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Letting Ourselves Go

Of late I’ve been reading a lot of articles on how people don’t vote or don’t engage with their neighbors. There’s also been a sprinkling of how gentrification really happens and how it breaks down the neighborhood fabric. A few of those articles are right here (leaving the links inline so you can copy the source links if you need to):

One key piece in those articles is the sense of abandonment. In the case of the black folks mentioned, there were several elected leaders and home and business owners who took financial incentives in lieu of staying behind and strengthening their communities. Now unfortunately, the people who have the control and the money have made massive amounts of income and they are creating a gentrification situation of which it’s impossible for the average person to buy themselves into or stay behind. After all, these corporations are people now and they have rights too. There’s always been white flight abandonment and regular housing racism on top of all these stories. And then there’s the general abandonment of the idea of neighborliness. If kids are loud, don’t go talk to them, abandon them and call the cops. If the price is right, abandon the neighborhood and go out to supposedly greener pastures. And then there’s the general ignorance, of the need to take maybe an hour or two and vote. Or get someone who wants to vote, but just can’t get there, an absentee ballot or a ride to the polls.

I’ve written before on the content of character, as it comes to our places. I’ve asked the question about who owns the corner store and found that it doesn’t matter who owns the stores, it matters what the people do with said stores. And yes, because I do subscribe to some new urbanism, I do believe design is a factor. But it comes in with cleanliness of stores, safety of infrastructure (can you cross that street without being mowed down, on foot?), and commitment to know and trust your neighbors. Oh and even though I wish that we could have a lazy urbanism that doesn’t require voting, it’s just not possible, because we thrive on democracy.

At the recent Strong Towns National Gathering, I facilitated a late Saturday afternoon session on what it means to be a Strong Citizen. I started the crowd up pretty easy, with asking them what they would do with $100 of funds in their neighborhoods. However, I wanted the crowd to get deeper and think about what it would take to shake up their community as it is, much as Ferguson has been shaken, much as harsh gentrification and segregation have shaken communities in the past.

While I was able to get the crowd thinking, we benefited from an older Native American elder who stepped out and said the needed things about race and also whose land was it anyway. Yet, what I’m most proud of is this group was able to circle up, stay civil, right down some great answers to my questions (some of which will show up here or on the Strong Towns blog) and really think about how they can do better.

It’s going to take us waking up and deciding how to treat our neighbors, how to see our cities and neighborhoods in a better light, and also when necessary, getting dirty and getting out the tools to plow the garden, knock on the doors and nail the wood for the bus shelter. Because we cannot continue to let ourselves go.

Yes, this means bookcation is over. Pre-order now and get the brand new e-book, A Black Urbanist–Essays Vol. 1, when it releases on December 1 for only $10. I won’t charge your cards until December 1, so go ahead and set aside some holiday money for an awesome book, with some of your favorite essays and a few new ones.


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