Engagement at United Way, says this multigenerational approach teaches the community to trust one another. 

“The intended outcome is for seniors to feel safe, for youth to feel engaged and still learning in a different way,” Woodford said. 

Woodford emphasizes that it’s about putting power back into the hands of the community, a community that has often been subject to redlining and other factors outside its control. 

“My hope is that residents will come together and have the kind of social cohesion that inspires them to take care of their issues, not depending or relying on the government or anyone outside of them, you know — and for the youth especially to see, 'I'm young, but I can contribute,'” Woodford said. 

The boys will continue to do repairs the last few weeks of summer.  

Woodford said the project in Pleasant Hill is only the beginning. United Way plans to expand the Safe by Design project into other high-need neighborhoods in Macon in the coming months. 

Tags: blight  Macon  Georgia  housing