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Monday, January 19, 2009

A dreamer, a doer, who's next?

It's amazing isn't it? Everywhere I go, people are talking about politics, public officials, public issues, and hope. I spent time with quite a few friends over the last few days and people are taking time to hope, be optimistic, and set aside their stress while our new President is inaugurated and people celebrate.

I have never known political optimism in this way. I grew up during the VN War, followed by Watergate, WIN, our National Malaise, Just Say No, etc. I grew up with the assumption that at any moment some idiot would press a button and we would all be vaporized. Good thing I was taught to get under a desk or build a bomb shelter in the backyard! I remember seeing JFK's funeral on TV, but didn't understand it. I understood too well what it meant when MLK's funeral was on TV. And I still get teary eyed when I think about Teddy Kennedy eulogizing his brother, RFK, at his funeral.

So, I am awed, inspired, and a little bit overwhelmed at the prospect of being in Washington, DC to see Obama sworn in as President. I want to be part of the euphoria, the optimism, the expectation for the future. Should be fun!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Missionaries in the hood

A really sad story in the Philly area. read it here
This guy - an ex cop, a former Peace Corps volunteer, and all around good guy, white, brings supplies, delli, and produce to a poor neighborhood that does not have a grocery store. He has a rolling store in a school bus and is welcomed by many of the residents in the neighborhood. He has done this for many years. He is called a good Samaritan. I was touched. The widow's words were wonderful. She and the kids distributed all the remaining inventory in the neighborhood and were greeted by the residents and embraced, promising that they would see to justice. The police have no suspects.

The widow said he was out to save the world. She fought with this missionary to stop spending his time with so little monetary return. The deceased said he felt the need to serve. How could this man be killed? Must be ungrateful thugs. Right?

Well intentioned people make a fatal mistake - I'm doing good and people will be grateful. Wrong. Why? Because that view is only from the missionary perspective. This guy was out to help and serve - and make a small profit. No one would begrudge him that. But he lives outside this neighborhood and has the privilege of entering as frequently or infrequently as he likes. He does not live there and his relationship to the community is as a merchant. He saw himself as a savior - not unlike the Peace Corps work he did. But in the PC, you live 24/7 in your community. You don't commute in. You empower the people of your community - you don't provide them with stuff. You share your knowledge and you teach. So for 18 years this guy brought goods in, sold them, and had a nice relationship with his customers. He was not serving them. If he were, he would have worked with the community to open their own shop. Teach them how to build their inventory, how to make a business plan, how to have a cash flow, and how to sell. Then they would have taken on their own business and flourished on their own. Instead, he kept them dependent on him for 18 years in the name of "service." He never saw it coming. He should have. God bless him for his attitude, but let's learn something from his demise.

Success for urban revitalization #2: Work with the community, not for it. Residents should be subjects of interaction, not objects of care.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


A lot of people are getting real apoplectic about a new set of crime reports that suggest rising rates in homicides can be linked to the increasing number of young men of color. The statisticians are hard at work trying to blow holes in each others p values, but that's not the subject of my thoughts today.

The NYT had an interesting piece about the black community's reaction to the New Year's Day killing by police of an unarmed young black man in Oakland. The policeman apparently went for his tazer and instead pulled his gun. Oops. The community took to the streets of Oakland and looted shops and burned cars (not unlike what the fans in Philly did when the baseball team won the world series - no kidding). Here is the NYT article.

What really struck me about all this is the following snippet from the article:
"I wonder about the impact of vicarious trauma. Police officers (and social workers) are secondary witnesses to really hard circumstances everyday. None more so than Oakland Police. I wonder how absorbing trauma everyday impacts professional roles (not to mention personal lives) on the job. I work with social workers who abuse their power and no longer see the individual person. Social workers who refer to real people as useless crack heads. I wonder if they have absorbed too much trauma and do not even realize it. This is the analogy of the frog in the pot… you have heard it. If you dump a frog in boiling water it will jump out. But if you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it will cook to death. I have seen social workers and police officers who are boiled frogs and they don’t even know it."

Only an outsider could make such a statement. Police and Social Workers??? What about the people that live there? They absorb trauma every day too and it is worse for them because many of the people know the victim or know someone who knows the victim or went to the same school, etc. It's personal and traumatic. And then you wonder why people who live in the inner city get jaded? Duh. It's one of the things I realized happened to me when I lived in KC. I got used to it. I got jaded. I adjusted. And when a police officer comes in and shoots an unarmed man - yeah, the people are going to get upset. They say enough is enough. Those perceived as outsiders come in and shoot us, like we don't have enough trouble living here as it is. You come in, punch in a shift, and then leave. Call us crack-heads. What do you know about it, really?

Now I know that some people who read this will throw up their hands at the liberal sympathizer, blah, blah, blah. Well here is my solution to this problem and it is one that I have already suggested in Camden. Anyone who works for a government unit should live in that jurisdiction. Cops should live in the city, teachers should live in the city, social workers should live in the city, etc. In Camden (and elsewhere) cities gave up on residency requirements because they felt they couldn't get good people to take jobs if they had to live in the city or that good people would quit if forced to make a choice. Well, I say let them. If you can't live where you work for the taxpayers and residents of the city - you have absolutely no business enforcing laws, rules, or regulations. If a city cannot believe in itself enough to demand its employees live in the jurisdiction, then why should anyone who lives outside the city take the city seriously? I mean really. Why do I want scared suburban people creeping into my city to collect a paycheck and being "traumatized." Live here 24/7 and we can talk. If the police, teachers, and social workers live in the city, 2 things will happen: one they get rid of the us v. them and become a we. two is that they will demand improvement in the city and will work to get it. If they refuse to live there and quit, then those that take their jobs will be subject to those 2 things as well. If existing residents take the jobs, they will find themselves surrounded on the job by their neighbors. A change in residency requirements will produce a cultural transformation in these important public sectors.

So solution #1 to urban revitalization is have all government employees of the city (including police, fire, and teachers), live in the city.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year - re-direction for this blog

Bret said...
There are probably three things that are the biggest problems with the murders on the East side. They're complex problems, with a lot of other moving parts, but if you fixed these three things, a lot of the problems would go away:
1) More police (which takes money from taxpayers)
2) Better Schools
3) More job opportunities or better public transit to the available job opportunities.

Scaring the hell out of people that KCMO is not safe -- causing people and businesses to not want to relocate here - is going to make at least 2, maybe 3, of these problems worse, not better.
It doesn't mean we should try to stop the problem -- but we should just run around waiving our hands that the sky is falling when it is all statistically very predictable.
1/06/2009 09:17:00 AM

Do You See Me? said...
This city was built on fear and continues to feed the suburban growth with the same fear mongering. We reap what we sow and now we don't know how to turn it around because it is out of control. The Eastside will turn around when we get the 3 things Brent identified. But those won't come until fear no longer works to the advantage of the white "haves." The city is exactly as we want it. Want something different? Do something different.
1/06/2009 11:04:00 AM

mainstream said...
Better schools, more police amd more jobs aren't anything near new concepts.
They're meaningless statements, and bullshit platutudes that require no skill or critical thinking.
Now, ideas that will make these three, and other things, happen is another story.
1/06/2009 02:58:00 PM
This a running commentary on a story posted at Tony’s Kansas City about a blog post at Toellner Tells It concerning the record high murder rate on the Eastside of Kansas City – the poorest, mostly African-American and Latino part of the city. I used to live there. The original post on Toellner is of little interest to me, but the blog’s author, Bret made an amendment to his blog and posted it at TKC (above). I then commented on why things don’t change (Do You See Me?), followed by an acerbic retort from Mainstream (a frequent commenter on KC blogs). This is the kind of political conversation I am used to on a daily basis in Kansas City. I have searched in vain for such dialogue in the blogging community in South Jersey and Philadelphia.

Maybe people in the Philly part of the world are cynical or have given up. In contrast, the Midwest is often optimistic, often opinionated, and sometimes derogatory on its own condition. Kansas City is lamentably referred to as a “cow town” by its own people. Maybe the Philly area is so often the butt of jokes from outside the area that they don’t take themselves seriously? Consider how many “joisey” jokes you’ve ever heard. These two streams of thought – the political commentary about the urban condition and the activism of bloggers in KC and the lack of the same in Camden -- leads me to a couple of thoughts that will redirect my blog for awhile.

1. I learned a heck of a lot while I lived in KC and I continue to keep up with what’s going on there because it is an interesting political place for someone like me who really follows local issues and is dedicated to urban revitalization. So how I can I use what I learned there to affect improvement in Camden?

2. “Mainstream” has a point – we can make platitudes all day about revitalization, but what is the blueprint? I feel like I have worked on that my whole life and yet – what difference have I really made? What are the answers to “mainstream’s” questions and how can I make that a reality in Camden?

My best friend often says, play big or don’t play. I agree. I like to remind myself that if you aren’t in the game, you’re just taking up space on the planet. This is my game and I plan to play big.

In my next post I will have some preliminary thoughts on answering “mainstream’s” questions. I hope that the community of civic minded and thoughtful people in the Camden area will find this blog and begin a dialogue with me as well as bring me into whatever existing dialogues take place that I have yet to find.

Friday, January 2, 2009

the end of the southern strategy

Paul Krugman rocks! Woe to the Republicans that just didn't see the transition of this country through its diversity. Their wedge politics of race is over. Read Krugman's column. He states it better than I can.