Residents in Matthews' Crestdale neighborhood heard several suggestions last week from the American Planning Association on how they can create a more defined identity and preserve their history.In the short term, the neighborhood can create better signs, develop community gardens and even create a walking trail with historical markers, said members of the Community Planning Assistance team in their preliminary report.In the long term, residents should establish their community identity and figure out how to stay true to it, they said."One of the main themes was that the community really has to speak with one voice to get the attention of Matthews or other externalentities," said team member Emil Malizia, who is a professor and chair of the City and Regional Planning Department at UNC Chapel Hill."Our suggestion was to try to get all the relevant players around the table to agree on a direction for the community.The American Planning Association team spent much of the week of July 18 talking with residents about their concerns and hopes for Crestdale, which is a 100-plus year old, historically black neighborhood.The 130-acre community sits between East Charles Street and Matthews-Mint Hill Road, near the heart of downtown Matthews.Discussions during the planning week quickly turned to creating an identity and direction for Crestdale, especially considering all of the new developments in the community's vicinity.The town plans to develop the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex near Crestdale. The 160-acre development will feature 12 fields, a 2,700-seat stadium, open space, walking trails, a cross country course, playgrounds and more.And Wingate University plans to open a $5 million educational center at Wingate Commons to serve more students by 2013.Longtime Crestdale resident Harvey Boyd said he is thankful that the APA chose to help his community over dozens of other applicants.Kathi Ingrish, Matthews' planning director, said she submitted the application to the association because "Crestdale has always been a unique neighborhood and they deserve this kind of ongoing effort to preserve it."The Community Planning Assistance team expects to release their final suggestions for the community in the next several weeks, said Ingrish.In the meantime, Boyd said several community members are working to revamp their charitable organization, which was created in 1982 to help further the community's development.Boyd said fundraising efforts faltered in recent years because of the sluggish economy and the deaths of key community leaders.But with the recent visit from the APA, Boyd said there's a renewed sense of purpose among residents to preserve the community's history and identity."It's really important to establish the identity of where you live if you want to do anything positive," said Boyd. "Otherwise you lose your identity as a historical community. And if you don't know who you are, you become somebody that anybody wants you to be."