Saturday, September 09, 2006

Reflections on the ANC meeting

First of all, sincere thanks for all the kind and supportive comments. It’s nice to know that people are reading this blog and that at least some of you like what you see.

To me, the most depressing thing about this whole affair was how quickly the discussion (if we can call it that) at the meeting turned into a racial thing. I guess I can understand how that could happen, but it’s still frustrating. What I also heard was basically this: We long-time [black] residents stuck it out here through the really bad times and worked to improve this place and now that things are safe enough you [white] gentrifiers are moving in here and trying to change everything.

Well, I’m not going to argue that there isn’t some truth in that. Most of us newcomers have other financial options—we didn’t have to be here, we chose to be here. Yes, if this neighborhood were still as dangerous as it used to be, many newcomers probably wouldn’t have made that choice. And yes, we owe a big debt to the folks who have been here all along and helped make those positive changes.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s quite that (pardon the expression) black-and-white. There are quite a few white folks around here who stuck it out through the drug wars as well. By no means are all of the “gentrifiers” (a term I really despise) white. Take my little condo development, for example: The developers were black, the realtor (and all his team) were black, the settlement attorneys were black, and half of the home owners are black. And if the white folks who did move here didn’t want to be around black folks, why would they have moved here in the first place?

Moreover, I think the things the newcomers want for the neighborhood are really the same things the older residents want. When I go to neighborhood meetings, this is what I hear—mostly from long-time residents: We want adequate police protection so that we can walk the streets without fearing for our lives; we want the drug dealers out of here; we want the police to get out of their cars so they can relate to people in the community, show up promptly when something happens, and take our complaints seriously; we want good and reliable services from the city and we want a response when we have problems; we want a decent education for our kids and we want them to have positive recreational opportunities to help them stay out of trouble; we want to have better and more diverse retail shops and restaurants in the community. Of course, there are other things, but those seem to be the biggies.

So if everyone basically wants the same things, why can’t we work together to achieve them? For one thing, I think that too often new and older residents don’t know each other well enough to help get past the suspicions each holds about the other. Only a small percentage of residents turn up for neighborhood association and ANC meetings, and there don’t seem to be very many other natural opportunities to mix and mingle.

How does all this relate to the ANC? Here’s what I think: The ANC commissioners are our first level representatives in the city government, and they’re supposed to reflect the will of the community. But let’s be honest, this is a community that has lots of tensions because of the changes it is going through. Our ANC commissioners should be providing leadership that helps bridge divisions and reduce those tensions. It should be possible to have disagreements without becoming enemies. It should be possible to express an opinion without having it put down because of the race of the speaker—all white people don’t think alike and neither do all black people. If someone has an idea or a project that benefits the community, what difference does it make who started it—let’s get behind it and try to get it done. Call me naïve if you want, but that’s what I’d like to see.

If the current ANC commissioners can provide that kind of positive leadership, then great—let’s keep them in office and build on their experience and community knowledge. If not, then maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.

This is going on too long, so I’m going to stop. Comments are welcome, but as I said before, let’s keep it civil and please identify yourself somehow—by initials, if nothing else.


At 11/07/2006 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. I appreciate your approach to examining the neighborhood and wish all neighbors can be as open-minded to discussing our area's pressing issues.

I'm neither white or black and I've been living in Mt. Vernon Sq. for the past three years. However, it seems some folks in the neighborhood are always quick to jump in with racial comments. It's rare that a week goes by without someone (usually in front of UHOP) tells me to go back to some distant parts of Asia. I've never been to those countries but would love to visit.

Just this morning a lady drove her car onto the side walk to confront me about my dog doing his business in front of her church. I live on this block and I always pick up after my dogs. That is just what a polite urban dweller does.

Even after witnessing my cleanup effort and hearing my apology for offending her, she continued to direct her anger at me at an extremely high volume. Her accusations got racial very quickly.

Incidents like this morning make me very concern about existing racial tension in this neighborhood. I can care less about what my neighbors look like. I just want decent neighbors who support a clean, safe and family-friendly neighborhood.

I wish the discussions can center around issues rather than what seems to be black vs. the rest of us. I'm not sure what to say about some neighbors' willingness to listen to those of us who have lived in the neighborhood for less than 10-30 years.

Ted L.


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