Having Nice Things in Whitewater

Some months ago, a community group, while embarking on a new project, began using the saying, ‘yes, we can have nice things in Whitewater.’ One supposes that they meant the saying as an expression of optimism about their chances for success, along the lines of we can do this. It’s also probable that they intended the expression as one of desire, along the lines of we deserve this.

It was not the first time that I’ve heard this said about Whitewater, and when an account of the expression’s recent use reached me, I knew immediately whence it came.

It’s a sentiment, generally and beyond any group’s particulars, with which I very much agree: we can have, and deserve, nice things in Whitewater.

Our challenge is that nice is not a fixed quality, sealed in amber, forever unchanging. Nor is nice a thing to be decided from on-high, from a few planners and politicians. The very use of the expression is confirmation that residents will no longer settle for accepting whatever comes their way.

Sometimes nice is a simple thing, overlooked until ordinary residents voice their hopes for more, different, and better.

Look back a decade, and what does one see? Too many leaders and insiders crowing that Whitewater was the pinnacle of all the world, that change would come from them, and that to dare raise any questions about local conditions was somehow an offense against the natural order. They wanted for others little more than a lemming’s life, albeit lemmings who would smile and applaud when asked.

Time takes her toll: most of the leaders from that time have slipped from Whitewater’s public scene (some tumbling more than slipping, if the truth of it be said).

Nice things are sometimes simple, plain things, changing by definition as generations pass, unplanned from above, and decided commonly by many rather than exclusively by a few.

It’s fair to say that a grocery store would be among the plain and simple things of value to Whitewater’s consumers; it’s encouraging that residents are willing to say as much.

Update, Wednesday afternoon : There will be more to write about a new grocery when possibilities become clearer.  One can confidently guess that my own position will favor private, local transactions between businesses and shoppers without government subsidy.

Restaurants Transform a City

Whitewater is a small city, not a California metropolis, but even a prosperous place like San Francisco benefits from a growing restaurant culture:

SAN FRANCISCO — For decades, as this city polished its reputation as an essential food destination, a stretch of Market Street just a short stroll from the groundbreaking Zuni Café remained stubbornly unchanged, an odd wasteland of check-cashing stores and weed dealers punctuated by the whiff of urine.

A city survey last year declared that Market Street between Seventh and 11th Streets was San Francisco’s dirtiest commercial strip. While nearby Union Square and the South of Market district blossomed, these half-dozen broad blocks remained something people rushed through on their way to more charming neighborhoods.

But in a city consumed by a tech boom that has left no inch of its roughly 47 square miles unnoticed by developers, the neighborhood now called Mid-Market is undergoing a transformation that would render it nearly unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t braved its sidewalks for a few years….

See, A San Francisco Street Transformed by Food @ New York Times.

Some of the most uplifting changes to Whitewater’s retail scene have been the addition of new restaurants (and a nano-brewery) in the downtown.

Whitewater’s Advantage Over Copenhagen, Home to One of the Finest Restaurants on Earth

In Copenhagen (population 583,000), a famous chef (René Redzepi) plans to close temporarily his famous restaurant (Noma) and turn part of it into an urban farm:

Foraging superstar and chef René Redzepi is closing his famed Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which has been named the best restaurant in the world multiple times. According to the New York Times, he plans to reopen Noma in 2017 “with a new menu and a new mission.” A major pillar of the new business will be an urban farm with the restaurant at its center, much like chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York. Redzepi notes, “It makes sense to have your own farm at a restaurant of this caliber.” The new Noma will relocate to Copenhagen’s “freewheeling Christiania neighborhood,” to an abandoned lot where empty warehouses and plenty of graffiti decorate the landscape.

Copenhagen’s big, and Whitewater is small, but we have this advantage that Chef Redzepi can only match at great expense and effort: we are even now surrounded by fresh, local produce of fine quality and variety. He can – and surely will – find the delicious ingredients he needs for his new establishment.

We, too, have delicious produce, suitable for fine meals, and it’s within our reach even now. Table after table, basket after basket, all around us. Fields, gardens, pastures, greenhouses: we’re brimming with what so many wish they could enjoy.

There’s a political slogan that’s something like ‘we are the change we’ve been looking for.’ Well, for ingredients, we’re the place we’ve been looking for.

Here, so very close, marvelous foods, available so often as we should like.

So What Do You Think of Whitewater?

People, including some from far from our city, often ask me what I think of Whitewater. 

I think Whitewater is beautiful, and that despite present challenges she has a bright future

Sometimes people say they might like a warmer place in winter, or a bigger place all year.  They say this sincerely, and their wishes are meaningful to them. 

Yet, there is no warmer place, there is no bigger place, that would also be a better place.  I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

That’s what I think, and that’s how I feel. 

Causes and Monuments

Early one morning, while you’re in a coffee shop, a woman walks through the door, orders an Americano, and sits down at your table.  She sips ever so tentatively, while poring over a local newspaper. 

She turns to you and asks, “Do you know how I could leave my mark on this community?”

You’re not focused on leaving a mark, of course, because that’s a judgment for others, and beyond one’s control. 

Hers is not a question you’d reasonably be expected to answer, either, as a fitting reply depends on knowing not merely your community’s needs, but her character and abilities. 

And yet, she has asked the question, so you have already some insight into her character, haven’t you?  Her twelve words provide a first foundation for a reply. She wants to make a mark, a visible impression, one that would exist apart from her presence, as a handprint exists apart from one’s hand.

A single question of her will give you much more information.  So you ask, “Which do you think is more lasting, a building or a cause?” 

She looks around the shop, gazes nearly forever out the window, and then stares back at you.   Finally, she says, “People are fickle and their opinions change, but a building with a plaque could last for hundreds of years.  There are famous buildings in Europe that are thousands of years old.”

Now you know: she wants a monument, and she’ll not feel satisfied until she builds one.

You believe the opposite, that a cause matters more than a commemorative. 

And yet, and yet, she’s already decided what she believes, convinced as she is that what matters is being remembered with an imposing structure. You might try to dissuade her, but as she will undertake a private rather than a public project, you know that she’s using only her own time and money.

Taking a notecard and pencil, you write down the address on which she might erect a monument of her choosing.

“I’d say this is just the spot,” you tell her. She smiles and thanks you.  

You stand, look across the table in her direction, and take your leave by wishing her a good day. 

As you walk toward the door, she calls out to you, “Do you have a spot like this, too?”

Knowing that a cause may be boundless, as though a free visitor to every street and neighborhood, you reply, “Yes, I do.” 

Stepping through the shop’s door, with the city waiting beyond, you see the object of your concern, in every direction to which you might turn. 

Another day begins. 

Whitewater’s Independent Merchants: Supporting Small Bricks Over Bytes

A quick summary of my views on business would be to say that

(1) private markets are typically superior to government regulation, subsidies, or game-rigging,

(2) government should be impartial to different kinds of businesses,

(3) government ‘business’ or ‘development’ efforts are often self-promoting efforts of officials, bureaucrats, and hangers-on who are parasitic of public money and power,

(4) and if we are to have public spending, it should go to those who are less well-off, not those who are plump, flush, and bloated even now.   

This brings me to our local merchants, a topic to which I and others often return.  I’ve had doubts about some of their direction, and been supportive of other efforts. 

And yet, I see that our small merchants are far more deserving than the projects on which we’ve spent – and mostly wasted – millions. 

There was a scheduled downtown cleanup today, from Downtown Whitewater, Inc. 

Consider this passage from Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities:

….storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves; they hate broken windows and holdups; they hate having customers made nervous about safety.  They are great street watchers and sidewalk guardians if present in sufficient numbers….

Although our small city isn’t like the ones about which Jacobs was writing, this passage yet fits us, too.  Merchants’ care for their own spaces improves public life for all. 

We’ve a perception problem in town, among a few town notables, who believe that an investment in something that sounds tech-oriented is necessarily better than an investment in a store merchant’s or restaurateur’s efforts. 

These few would pick bytes, so to speak, over bricks.  (And of bricks, they’d go for big ones – however unneeded, expensive, or even environmentally risky – over small ones.) 

There are – right now – tens of thousands of programs, applications, and methods privately produced and available for purchase.

Still, somehow, we’re supposed to believe that America needs the next great app, for tens of thousands to publicly-employed, white-collar academics. 

Business is the place for business products.  Free markets are the place where they should be offered and purchased. 

There’s a role for research money at university – indeed, America leads the world in fundamental theoretical and experimental science. 

That lead, however, does not come from public subsidies to tech ventures that sound better than they’re ever likely to be. 

This brings me back to those who are already in business, private merchants with shops and restaurants in this town. 

In the city budget ahead, Whitewater would do well to prioritize support for those who are in private, small brick & mortar businesses, over flashy sounding but dubious tech efforts. 

I’d take a shop or a restaurant over big projects, those big projects being mostly wasteful (and, for some yet in planning, harmful even to health and wellness).   

Better small bricks over (supposedly) big bytes. 

Thursday, May 15th, 8-10 AM: Make Whitewater Even Nicer

Downtown Whitewater volunteers and supporters: help us give the downtown a little “spit and polish” ahead of UW-Whitewater graduation this weekend!

This will be a light cleanup, after the major cleanup April 26.

When: Thursday, May 15, from 8 to 10 am.

Where: Meet at Discover Whitewater (150 West Main Street).

* We’ll be sweeping the sidewalks along Main Street and picking up trash.
* Come for however long you can. We’ll have tools and gloves.
* Look for downtown photos on our Facebook page.

RSVP: Tami Brodnicki of DTWW, 473-2200 or director@downtownwhitewater.com.

Science Night in Whitewater

Diet Coke & Mentos from John Adams on Vimeo.

Last night was Science Night in Whitewater, and many hundreds from the city turned out to see dozens of displays and exhibits.  My family had a fine time, and I’d say that Science Night (held periodically but infrequently) is one of our favorite public events in town.  

In one building, with exhibits in the gym, lunchroom, and hallways, spectators could see displays on electricity, mechanics, natural history, biology, chemistry, a darkroom for experiments requiring a relative absence of light, and even ice-cream making.  

(Embedded above, you’ll see a video of a never-fails-to-impress Diet Coke and Mentos exhibit.)  

My youngest explored from room to room, stopping also at displays in the hallways.  I’d not be able to list conveniently every project we saw, but without slight to any, a few were memorable.  There are few places, other than at a science fair, where can visitors easily walk between exhibits of air pressure at work, gravity in action, displays of animal biology, fossils, and a Faraday cage.

For those who worry over our country’s future, there’s no better reassurance than Science Night – Americans remain, as we have been from our earliest days, among the leading explorers of the created natural order, both big and small.  

The many who presented last night, and those many more who attended, are proof that our next generation is no less ambitious, no less curious, than we were in our youth.   

Wonderful, Whitewater – simply wonderful.

Whitewater’s Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast

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My youngest and I went to Sunday’s Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast at the high school.  We had a great time. 

Light, perfectly-prepared pancakes, the very size of a pan, with link sausages, syrup, butter, and one’s choice of coffee, juice, or water.  For a small price, one could order extra sausage, too, as we did. 

Once seated, we received the care and attention of countless volunteers, each making sure that we had all that we needed, that our drinks were replenished, and when we were finished removing our plates for us.  Row upon row of tables, and everyone attending receiving exemplary care.

A faraway monarch couldn’t have for himself conditions half so warm, so congenial, at any price. Better here than anywhere else, better this way of life than another.  

There we sat, and he happily and slowly ate his meal, leaning against me in the comfortable way that one’s small child will sometimes do.  One side resting against me, his free arm reaching lazily for another portion on the plate.  Nothing behind, and nothing ahead.

A beautiful Sunday meal.   

One writes and contends for this town, for its political future, as an expression of obligation and commitment and concern.  And yet, and yet – the most important moments in one’s life are not political, could not be political, and should not be political.   

We’ll be back again, of course, next time – we’re planning on it. 

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Whitewater as a Youthful Town

One hears that CNN Money has a story that lists Whitewater as one of their youngest towns in America. See, 25 youngest small towns in America.

Whitewater comes in at number eight on the list (a typo lists us as six), with a population of 14,470 and a median age of 22.0 years.

A sharp reader brought the story to my attention, and perceptively observed that the list describes (almost inevitably) small college towns, as those are the places likely to have a low median age. Our average age, needless to say, is not twenty-two. The median, too, is likely to be different for one-quarter of the year than for the other three seasons when campus is in full session.

Yet, it’s true that we have many young people in town. Young, middle-aged, elderly: it’s no single demographic.

I’d not urge government, by the way, to favor one kind of resident over another: I’d encourage as little planning as possible, and would invite anyone of any age who wishes to live here to do so.

There’s something odd, however, about contending that we’re youthful while simultaneously regulating and restricting the very impulses the story finds so advantageous. Whitewater has not resolved her town-gown conflicts, and I’d guess that the authors of the story have not the slightest feeling for those conflicts in our small town or others on their list.

It’s fine to want the headline; it’s hypocritical to tout a youthful ethos while regulating the city in ways that limit youthful creativity, or any creativity, really.

There’s nothing wrong with libraries, or retirement communities, but there’s something risible in promoting a headline about youthfulness while simultaneously shushing everyone as though all the town where a quiet zone. One feels this through restrictions on conduct, or through a tax burden that inhibits valuable private conduct in favor of hollow public schemes and selfish cronyism.

A truly vibrant community – one that is youthful regardless of the median age – lives out that ethos beyond headlines, beyond self-promotion, and beyond mere appearances.

This town is no fading scrapbook, no mere headline, no set of photos accompanying a feel-good list. If anything, the statistics that truly matter show how much work is to be done.

I want, and in any event believe, in a future that assures a vibrant, New Whitewater.

CNN Money’s story doesn’t make us such.

We’ll have to do that – and will do that – on our own.

What Standards for Whitewater?

This post is a companion to one from yesterday on rights, entitled, How Many Rights for Whitewater?

Whitewater is a place of great natural beauty, hundreds of years of indigenous and settled living, and a quaint, small-town scene.

If residents of Whitewater should have the same rights as those elsewhere in Wisconsin and America – and so they should and do have – then what can one stay about the standards for politics and policy in the city?

Just as one’s rights should be no less than elsewhere, so also the standards of politics and policy should be the highest standards of Wisconsin, of America, and of the civilized world beyond.

One may put this plainly about standards, in a fashion similar to yesterday’s about rights:

The best of Wisconsin, of America, and of civilized places beyond, for all Whitewater.

We have reason to love our small town for myriad reasons, but loving a place without expecting – and fighting – for the highest standards is a tepid, pale sort of love.

Often it’s not love at all, but merely desire masquerading as love’s deeper devotion.

For all her many charms, Whitewater brings this risk, one that other small towns face: that practices truly beneath our state or country will be falsely exalted as higher than anywhere else. This may come from neediness, insecurity, self-promotion, laziness, etc.

I’m sure are many reasons; none justify mediocre local practices over excellent state and national ones.

We can be a happy & quaint town while embracing national (and even international) standards. Truly, we can be a happy & quaint, vibrant & prosperous town in no other way.

Pretending that everything that happens here is better than anything else that happens anywhere else is destructive to our politics and policymaking. Fabricating awards and pretending we’re the Center of the Known Universe Where All is Eternally Exceptional™ is beneath us.

It’s a defeatist position: rather than trying to do better, some simply exaggerate how they’re doing. They may also believe that they can do no better than they’re doing.

I’ve neither deference nor respect for these notions. They may doubt what they can do; I know that we are just as capable (and as deserving) of the highest standards of care.

The time a few spend pretending, exaggerating, showboating, grandstanding, and outright lying is time lost to actual accomplishment and progress.

One can always improve, and we can improve our local politics and small city most profoundly when we drink deeply of the clear waters of our advanced, prosperous country.

To do so will be only to our advantage: we will have combined Whitewater’s great natural beauty and quaint small-town scene with the highest standards of politics and policy from all America.

These, also, are the true and high standards that all Whitewater deserves, and so must have.

Join Downtown Whitewater’s August Downtown Cleanup, Saturday, August 24th from 8 AM to Noon

Here’s your chance to be part of a group that’s keeping Whitewater beautiful —

Join Downtown Whitewater for its August Downtown Cleanup to welcome UWW students and their families back to town

When: Saturday, August 24th from 8 am to Noon.

Where: Meet at Discover Whitewater (150 West Main Street).

We’ll be sweeping the streets and picking up litter to make sure we’re looking our best for UWW move-in day (August 29th)

Come for an hour or two, or however long you are able to attend.

Volunteers will vote for the best-kept storefront. The winning business gets a $25 gift certificate to our cleanup sponsor, the SweetSpot!

Use #AugustCleanUp to vote and post pictures of the best-kept storefront.

RSVP: Kristine Zaballos, DTWW Board @ 206-972-9936 or kristine@zaballos.com.

The Field of Dreams Begins Construction

Groundbreaking for the Treyton Kilar Field of Dreams in Whitewater took place Friday afternoon. That makes August 16, 2013 a particularly good day for our city.

For a fine description of the groundbreaking in detail, with pictures from the ceremony, please see The Wisconsin Happy Farm‘s post on the event. That post includes photos of the afternoon ceremony, one of which appears below, republished with permission.

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Kilar family members are invited to “take the first swing.” Attendees were asked to stand in support behind them.

Tidying the Town

A new school year begins, and thousands of students on whom the economy of this city depends are returning to Whitewater. Volunteers, as they’ve done previously, will help tidy up the town. These volunteers have, I think, held similar clean-up efforts in June and July.

It’s a fine idea. (I’ve not been part of those efforts, and deserve no credit for them; one simply notices others’ good work.)

Charitable work like this is important for our small city. One doesn’t have to be an urban theorist to understand that cleaning up matters, but the idea of idea of this sort of small-scale responsibility runs deeply through theorist Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Whenever I see volunteerism like this, I think of her great & profound book; whenever I read something of Jacobs’s book, I think of small & effective volunteerism like this.

And yet, there’s a sadness in this. A small group of residents commits itself to making Whitewater cleaner and more beautiful, yet not far away another small group of officials schemes to bring trash and toxins to the city as a revolutionary achievement.

These wholly conflicting projects aren’t those of different countries or cities, but a contemporary disparity within a small place. It’s a disparity between a lingering way of the past and a more responsible one of our future. (For more about Whitewater along these lines, see Horses and Automobiles, Contemporaneously.)

These conflicting ways won’t persist beside each other forever. One is fated to wither.

We’ve bumps and obstacles ahead, but I have a firm confidence about how our city will develop: we have a more open, responsible, diligent, and vibrant Whitewater ahead of us – a New Whitewater.

Along the way, there will be much to do.

On the Field of Dreams Project: In Support of Starting Construction Now

Last night, Whitewater’s Common Council discussed beginning construction of the Treyton Kilar Field of Dreams, to build a baseball diamond and related facilities on a part of Starin Park. I’ve written previously in support of the project, and believe Council made the right decision last night to begin construction by awarding an adjusted bid.

See, for example, a sample of previous posts in support: The Common Council’s positive vote for the Field of Dreams, On the 7.24.12 Special Council Session: Supporting Treyton Kilar’s Field of Dreams Project, Daily Bread for 1-31-11.

(I’ve neither personal nor political connection to the organizers of this project; like so many others in this community, my support is simply recognition of a good idea.)

Last night, one heard concerns – and one can read those concerns repeated elsewhere again today – about the city’s financial contribution to this project. These concerns, about a community-oriented and charitable project are, I think, misplaced. The full discussion, by my count, was a thorough one, lasted just under twenty-nine minutes.

The Field of Dreams is a fundamentally private initiative, involving years of private effort in time and money, with broad-based support across Whitewater.

It’s different in goals and character from countless prior city projects that have relied entirely on public money, with no real support among ordinary residents, flacked by ceaseless false claims about their supposed value to others. I am well-sensitive to the harm those kinds of projects have caused to Whitewater’s economy.

It’s ironic, though, that some gentlemen, who have boosted so many wholly public projects (millions in taxpayer funds for money-suck buildings, tax incremental districts without adequate private guarantees that have gone bust, crony-capitalist buses, all to the detriment of this city’s future) would write critically about this truly community-based, significantly private effort.

To oppose the Field of Dreams diamond after so many common men and women have worked so diligently would be to turn the back of one’s hand to a genuinely community-rooted effort that’s raised hundreds of thousands in private contributions of money and volunteer time by value. Rejection or delay would have been a disincentive to so much effort from so many ordinary people. One hopes for more, not less, of that kind of private effort.

Council made the right decision to award the sensibly-adjusted bid; further delay would have been, and would be, a mistake.

Best wishes for a smooth and happy groundbreaking.