While all eyes are on Winooski's massive downtown redevelopment, a smaller, quieter effort is underway to rehabilitate the Onion City's "West End" -- an area stretching from West to North Streets, and from Elm Street to the railroad tracks that cross Malletts Bay Avenue. It's the neighborhood formerly known as "the Flats."
A group of 75 citizens discussed the informal name-change at an October meeting convened to address quality-of-life issues in the neighborhood. A few of the people who attended said they didn't like the old name, according to J. Ladd, Winooski's Community Development Director. When it was coined decades ago, the term contrasted the area with wealthier parts of town, like "the Heights."
"There was some question about whether 'the Flats' was a pejorative term," Ladd explains.
The new name, he says, "seems more descriptive," since the neighborhood is in fact on the west side of the square-mile-large city; the steep streets close to Malletts Bay Avenue are anything but flat.
But "the West End" isn't the neighborhood's only nickname -- some residents have made up their own monikers. Megan Moir, who owns a house on West Lane, calls her street "Crack Lane" because of the drug trade she suspects is happening nearby.
Moir was one of a handful of residents who came to the Winooski Family Center last Wednesday to learn how to start a neighborhood-watch program. Her house was burglarized last year. Nearly everyone else at the meeting had a similar story. At the October meeting, Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen reported that in 2003, his department made 765 calls to the small neighborhood, resulting in 180 arrests.
The 2004 Crime Report has not yet been released, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the high-crime trend continued in the West End, at least during the first half of the year, before the neighbors started to organize.
Ladd notes that the watch training is part of a larger effort to form a neighborhood association; the city also sponsored several study circles over the last few months. Even Moir admits that there seems to be some momentum. "It is getting better," she says.