It's a neighborhood with a storied history. It was here,
at the foot of what is now Cascade Street, that Commodore Oliver
Hazard Perry's fleet for the Battle of Lake Erie was
constructed. A few decades later, it was the site of a free
black community called New Jerusalem that harbored freedom seekers
on their way to Canada.
The Lower West Side was a place of tight-knit neighborhoods, but
the forces of economic and social change have frayed many of the
connections that had sustained the neighborhood for so long.
This is also the neighborhood that is home to Gannon University,
and is the heart of the area addressed by the University's
Erie-GAINS (Erie-Gannon Alliances to Improve Neighborhood
Sustainability) initiative, a long-term, mutually beneficial
community initiative designed to expand the University's efforts to
support the common good of the neighborhoods surrounding the
With its great store of intellectual and social capital, Gannon
University is ideally positioned to assist community
organizations. But what if no organization is in place? That
was the situation in the Lower West Side.
Into the breach stepped Erie-GAINS. Working in concert
with the Erie's Housing and Neighborhood Development Service
(HANDS), a private not-for-profit organization, and Bayfront NATO's
Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, Gannon participated in
the creation of the Lower West Side Planning Collaborative.
"Our hope is that this organization can be the force for
positive change, following the example of the Sisters of St. Joseph
Neighborhood Network in Little Italy or the Bayfront East Side Task
Force," said Erika Ramalho, Gannon's director of community &
government relations. "By virtue of their existence, such
organizations are eligible for funding through the Neighborhood
Assistance Programs offered by the PA Department of Economic and
Until such funding is secured, though, Gannon is moving forward
with initiatives in the neighborhood. One has been
completed: a survey of the housing stock, conducted by
students, which has been entered into the University's
sophisticated Geographic Information System (GIS) that permits
mapping and analysis of data, so that resources can be allocated to
areas with the greatest need.
The next data set to be added will be part of an ambitious
project by Christopher Magno, Ph.D., program director and assistant
professor of criminal justice. Magno, who was just named to
one of the University's prestigious Cooney-Jackman Endowed
Professorships, will pursue research on neighborhood safety and
signs of deterioration in the Lower West Side.
He will examine interrelationships among visible neighborhood
characteristics that suggest deterioration--broken windows,
vandalism, lack of street lights, graffiti, and abandoned
buildings-measure social services available to neighborhood
residents, neighborhood safety and security, and the incidence of
crime and violence. Gannon students are participating in his
research, an example of the types of community partnerships that
are a part of Gannon's newly adopted Strategic Plan.
"The MLK Center continues to focus on the quality of life for
our community, enhancing work, study, play and health," said the
Center's executive director James Sherrod. "Our joint
efforts in the neighborhood support MLKs mission and help identify
goals for our community development."
Thanks to the efforts of all involved, the making of history in
this historic neighborhood is far from over.