Mildred Johnson was tickled last week as she glanced around her neighborhood’s new pocket park along Monticello Road.
“Doesn’t it look nice?” Johnson asked as she greeted Paul Livingston, the Richland County councilman who more than a decade ago spearheaded a movement to revitalize the Ridgewood/Barony neighborhood in north Columbia.
More than 11 years after Richland County’s original master plan for Ridgewood’s revitalization was drawn, city, county and federal officials gathered with neighborhood leaders to celebrate the project’s completion.
The more than $3 million revitalization project was meant to address disrepair in one of the county’s oldest neighborhoods, which contains about 145 homes. About 68 percent of the households are low- to moderate-income. Johnson, who said she is in her eighties, said it had become an “eyesore.”
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There was “nothing attractive to make people want to come to our neighborhood,” said Johnson, the former Ridgewood/Barony Neighborhood Association president who now serves as its treasurer.
Livingston said the area, which lies between I-20 and Eau Claire High School, instead attracted the wrong kinds of activity.
“I would pull through the neighborhood, and folks would think: ‘Oh, he must be coming to buy some drugs. Let me run to his car and try to sell him some.’ That’s how bad it was,”he said.
The project was split into phases to “hit every area that was lacking: recreation, beautification, housing and infrastructure,” said Jocelyn Jennings, the county’s community development coordinator.
That included paving dirt roads; installing sewage lines, street lighting and signage; constructing 10 single-family homes; demolishing abandoned or unsafe houses, one of which was replaced by a small park along Monticello Road; upgrading a park; establishing gateways and gardens and much more.
Livingston said a comprehensive master plan for the area was necessary because just building one house or patching one street wouldn’t have made enough of a difference.
The effort was bolstered by more than $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds. The city contributed $71,000 to complete a block of Monticello Road that lies within city limits.
“What impacts the folks on one side of that line impacts the folks on the other,” said Sam Davis, the city councilman who represents north Columbia.
Livingston praised neighborhood leaders such as Johnson because they “stayed the course” even when development and improvements seemed to move slowly. He said the area has “come a tremendously long ways” and that the project could open the door for businesses and more residents to move into the area.
“Our neighborhood development plans are just something to serve as a catalyst for the community to get it started, to create opportunities for developers and others to come in and add to the community,” Livingston said.
Johnson said she was thrilled with the county’s efforts and that the project has spurred neighbors to take more pride in the area.
“It has added so much beauty in the neighborhood,” she said. “It has given persons in the neighborhood motivation to enhance where we live. With constant traffic up and down, we want things to look better.”