Neighborhoods: Building Blocks for the SOMA Community

When we think of South Orange/Maplewood (SOMA), we think of its charming colonial and Tudor architecture, tree-lined streets and lush green spaces, but what really makes our two-town community special are the people and the neighborhoods.

Sara Thom from the Borden Park Neighborhood Association shares, “I’ve lived in my house for 14 years, but until the Borden Park Neighborhood Association formed about a year ago, I knew very few of the people who lived on my block. My quality of life is so much better now that I recognize neighbors I’ve met at meetings, and with whom I’ve collaborated for the good of our park and our neighborhood. Already in the past year, we’ve come together to sign a petition to request traffic calming on Orchard Road, formed a playgroup for families with young kids, established a welcome committee for new neighbors, and held a Saturday morning park clean-up. Our monthly meetings are usually attended by township officials, which helps us feel heard, and also helps keep us informed about various issues relevant to our township and neighborhood. Our Facebook group also helps keep us connected and informed about what’s happening in the “tree streets” (our nickname for Borden Park).”

Neighborhoods have been the catalyst for positive change and the champions protecting our community’s quality of life for decades. As one example, 23 years ago The Hilton Neighborhood Association in Maplewood formed in part, to counter white flight with efforts to be racially inclusive and to avoid the residential segregation patterns experienced by other communities facing fast demographic change. Something needed to be done.  Recognizing that there is power in numbers, these residents organized a group to work with the Coalition on Race and a major local realtor to send letters advising their neighbors to NOT post “For Sale” signs, even if their house was listed.  This approach helped to reduce the fear of declining property values that was fueling white flight.  This same neighborhood group also organized a campaign to oppose Maplewood Township’s plan to close the Hilton Branch Library – and won!

In addition to halting actions that could have been detrimental to residents in their neighborhoods, the Hilton Neighborhood Association and other neighborhood groups have launched efforts to inform local residents through annual forums that continue to this day. These forums include candidates forums for Board of Education and Township Committee elections and sessions with South Orange and Maplewood Police Chiefs and Captains of the Fire Departments.  If you want to stay on top of what’s going on in your neighborhood and you want to have your voice heard, join or form a neighborhood association.

Come out to the Neighborhood Summit sponsored by the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race Residential Committee on July 10th at 7:30 pm at the Woodland Parlor, 60 Woodland Ave. to learn more, or contact us at info@twotowns.org or 973-761-6116.    

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