pride

It’s time to show my pride for my neighborhood. Some time ago, I found complete peace with telling “outsiders” where I live (in a city where people are judged based on address, and not occupation).

I want to encourage my neighbors to take pride in their choice to stake a claim here: no more making excuses to people who give a negative reaction to our neighborhood. We chose to live here, it was not our only option. We all saw something in this neighborhood that spoke to us. Whatever that was, we should embrace it!

how to: effect change #2

Some efforts in our neighborhood have been officially sponsored by our civic association, while others have been done quietly. What I mean here is that, in order to get things done, you have to learn discretion. Each situation calls for a different tactic, and, if it isn’t working, change your tactic.

2. Acquire political capital
There are situations where a sensitive issue requires popular opinion, and you need the right political capital to create change.
Example: Our Civic Association became a political force after we were able to shut down a nightclub. But, this was a very difficult endeavor that took eight months. Those eight months, I might add, brought a number of us to consider abandoning the neighborhood. A night club opened, without warning, and chaos descended upon our neighborhood every weekend (crowds, fights, gunfire, 15+ police vehicles for crowd control alone).

Stage 1: we went through the proper channels.
A number of residents went to the city’s zoning and codes enforcement, Fire department, and the state ABC board. The city forced the business owner to size the events down to the maximum occupancy, but, due to a loophole in the city’s land use ordinance, the nightclub was allowed to exist (the loophole, which was due to a “restaurant” being undefined was fixed a year later when other nightclubs became a problem). We contested the pending ABC license and won. The business owner had a number of violations from his previous ventures. We also sent out a letter to the church that owned the property, informing them of the issues that the club was creating for neighbors.

Stage 2: we tried reaching out to find a middle ground with the owner.
Once the ABC license was denied, the nightclub became a teen nightclub. Mass fights and shootouts spilled onto neighborhood streets. We called upon our City Councilperson and our police. But, the business owner declared that we were trying to shut him down because of race. In a city and area with less than stellar racial history, we found ourselves without any help from the city. We had stumbled onto an untouchable issue. We scheduled a meeting with the business owner to attempt a mediation for how he could run his business without negatively impacting the neighborhood. The meeting ended without any resolution.

Stage 3. we found an unlikely ally and garnered the much needed political capital.
There was so much outcry that the city could no longer ignore the issue (7 months in). The business owner scheduled a community meeting in association with police. During the meeting, the official RPD story was that the nightclub did not cause any issues in their policing activity. Now, on most nights, RPD has 2 – 4 patrol units per sector. Every Friday or Saturday, there was a minimum of 15 patrol units at this club. Every street officer I spoke with informed me that this was a huge issue, that officers were working overtime to monitor the weekly crowds and that patrols were pulled out of the other sectors. The community meeting also ended without any progress. But, someone sent a tip to the local newspaper, and a reporter covered a night at the club. Then, we hit the jackpot – the newspaper ran an editorial from a respected black editor, who lambasted the club for its exploitation of black teens. He noted that the club only added to the troubles faced by underprivileged black youth, instead of providing a positive entertainment venue. Within a month, the city shut down the club due to unpaid taxes.

Now, four years after this happened, I recognize that a lot of people worked behind the scenes at the city, so that when the neighborhood had the popular opinion, the club could be closed immediately. If a similar situation were to arise, I would find that political capital earlier in the process. However, this incident gave our civic association power: we have had better cooperation from the city in other efforts. We also have never had to worry about that property: we were told that the city planning department wouldn’t allow a similar use on that site again. And, four years later, the building was demo’d and a store built, with official approval and conditions from the civic association.

inspired by my idealistic generation

This story about a self-created group, determined to save old buildings in their city, shows what can change when a few people work to add life to neglected city areas. Current generations are turning around a large ship in this country: salvaging cities that previous generations abandoned during eras of white flight.

how to: effect change #1

Some efforts in our neighborhood have been officially sponsored by our civic association, while others have been done quietly. What I mean here is that, in order to get things done, you have to learn discretion. Each situation calls for a different tactic, and, if it isn’t working, change your tactic.

1. Publicize an issue

Sometimes, you need to make a big public stink about something that is or isn’t being done.
Example: our neighborhood park had major storm damage that the city ignored for two years. Despite the city receiving FEMA funds to correct the damage, the park was cordoned off and ignored. After multiple attempts to get action by going through the proper local government channels, our Civic Association president called the local press to bring attention to the issue. It worked. By the end of that year, the repairs were complete.

how to: not burn out

Almost two years after cleaning out the last drug houses and shutting down a club that was surrounded with violence, we have been riding easy! In fact, many of us who worked so hard to improve the neighborhood have enjoyed a respite from any large neighborhood projects: a much needed break. The creativity is starting to spring back to life with new park and public relations efforts (is the same neighborhood? ;)), but for a year and a half, a lot of us have been doing the bare minimum to ensure the neighborhood stays safe. But, what did we do with that time?

We found our sanity. For me, the break couldn’t have come at a better time – new jobs meant more time at work (and more money) for my husband and me. We exchanged fun parties with many neighbors, completed major house renovations, and did some traveling. Our focus went inward, and I started passing up neighborhood projects to focus on my own home. The best thing we did to overcome the burnout was to look to move away from the neighborhood! We had our realtor and a neighborhood small business owner (painting company) do a walk through of our house to determine what was needed to make it sell-ready. We got the house all fixed up, and fell back in love with it! So, for now, we are staying, and I’m ready to let RVA know what our neighborhood has become!

community.

Written by another resident in our community with regard to a send-off celebration we threw in honor of our last Sector Lieutenant: 

Last night was truly this neighborhood at its finest, from the reports during the meeting right through to the presentation and celebration. It was a testament to what can be accomplished when we work together (even when we disagree!) to make our neighborhood better. It showed that people are working, up front and behind the scenes, in numerous ways and made me proud to have neighbors who work so diligently and sacrificially on behalf of others. So thanks to those who have been a part of bettering this neighborhood for many years and thanks to those who have recently gotten involved. We may still have a ways to go, but we certainly have come a long way and it is because people are actively engaged in and doing the hard work of being a true neighbor. Sometimes the results of all the work aren’t so visible, but last night gave us a glimpse that they exist.

housing to rebound in cities, not suburbs

This article , quoting Robert Schiller, Yale professor and housing market guru, discusses the still slow road ahead, but notes that the shift in housing is toward renting and city living. So, for those of us who are waiting to see our revitalization efforts speed up with a housing recovery, it may not be fast, but it seems we are in a better position than the ‘burb dwellers.