Why Not?

s-linne.jpgby Sonya Jongsma Knauss

A successful city neighborhood is a place that keeps sufficiently abreast of its problems so it is not destroyed by them. An unsuccessful neighborhood is a place that is overwhelmed by its defects and problems and is progressively more helpless before them… Our failures with city neighborhoods are, ultimately, failures in localized self-government. And our successes are successes at localized self-government. — Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Riverwest has a reputation as an activist neighborhood, and for good reason. There are many people and groups here who take an active and visible role in both formal and informal “self-government” in our neighborhood — whether that means advocating for certain positions and ideals at city, county, state, or national government levels, or participating in a neighborhood organization or block club. But there are some groups that have been missing from the table. As a friend of mine told me, “I stopped going to RNA meetings because there didn’t seem to be anything relevant to my life.” She was talking about our area’s youth. Now, it may be debatable whether green space and development issues, crime updates, etc. are irrelevant to anyone’s quality of life in Riverwest, but she had a point. Youth and unemployment concerns have merited much less discussion at most neighborhood meetings than issues like how the Reservoir was and is going to be developed once it is decommissioned. But that may be changing. The Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) acted last month to establish a youth committee, and one of our community’s skilled young leaders, Self Wise Allah of the Cream City Mentors, has agreed to chair the committee. He is looking for interested residents to help him in cataloguing opportunities and programs available to youth in our neighborhood, and he is especially interested in the need for jobs and job training for at-risk teens. The association also is also reviving a committee focusing on Holton Street issues. While the Riverwest Currents has no official affiliation with the RNA, some who work on the newspaper also play an active role in the neighborhood association. It was out of these meeting discussions that we decided to do a series focusing on Holton Street, which holds a unique place in our neighborhood and our city. RNA’s development committee is also getting revived. With new developments being announced and new businesses opening almost every month, Riverwest is changing. For those concerned about gentrification and development issues, the only way to have any influence is to be informed and take a pro-active role. The Reservoir has been a key issue because Water Works Commissioner Carrie Lewis came before the neighborhood to ask for direction in how near neighbors would like to see the land used. That’s an incredible invitation, and one residents didn’t pass up. The neighbor we chose to feature in this month’s neighbor spotlight made a point worth thinking about: “I was getting too upset about everything that was going on in the world and I thought, ‘I can’t do anything but within my own area.'” If you want to make a difference, a sure way to see results is to act locally — in your own neighborhood. What do you do when developers are making plans in your neighborhood — or your backyard! — that you don’t like? You could complain about development and gentrification to your friends and neighbors. But if that’s where you stop, you will likely feel progressively more helpless. Nancy Centz, chair of the RNA, is fond of saying, “It’s those who show up that get to decide.” That statement also points out the power of organized people. We have the right to assemble, and in so doing we define a vision. It may only be the vision of 10 or 20 residents at the table, but multiplying an idea by ten can turn it into a reality. If, as Jane Jacobs says, our successes as a neighborhood are successes at self-government, the best way to achieve success is through the involvement of diverse people. You don’t have to be elected to any office to attend, give input at, and vote at neighborhood meetings. And what you do there can have a direct influence on what happens in your little world, and maybe in the larger one, as well. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dear Readers [of the print version of the Currents], We are embarking on our third year of publishing, and you may have noticed that we have a new design; the cover style — and banner — have changed a little, thanks to designer extraordinaire Helene Feider. A few other elements have changed along with font and header styles, which you may or may not have noticed depending on how closely you attend to detail! We launched most of these changes last month, and this current issue marks a shifting and rearranging of content in the paper as well. If you’re a regular reader, you may have grown accustomed to turning to the same pages each month to find our regular features. Some of that is changing this month, as we’ve shifted things around to move all news content to the front of the paper, with features next in the lineup, columns, commentaries and opinion pieces next, then arts and entertainment, followed by the comix and calendar in the back. We hope you enjoy our new look and the way we’ve arranged things. As always, your comments, ideas, and constructive criticism are welcomed. Our phone line, e-mail box, and for that matter, writers’ pool, is open. Please let us know if you’d like to get involved, whether it be suggesting a story or writing one, taking us to task on something we missed or telling us what you like. Thanks! –Sonya