Durham residents have started cleaning up two neglected neighborhoods near downtownon paper, at least.

Focus groups ranging from parents to clergy are working with designers and architects this week to imagine a new future for the ailing Rolling Hills and Southside, two communities separated by South Roxboro Street. They’ve talked about issues as specific as sidewalks and as broad as crime prevention, all in the hopes of transforming the now languishing locales in the inner city.

A team of planners is holding public meetings all week at the Hayti Heritage Center on Old Fayetteville Street. At 6 p.m. Friday, designers will unveil draft drawings they hope will translate the public’s best ideas into preliminary plans for an achievable makeover. The sketches might bring back the hope residents had when they moved to the communities years ago.

“We kind of lost our way,” said Véga Swepson, who has lived in the Southside neighborhood for 20 years. The neighborhood used to feel cohesive, she said, like a village. Now Southside is ill with gangs, drugs, vacant houses and low home ownership.

On the other side of South Roxboro Street, Rolling Hills has wilted away for years while city leaders debated how to salvage the failed development. (See “While downtown Durham flourishes, blocks away lies ailing, blighted Rolling Hills.”) Twice in the past 20 years, the city awarded public dollars to local developers to fill Rolling Hills with desirable homes, but the neighborhood was only partially completed. In an effort to cut its losses, the city has recovered the properties. But what could have persisted today as a sought-after neighborhood with valuable views of a downtown is now a wasteland of boarded-up homes and overgrown weeds.

Last month, city leaders committed to tackling the revitalization of both Rolling Hills and Southside in one comprehensive project. They voted to spend $745,000 on planning and selected the St. Louis-based firm McCormack Baron Salazar to lead the process. The firm will bring plans to city officials for approval next year.

The first phase of the redevelopment would create 250 rentals and 40 homes at varying price points, which would require about $15 million in local funding, said Larry Jarvis, assistant director of Durham’s Department of Community Development. City leaders hope that by initiating the redevelopment, they’ll create an area that’s much more attractive to private investors who would come in and continue to renew it.

Along with more affordable housing, residents who participated in focus groups this week said they needed amenities that would improve the quality of life in the targeted neighborhoods: parks, after-school activities and safe places for neighbors to gather. Moving forward also means looking back, many saidthe city should consider recognizing the heritage of the old Hayti neighborhood when naming the new site.

The public is invited to drop in during business hours to offer input or watch planners and designers at work. The Hayti Heritage Center is located at 804 Old Fayetteville St. A schedule of events is posted at the City of Durham’s Web site.