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Miles Park featured in video about Safe Routes initiative

The city of Cleveland plans to tear down more than 500 vacant properties to improve safety for students who walk to and from school and to eliminate some of the stress that keeps students from fulfilling their academic potential.

The initiative is in support of the Safe Routes to School program that the District and city have been collaborating on for the past two years. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams and other local officials announced the initiative last week during a press conference at Miles Park School.

“Safety is our paramount concern in the city of Cleveland and especially the safety of our young people,” Williams said. “They are the future of this city; they are great resources that we have to protect, and we want to make sure they’re safe to and from school.”

In recent months, Cleveland Interim Director of Building and Housing Ayanna Blue Donald has been working with the Safe Routes department to identify which homes will be demolished. They chose homes that are within 500 feet of main student walking routes and that had already been boarded and condemned by the city, Donald said.

The demolition was made possible by voter approval of income tax increase in November, according to the mayor. The project is expected to touch almost every neighborhood in the city.

Crews began demolishing three houses directly across the street from Miles Park after the press conference. Seventh-grader E’Lysha Greene stood beside a few of her classmates and looked on as an excavator tore into one of the houses. Greene lives down the street from Miles Park and walks to school every day.

But since her older brothers went on to high school, E’Lysha said, she and her sister get nervous walking alone, especially past abandoned homes.

“We have to walk with numerous other people to get to school in case of any major problems,” she said. “That’s why we’re really glad they’re tearing down these houses near our school and our house so we can be safer.”

Greene is not alone in her fears, according to Miles Park Principal Tamika Taylor-Ivory. In fact, after student surveys showed that safety was a major concern for students, Taylor-Ivory said she and her staff dug deeper to find out what made students feel unsafe. The results showed that while students felt secure at school, their travels to and from school were a source of fear.

This fear was compounded by the recent murder of 14-year-old girl Alianna DeFreeze who was kidnapped on her way to a charter school in the Union-Miles neighborhood.

“I’ve even had parents say that they like the school but don’t want to send their child here due to the state of the neighborhood,” she said. “This could be a huge help with calming some of that fear and bringing families back to the school.”

Since getting the news about the demolitions, Taylor-Ivory said she has been in talks with the city and community partners to turn the empty lots across the street into an outdoor learning space.

Late last year, the mayor appointed veteran prosecutor Duane Deskins as the city's first chief of prevention, intervention and opportunity for youth and young adults. Deskins said the razing of abandoned properties will help improve the lives of the city's young people by taking away what he calls "structural violence."

"Safety means more than the absence of crime; it means the presence of opportunity," he said. "Each and every time one of these buildings comes down, there's opportunity available."