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Local change

Discussion in 'Tilted Philosophy, Politics, and Economics' started by girldetective, May 3, 2014.

  1. girldetective

    girldetective Getting Tilted

    Moving off the bigdogcrazytrain, I nervously moved myself right smack into the hood. Thinking I might be trading one hideousevilincarnatebipolarindividual for an entire hood of same, Im surprised to find Im thinking clearly and feeling free. Its been a long 5-6 years of no direction or changing direction with him, and it feels great to be a little bit me again without cringing. And, contrary to my belief, Im doing little cringing with regards to my hood neighbors.

    Instead, I want to move towards some change around here, but Im unsure how to go about it. How do people go about getting consensus, and then weapons of change into the hands of those who can make the changes?

    Many communities deal with this, but what are all the factors needed to implement change - in thinking, zoning, developing, etc? This is a beautiful area, with large swaths of land that are currently zoned commercial down the main street and populated with hardly thriving small businesses (mainly ethnic food joints that dont appear to have customers) with no jobs available. The residential situation behind this main street is horrible, however, there are stunning old growth parks that are out of use. There are no community activities, yet every other community in town and those that surround my hood, are hosting markets and fairs, engaging developers big and small, for both residential and business. In fact, the local development commission notes all of these factors, and then goes on to say that my hood should remain as is, to preserve the ethnic base that is here. I think that is fine, but it appears to be politic speak for let those bastardsliein hell. Of course, I dont like this. I think its unfairbigotedelistist and all that junk that keeps people down. In addition, the population itself doesnt seem to care.

    So, in the tradition of Leslie Knope, Im wondering about how to best stick my toes in the water and if you have some good advice.
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
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  2. Borla

    Borla Moderator Staff Member

    It is hard to be specific without knowing the city government setup there. Are you a neighborhood in a large city, that would have an alderman or councilman? Separate small/medium city with its own mayor or council?

    I love the Knope reference. :p
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  3. Chris Noyb

    Chris Noyb Get in, buckle up, hang on, & don't criticize.

    Large City, TX
    I have no answer, but I would suggest asking @Street Pattern.

    And I had to look up Leslie Knope.
  4. Street Pattern

    Street Pattern Very Tilted

    Um, what?
  5. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Organizing on the local level can be as simple as inviting the neighbors over for a barbecue.
    Setting up a block party, finding out what the main concerns are and who would be will to do the grunt work to fix the problem, then get out front.
    Once you've handled a few simple problems, been a voice at a few meetings, and people recognize you as a local gadfly, you run for office.
    Keep it simple, be honest, make sure people know you're listening to them, push hard for what you believe in but be willing to work with everyone and you can make a difference.
  6. Street Pattern

    Street Pattern Very Tilted

    I'm not very clear on what you're looking for here.

    When it comes to (re)development, especially on a large scale, zoning changes, etc., you will find that a lot of people are instinctively opposed. The neighborhood as it stands is the familiar devil they know, and they will be reluctant to trade it for a future version where they might find themselves suddenly unwelcome, or priced out. Developers prefer to build for upscale customers, and that usually means driving out the people who were there before.

    What might be more appealing is doing something with vacant lots and abandoned buildings, inevitably smaller scale stuff, but turning dead zones into active places makes the neighborhood safer and healthier.

    And those ethnic food joints would be long gone if they really didn't have any customers.

    Why are the parks out of use? Are they difficult for neighborhood people to get into? Do they lack the kinds of facilities that local kids and families want or need?

    Practically every neighborhood has under-appreciated resources. Those parks may be one. Church congregations? Branch libraries? Architectural features or historic buildings? There are surely artists and performers around who could be encouraged. Markets and fairs don't spring up of their own accord, rather, they are created by organizers and publicists, maybe you need some of those, or to energize and equip the ones you already have.

    One very, very important thing: a neighborhood without a name has no meaningful existence. Urban studies have demonstrated this again and again: grass-roots action to establish a name and define boundaries is extraordinarily powerful. And of course you need a neighborhood voice to go with it -- an organization and maybe also a newsletter to keep residents informed.

    You don't want your neighborhood to be disregarded as a random space on the map. You want it to be an entity that decisionmakers take into account. And decisions are being made about your neighborhood every single day, decisions by police, utilities, insurance companies, banks, traffic engineers, political activists, realtors, landlords, tenants, people moving in, people moving out, people deciding where to eat and shop, etc., etc.

    None of this will work if the residents hate their own neighborhood. There needs to be at least some tenuous pride in living there and taking control of it. Positive thoughts and ideas about the neighborhood should be encouraged.

    What is this "development commission" you speak of? What gives them the power to decide what happens in the neighborhood? Surely they wouldn't stop someone from fixing up an empty storefront, or building on a vacant lot? Who appoints them, and what political agenda does the appointing authority have?

    I cannot stress enough that neighborhood orgs can have tremendous clout in changing the way outsiders think about their area. Even a small number of activists can make a big difference.
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
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  7. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    I agree with much of the above.

    Check if there is a neighborhood advisory commission that has any authority with the city and reports to the city council on a regular basis ( I served on my NAC years ago, mostly got complaints about barking dogs and noisy teens at night). Even informal neighborhood groups are great for networking. If there is a community center nearby, organize a meeting at that facility and promote it through the center's outreach (newsletter, website, facebook, old fashioned bulletin boards and handouts) but have a specific agenda and keep it focused. Get to know neighborhood leaders (businesses, community based groups).

    Check the city website and read city council minutes (mostly boring) and attend city council meetings if you see something of interest on the agenda..speak up at the meeting (ask questions - how to get involved), volunteer for city programs and network with city elected officials and staff. If the council is elected by district, get to know your councilmember (in person, councilmember web page, facebook, twitter, etc.) Find out when he/she is in the neighborhood...be there!
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  8. Chris Noyb

    Chris Noyb Get in, buckle up, hang on, & don't criticize.

    Large City, TX
    The above is exactly why I suggested asking @Street Pattern.

    From my limited experience, it's the possibility of "driving out" of the poor that scares many people.

    In West University it was the higher property taxes that drove out many previously 'comfortable' homeowners who didn't qualify for the locked-in tax rate (at age 65, IIRC).

    In Mid-Town, the area between Downtown and the Texas Medical Center, the good news is the development boon has gotten rid of many empty lots, abandonded properties, crack houses, etc. The bad news is it has driven out many longtime residents who can no longer afford the new tax rates.
    Last edited: May 4, 2014
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  9. Street Pattern

    Street Pattern Very Tilted

    The neighborhood advisory commission is a Washigton DC institution which, sadly, has been replicated in very few places.

    In Detroit (and many, many other cities), the council was elected all at-large for more than a century. The only way to get elected to city council was to be a citywide media figure.

    Detroit had almost two dozen state reps -- all elected at-large as well!

    All this was entirely deliberate, because when these arrangements were made, some of those neighborhoods had black people, and the idea of even one black person on the city council was just unthinkable.

    As a result, to be an activist with a Detroit neighborhood base was completely worthless in politics. It didn't matter what people in any particular neighborhood thought or wanted. This really undermined the whole idea of having a neighborhood or caring about it at all.

    Instead of a huge mosaic of named and organized neighborhoods (like, say, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, etc.), in Detroit, people say where they live by naming a nearby intersection, like Dexter-Davison or Jeff(erson)-Chalmers.

    Hence, when neighborhoods were devastated by white flight, segregation, crime, poverty, joblessness, arson, etc., etc., there was no one who bothered to fight to save them.

    At long, long last, starting in the 2013 election, some of the council members are elected from districts, but each of those districts is vast, and there is very little neighborhood or even sectional identity in Detroit.

    Take a look at this map from the Wikipedia article Neighborhoods in Detroit.


    Those two gray blocks in the middle are the cities of Highland Park (desperately poor and municipally bankrupt) and Hamtramck (a Polish and Ukrainian enclave).

    Note that some of the marked "neighborhoods", like "North End" and "Jefferson Corridor" are city planner fantasies, not anything the people who live there would recognize.

    "Midtown" is the city's Newspeak version of what locals call Cass Corridor (where I lived in 1980-82). For example, the neighborhood org is the 4Cs, which stands for Concerned Citizens of the Cass Corridor. City planners disdain the name because suburbanites still think of Cass Corridor as Detroit's vice district.

    Eastern Market (Detroit's vast commercial farmer's market) is very active on Saturdays but has almost zero inhabitants.

    Woodbridge (where I lived in 1979-80) and Corktown are very small neighborhoods within the huge dark green territory marked with both of those names. I mean, about 5% of that area is Woodbridge, about 2% is Corktown, and the other 93% is neither.

    Similarly, Palmer Park, Palmer Woods, and the University District (all strong neighborhoods by Detroit standards) are entirely on the west side of Woodward Avenue, so the east half of the "Palmer Park area" zone marked in blue is just as undifferentiated as the rest of the East Side.

    Southwest Detroit is distinct from the rest mainly by ethnicity -- it's the largely Hispanic and Arabic section. When I lived in Detroit, it had a very strong alliance of neighborhood groups called MACO, but I could find very little mention of it online today.

    Anyway, this is a vast city which until recently had a million people. And even on this map, which exaggerates the areas with strong neighborhood identities, most of it is undifferentiated.
    Last edited: May 4, 2014
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  10. genuinemommy

    genuinemommy Moderator Staff Member

    I find this conversation fascinating. I am sad that I have nothing to contribute, but want to step in and wish you the best. I'm so happy your neighborhood now has at least one eloquent individual residing there who wants to instigate positive change.
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  11. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Then too, there are places where the state has passed laws where they can assign someone who can take over the city and negate everything done by the elected officials.
    This one of those fun things Republican states do to Democrat towns and cities with financial issues.
    Issues often caused by the very things Street Pattern talked about in his post.
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  12. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Foggy Bottom
    Street....good stuff on Detroit! I havent been there in years.

    We have data on council elections - at large v district (or mixed)
    Municipal Elections

    And, true about NACs. Not many cities have something similar to Wash, DC. (Los Angeles, Seattle...) but more cities are beginning to adopt neighborhood councils as a way of encouraging civic engagement.

    Another option would be creating a civil association (no formal relationship with the cit government).

    Example: Greater Raleigh Court Civic League - Roanoke, VA

    National Civic League might have models.

    If all else fails, call your county clerk at home at midnight! :eek:
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Chris Noyb

    Chris Noyb Get in, buckle up, hang on, & don't criticize.

    Large City, TX
    I have question that has nothing to do with what @girldetective is wanting, but this seems like a good place to ask it:

    Is Detroit as bad as the media makes it out to be?

    I've read reports and seen TV specials that make it out to be a cesspool. The Abraham brothers and Jerry Zucker (filmmakers) have made quite a few Detroit jokes in their movies.
  14. Street Pattern

    Street Pattern Very Tilted

    Yes and no.

    Detroit has a lot of amazing resources. It's a music city, the original home of Motown Records, and Eminem. Jazz, blues, and hip-hop all thrive there. Wayne State University and the University of Detroit are both highly regarded, with many nationally ranked programs, including the nation's largest medical school. The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of the foremost art museums in America. Belle Isle is a huge island park with landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted. The city's elite Victorian-era cemetery, Elmwood, is beautifully maintained and widely cherished, in sharp contrast with similar cemeteries in other depressed Rustbelt cities.

    But in general, Detroit is surely in worse shape than any other major city.

    The sheer quantity of devastation is just staggering. The city was founded in 1701, but so much has been destroyed (freeways, urban renewal, arson, abandonment) that there are few surviving structures predating 1900. Especially on the east side, there are miles of empty blocks that used to be lively, crowded neighborhoods.

    Grafitti and gang markers cover everything (almost like the NYC subways in the 1980s).

    The suburbs have modern supermarkets representing all the Midwestern grocery chains, but all of their Detroit stores were gone by 1980. As a Detroiter, I became accustomed to buying food in grim, filthy places; some items were months past their sell-by date. I once accidentally bought a package of margarine that "expired" seven months earlier!

    When I took a bus out to a suburb to do grocery shopping (an hour each way), an ordinary Kroger's was just dazzling -- a wider, fresher selection and much lower prices than I was accustomed to.

    In terms of education, Detroit's schools are so bad that they're completely outside of the distribution, compared to other "inner cities" like St. Louis or Baltimore or Memphis or Cleveland.

    Obviously the collapse of the automobile industry is a big reason for this. Detroit was (and still is) a one-industry town. Hundreds of thousands of jobs disappeared in just a few years.

    Almost as big a factor is segregation. Detroit was more racially segregated than any Southern city. Starting around World War I, the city's entire black population was confined to a quite literal ghetto, a tiny and hugely overcrowded neighborhood on the East Side. Unlike more corrupt cities, it didn't matter how much money you had: you couldn't bribe your way out.

    There are old photographs showing a high concrete wall bordering the old ghetto. I don't think it was completely walled in, but the official and unofficial restrictions were extraordinarily tight.

    As a result, Detroit never had any integrated schools. Detroit had zero experience of black and white families living side by side. The separation of the races was nearly total, for decades.

    But around 1960, the ghetto boundaries broke down, and its highly compressed population exploded outward. The city's white population fled in terror. Whole square miles went from 100% white to 100% black in a year.

    The Detroit riot in 1967 is still often mentioned as a turning point, when many whites abandoned the city. (By contrast, contemporaneous riots in other cities are now just a historical footnote.)

    In 1973, Coleman Young was elected mayor. At the time, he was seen as a terribly divisive figure, but more than anything he did, the simple reality of black political power was seen as the end of Detroit for white people. (No one reached that kind of conclusion when Harold Washington took office in Chicago, or David Dinkins in New York.)

    Pretty soon, the "ghetto" boundaries were the Detroit city limits.

    Right next to Detroit is a large, mostly working-class suburb called Dearborn (home of Ford Motor Company). For decades, Dearborn had an openly racist mayor named Orville Hubbard, who vowed to keep Negroes out of his city.

    The invisible boundary between Detroit and Dearborn has many twists and turns (see the southern edge of the "West Side" on the map posted above). It wanders through the middle of neighborhoods. The houses on one side match the houses on the other side.

    But even today, all along that complicated line, the inhabitants are 100% white on the Dearborn side, and 100% black on the Detroit side.

    A similar situation prevails along most of Eight Mile Road, the city's northern boundary.

    In Baltimore, or Cleveland, or St. Louis, or Miami, notwithstanding who lives inside or outside the city limits, I think there is some sense of investment in the central city, some awareness that the fate of the city and its suburbs are intimately linked.

    That sense of common purpose has been almost completely absent in Detroit. The suburbs mentally walled it off and forgot about it. White suburban political leaders vehemently oppose any measure that might benefit Detroit. City residents are firmly stereotyped as violent welfare recipients.

    In all those other cities, it would be unremarkable for a middle-class suburban white person to choose to move into the city. Sure, there might be drawbacks, but it was a perfectly plausible thing to do, maybe a little hipster-ish.

    In Detroit, until very recently, for a suburbanite to voluntarily move into Detroit would be an unthinkably radical move. It would be equivalent to announcing to your shocked friends that you had become a Trotskyist or a Scientologist.

    Until perhaps ten years ago, Detroit's stigma was so strong that not even young hipsters dared to colonize Detroit's extraordinarily cheap housing.

    Some of these things are changing, slowly, but this is still a very depressing story.
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
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  15. girldetective

    girldetective Getting Tilted

    Hey! Thanks for the interest!

    I live in a suburb of a really fabulous city that is environmentally and socially concerned. There has been massive growth in all areas, and the kind of growth I appreciate - neighborhood involvement, social sensitivity, small business growth, strong neighborhood coalitions, and so forth. Everything is looking good in PDX superficially. Of course, there are problems such as the pushing out of lower income population, traffic/parking, skyrocketing prices, etc. (Interestingly, there was a recent neighbhood coalition that spoke with retailer Trader Joes about their intention to build a new store in their hood. The citizens complained that the store would not benefit them, and Trader Joes pulled out of the deal. This is the first time though, that I have heard of a developer choosing to listen to the hood. Generally at the meetings I have attended, the developers land after the fact, after they have secured their various permits.)

    Anyway, now I reside in a burb. Before moving here I read the town newspaper and checked out the towns different ratings, as well as their city website info regarding planning, neighborhoods, etc. When I read that I was moving to an awful area, I thought I might try to put this hood back on the map.

    Some of the ways I thought to do this was to attend neighborhood meetings, walk around and talk to people in this hood, letters to government and newspapers, and the other usual ways that an unheard citizen goes about looking for action. I thought perhaps I would invest a little of my own $$ (not much) into creating/sending marketing packets to a couple of investors I know, as well as to some companies I would be interested in seeing here. Its unique, but something has to happen to bring peoples attention to it.

    There are a number of problems that I see. One is that it is a typical suburb, with seemingly no growth boundary. Building is going on all over the place, with little regard to what the hell it will result it. There is a downtown core that has been invested in, but then the powers that be dont seem to encourage that design, instead approving all sorts of junk, all over the place, looking for tax revenue rather than function.

    It was not so long ago that this hood was part of a bigger neighborhood association, but it was channeled off to deal with "their own, unique problems", meaning color other than the whitest white. The planning commission also addresses this in their report, suggesting the ethnic quality remain as is. Thats fine. In fact, I want to embrace it!

    The overwhelming problem is that this is a transient area - lots of apts, rentals, and so forth. This makes it hard for people to invest it.

    Ill write more later, but I need to have a bite to eat. Im posting this without editing.
    Thanks again for responding!
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