We have watched with keen interest and burgeoning hope as a cadre of caring Watertown residents begins the hard work of revitalizing this historic neighborhood.|
The former village, which has been part of East Moline for nearly a century, once was populated by Deere & Co. employees who began moving there to occupy homes that the company had built. They built a thriving town that once rivaled East Moline in size. But like many aging communities in the Quad-Cities and around the nation, it has been on a long slide.
Throughout the years there has been no shortage of leaders who have stepped up to combat problems like poverty, crime, lack of opportunity, absentee landlords and abandoned properties.
People like the late Crotis Teague spent a lifetime working to raise up Watertown. It was clearly a labor of love for this longtime East Moline alderman who did everything from battling for demolition of rundown houses to renting tables and chairs for block parties. We can't help but think he'd be thrilled by the latest efforts.
So would Florence Aldridge who led a more than decade-long effort to build the youth center that bears her name.
Denny Jacobs, former East Moline mayor and longtime state legislator, was born in Watertown and worked hard to help it battle against the odds.
Neighbors repeatedly have responded when called upon to do things like clean up the neighborhood or raise money for new playground equipment for Watertown kids.
These successes are worthy of celebration. They also should serve as inspiration to the 4,100 people who call the Watertown neighborhood home as they face many of the same old problems and some new ones.
The problems are deep and vexing. Combatting them won't be easy. And resources for doing so among residents -- more than half of whom are people of color and more than a third of whom are low- to moderate-income -- are at a premium. That makes the efforts of volunteers the most important currency for success. Organizers of the Watertown Community Empowerment Coalition understand that. They are people like Ald. Gary Westbrook and artist and activist Nate Lawrence who want to improve the area of East Moline centered around 19th Street north of 18th Avenue.
Both men have deep roots in Watertown and remember better times. They recalled for reporter Anthony Watt a time when the neighborhood teemed with life and residents crowded a community center, an open-air market and a busy business district. Today, the schools have closed, the center is gone and businesses that remain can be counted on one hand.
"To be quite honest, I don't know how many strengths are left in the community besides the people themselves," Ald. Westbrook said. If they are the right people, they could prove to be the community's most valuable resource.
Early interest is encouraging as the coalition seeks non-profit status and continues to organize. On the wish list are things like a new community center, a grocery store and a community garden. Organizers also hope that the new group will encourage Watertown residents to get involved in their government once again. History shows that such active involvement pays dividends.
Organizers also are wise to guard against burnout. As Mr. Lawrence noted, Watertown has seen other such efforts flame out. The key is ensuring that the coalition remains active and relevant. "This is an exercise in sustainability," he said.
Toward that end, we urge East Moliners and Quad-Citians to join us in support of the effort to create a viable engine for change in this important Quad-Cities community.