More on the Right Social Conditions in a Small Town

I posted yesterday that Gentrification Requires the Right Social Conditions, contending in part that a small city like Whitewater remains divided (and by consequence limits its own attractiveness to newcomers) because it remains divided by town and gown (and divided within the town, itself, too).

Whitewater’s problem is not that different factions do not have a sense of their own interests, it’s that these factions do not see others’ interests adequately, and so both make accommodations less likely and (worse) even misperceive full measure of the very community in which they live.

It’s much easier to be a representative of a particular group (e.g., students, middle-aged non-student residents, elderly residents). (Obvious point, still worth making: I don’t claim to represent anyone else; I’m an emissary of one, so to speak.)

A few people saying they’ve solved problems of division doesn’t mean those divisions have been solved; it means a few people think (let’s assume sincerely so) that they have been, and hope to convince many others that their assurances are an adequate substitute for community harmony.

I’m increasingly convinced that the best efforts at community harmony and progress will not come from local government, or large local institutions, but from private charitable, small business, and cultural projects. Each of these has a chance of inspiring cross-cultural understanding as good or better than any factionalized political representation.

Cross-cultural understanding is a necessary condition of community progress.

Gentrification Requires the Right Social Conditions

I’ve written that Whitewater faces a choice between decisive action now (to lessen government’s role) or years of stagnation and relative decline before eventual gentrification (at which point longtime residents will have almost no say in redevelopment). See, How Big Averts Bad. As I doubt Whitewater’s local political class has the will for near-term changes, the best option during this long period will come from community-based, non-governmental initiatives and businesses. See, An Oasis Strategy.

Yet even an eventual, rejuvenating gentrification requires more than inexpensive, dilapidated properties to rehabilitate. Emily Badger makes this clear in How to Predict Gentrification: Look for Falling Crime: some minimal social conditions have to exist before risk takers are willing to commit to a community.

She writes (admittedly about cities, not towns) that

“But a huge piece of it,” she [Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University] said, “I think is crime.”

New research that she has conducted alongside Keren Mertens Horn, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and Davin Reed, a doctoral student at N.Y.U., finds that when violent crime falls sharply, wealthier and educated people are more likely to move into lower-income and predominantly minority urban neighborhoods.

Their working paper suggests that just as rising crime can drive people out of cities, falling crime has a comparable effect, spurring gentrification. And it highlights how, even if many Americans — including, by his own words, President-elect Donald Trump — inaccurately believe urban violence is soaring, the opposite long-term trend has brought wide-ranging change to cities.

Needless to say, small-town Whitewater’s problem is not urban crime (we’re not an urban area). There is, however, a level of division in the city along lines of cultural identity that is discernible to anyone observing the town with clear eyes, and that cannot be papered over with false contentions of town-gown harmony. The last thirty years have seen an increase in the size of our local campus, but city is still widely divided, and attempts at cultural harmony have gone nowhere as far as one might hope.

Lack of town-gown harmony is Whitewater’s analog to urban crime: it’s a cultural reason some people will (sadly) avoid the city.

Fixing this division will not come from public spending, nor public enforcement efforts, nor public relations. It will come, if it does, from private cultural, charitable, and business efforts.

An Oasis Strategy

There’s a wide difference between believing that we’ve difficult national or local times ahead and losing confidence. I’m as confident today as ever that Whitewater has a bright long-term future. There’s simply hard work ahead between now and then, and more hard work now than we might have hoped (national trends being what they are).

What to do? A few simple suggestions, all around the view that Whitewater can pursue an oasis strategy in which she departs from the routine and emphasizes creatively, with liveliness, the genuinely unique, apolitical accomplishments in the wider area.

Unlike a mirage, an oasis is a real place of real respite. An oasis is noticeable and desirable among its wider surroundings; it’s noticeable and desirable for what it genuinely offers. The mirage presents illusory beauty at a distance but offers nothing up close; an oasis is beautiful at a distance but even more desirable upon arrival.

1. Look away from local government. Common Council isn’t the Roman Senate (and then, the Roman Senate wasn’t what one often hears it was; there were very few truly noble Romans, to be clear about it). Forget the notion that local government sits at the peak of the city.  There is no peak; there are thousands of equally valuable spots.

2. Recognize the masking effect of commonplace background noise. Outside Whitewater are Fort Atkinson, Palmyra, Milton, Jefferson, etc. Saying the same things that other towns say in their schools, and at their local council meetings, only gets lost amid the background noise of daily life. Trying to leverage often momentary gains in particular metrics won’t catch anyone’s notice; leveraging selective parts of reports either goes similarly unnoticed, or – far worse – only alienates people already disillusioned with cherrypicking.

Behind tiresome, mundane presentations of school report cards, for example, are stories of genuine, specific accomplishment – what a student wrote, built, said, or discovered. That’s impressive, and compelling. Tell those stores with lively, graceful prose and add video to one’s accounts – short videos will add life to these stories.

3. Emphasize the uniquely creative and charming. We’ve nice restaurants, a charming City Market, an annual race to Discover Whitewater, a Community Foundation, and countless charitable work in the city. More good work is done there than in any conventional political meeting.

The City Market, for example, is charming, but that charm has no particular politics: a style, and a fine selection, are without partisanship.  There’s a playful style to the market, but the sensibility that produced that style transcends politics.  It’s not enjoyable for one group or demographic – it’s accessible equally to all.  When one thinks about something like Discover Whitewater, one wouldn’t think about the politics of the runners – they’re here to have a good time, and the city is here to welcome them.

4.  Whitewater’s not one community, nor need it ever be.  This city’s not of one culture or one identity; we’re not a homogeneous place. We’re a diverse and multicultural community. Revanchism on behalf of some won’t make the city great for any. On the contrary, that path will prolong present difficulties, and delay significantly (although not prevent) this city’s more prosperous future.

In even the most difficult times, of economic and political trouble, Americans have still produced great works, committed to charitable undertakings, and carried on admirably (all the while addressing national issues separately).  This city can do the same, as well as others before us did in their challenging times.

The Whitewater Community Foundation’s First Annual Campaign

Please see a news release about charitable work in our small city — best wishes to all who are supporting the campaign –

Whitewater Community Foundation board of directors presents a check to Stacey Lunsford for a reading program at the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library. (In photo: Beverly Kopper, Mark Dorn, Rick Fassl, Jim Coburn, Stacey Lunsford, Kevin Brunner, David Yochum, Dawn Hunter. Not pictured: Danielle Frawley and Dr. Mark Elworthy, who became board members after the photograph was taken.)

Whitewater Community Foundation is concluding its first ever Annual Campaign

Thank you to everyone who donated! We reached our modest goal of $50,000, and the donations are still rolling in! Thank you to everyone who contributed to help us continue our Community Action Grants. Our grants help nonprofits in town accomplish amazing projects that benefit us in numerous ways – through education, beautification, health and preservation. We believe that real change starts at the local level. And those of you who donated have shown that you believe this too!

If you were thinking about donating and got distracted, you still have time until the end of the year to contribute your tax deductible gift toward great projects in our great city. You can go to our website at whitewatercommunityfoundation.org and click the “donate” button at the bottom of the page or you can donate the old-fashioned way by sending the Whitewater Community Foundation a check to P.O. Box 428, Whitewater, WI 53190. We’ll be contacting you early next year to find out more about what you value in Whitewater.

About Standards

I’ve long argued that the application of continent-wide standards to local challenges offers better solutions for our small town than a hyper-localism that ignores best practices from across our country. SeeWhat Standards for Whitewater?

We will achieve little, and leave less for the next generation, if we do less – if we reach lower – than this.

Consider the following results of a Google Search, from this morning:

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Our success will not be had by the apparent display of a crudely altered but unattributed image from, of all things, a California food bank. (It’s a food bank, by the way, that like many organizations has a terms of use policy regarding logos and attribution.)

The Alamadea County Food Bank has worked for over thirty years to feed needy people in that part of California. Here’s a description of their work:

Alameda County Community Food Bank has been in business since 1985 … with a vision toward a day when we can go out of business. We are the hub of a vast collection and distribution network that provides food for 240 nonprofit agencies in Alameda County. In 2014, the Food Bank distributed 25 million meals — more than half of the food was fresh fruits and vegetables. Our goal is to ensure every food insecure child, adult and senior in Alameda County knows where their next meal is coming from, by 2018.

Since moving into our permanent facility near the Oakland Airport in 2005 and leading the national food bank movement for a ban on the distribution of carbonated beverages, the Food Bank has ramped up distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables by more than 1,000%.

We can surely succeed, but only by some (rather than by any easy) means.

Sunday Animation: We Need to Talk About Alice

GOOD BOOKS: "We Need To Talk About Alice" from Plenty on Vimeo.

(See all the process, character design, style frames, at plenty.tv/work/good-books-we-need-to-talk-about-alice )

“We need to talk about Alice” was commissioned by New Zealand based agency String Theory and created to be part of Good Books’ “Great Writers Series,” a collection of short films made to promote the non profit organization (gogoodbooks.com) which is an online charity book store that sells book and donates all proceeds to Oxfam, an organization that fights hunger and poverty since 1995.

In the last few years, a select group of directors have donated their time and knowledge to create animated shorts based on renowned literary works and authors to promote this charity. In 2012, Buck launched the amazing “Metamorphosis”, a tribute to author Hunter S. Thompson. Then came “Havana Heat” in 2013, a sensual animation produced by renowned duo McBess and Simon from The Mill.

Plenty had the honor of creating the third a 2:30 minute short film for Good Books based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s adventures in Wonderland” to commemorate the book’s 150th anniversary.

After a lot of dedication, hard work and passion for what we do, it’s our pleasure to introduce “We need to talk about Alice”

We’ll be posting more about the project soon! We have a 5 minute breakdown where you’ll be able to see the whole process for this amazing adventure we embarked in! A lot of process stills, extra content and some magical gifs!

We hope you love it! We were honored to be a part of a series of shorts that will leave a mark in the history of motion graphics.

Via Vimeo.

The ‘Nearly Naked’ Run/Walk for Whitewater’s Community Clothes Closet

NN FINAL Flyer

On Sunday, December 7th @ 11 AM, here’s a chance to join others in a very clever idea in support of a very good cause: Whitewater’s inaugural Nearly Naked 5K Run/Walk.

Participants in the 5K run/walk will bundle up in clothing they’d like to donate to Whitewater’s Community Clothes Closet, and remove those items at designated points along the course. At the end, having made their donations of clothing, they’ll finish the charity drive ‘Nearly Naked.’

I’ve embedded the flyer for the event, and more information is also available online at both www.nearlynaked5k.com/whitewaterwi and the run/walk’s Facebook page, Nearly Naked 5K-Whitewater, WI.

The charity run/walk is 12.7.14 @ 11 AM, with one-site registration at 10 AM, but there’s also an early bird registration period until November 22 that guarantees early registrants some fine promotional swag.

Friday Poll: The Wurst Challenge

WurstChallenge_web


In Ypsilanti, Michigan, a children’s art center was the beneficiary of the Wurst Challenge, in which contestants tried to eat twenty-foot-long sausages to raise money for the FLY Children’s Art Center. Participants raised more than they had hoped, for a total of about $6,000 dollars.

What do you think: creative charity or dull gluttony? I’ll go with creative (if antacid-requiring) charity.

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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The Nature Conservancy

If a man wanted to leave a legacy of land to remain forever in its natural state, then he could donate it to the Nature Conservancy (http://www.nature.org/), a charity that preserves donated nature land in exactly that way.

I’m indebted to a sharp reader who offered this suggestion for proposed parkland for Walworth County. I’ve mentioned the Nature Conservancy before, but sadly forgot the argument for that worthy charity when writing a post about someone who wants millions in public money, professedly to preserve the natural condition of his land. One is always made better by the knowledgeable suggestions of talented people – my thanks to a reader who helped me retrieve what I had carelessly dropped.

(See, about that parkland post from last week, Parkland at a Price of Millions: Bogus Philanthropy at Public Expense.)

A Nature Conservancy donation would preserve the land’s condition without hitting taxpayers for the cost of a private seller’s would-be legacy.

(It would otherwise be a public cost of about two-million dollars, from a seller who – by the account of Walworth County’s Central Services Director Kevin Brunner – actually wanted three million originally, a figure 50% higher than even the most generous appraisal number. So much for a genuine, charitable impulse.)

A Nature Conservancy donation in this matter (as for so many other donors who’ve done the same across America) would be a truly commendable gift to all Walworth County.

Welcome, New Teachers

Welcome to Whitewater, Wisconsin. I’m sure our city will be better for your presence.

In these weeks and months ahead, so very many helpful people will offer advice and guidance to you. A few others, unhelpfully, will draw close and whisper ever so softly about how you should think, feel, and act to be a proper part of Whitewater.

I’m part of neither group. I’ve no interest in the private and personal; it’s the public and political that concerns me.

Having chosen Whitewater, I hope for your success. More precisely, I hope for your success as you wish it to be, a success that’s sure to be different and better than anything I could imagine for you.

It makes sense to try to fit in; it’s even better to shape the city in ways more creative than those we’ve yet devised.

I may have no advice of my own to offer, but I am reminded that a noted twentieth-century philosopher once advised that one should always let ‘your conscience be your guide.’

My late father told me a story, a lifetime ago, of a widow and her disabled son. I’ll share that story today.

The boy’s name was Charlie Schadler, and he was born with a condition that caused his eyes to discharge incessantly. That family was poor, and Mrs. Schadler had money for neither nurse nor nanny; it was she alone who cared for her child. Day after day, without fail or complaint, she dutifully dabbed away the fluid that ran from her small son’s eyes onto his cheeks.

I received the story from my father, intelligent and serious, well-read and thoughtful. Years later, I shared the same story with someone, intelligent but mercurial, well-read but socially-motivated.

For my father, the story was one of patient devotion, of love: the widow had nothing but a disabled son, yet in him she rightly believed that she had everything. Attending to the child’s affliction was her loving duty. Charlie was altogether a blessing to his mother; his mother was altogether a model of parental love to others.

For the woman to whom I told the story, by contrast, it was a tale of disturbing misfortune, not principally of the boy, but for her mother: how sad that the mother had been consigned to that role, to caring for her child without additional support. Worse, in the woman’s eyes, was Mrs. Schadler’s condition, itself, as an unwitting victim of her son’s circumstances.

You, of course, may choose to think of the story as you wish. Perhaps, you’ll choose one view or another, or instead reject both.

Regardless, one cannot with sincerity hold both views with equal conviction. One view precludes the equal embrace of the other.

In your work, you’ll likely encounter children with circumstances nearly as difficult. What you think upon encountering them is your decision alone.

Yet, this much is already decided: our community will be stronger or weaker, depending on your choice.

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.

Scenes from Whitewater’s 2013 Polar Plunge® for Special Olympics

On February 16, 2013, Whitewater held her annual Polar Plunge® for Special Olympics. On a day with wind chills scarcely above zero, and water of only thirty-six degrees, hundreds of volunteers and donors raised tens of thousands for the Special Olympics of Wisconsin.

There’s no greater measure of a community than its charity. Below are scenes – necessarily capturing only a part – of a full and fine day for all Whitewater.

Special Olympics Polar Plunge® Whitewater 2013 from John Adams on Vimeo.

Sunday, 10.7.12: Whitewater CROP Hunger Walk 2012

Details:

Location Begins at Fairhaven Retirement Home (435 W. Starin Road, Whitewater) and ends at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (46 S. Church St., Whitewater).

Registration – 12:30 p.m., Walk: 1:00 p.m.

See, for additional details or donation link, Whitewater CROP Hunger Walk 2012 – CROP Hunger Walk.

On the 7.24.12 Special Council Session: Supporting Treyton Kilar’s Field of Dreams Project

Tonight, at 6:30 PM, there will be a special session of Whitewater’s Common Council to consider whether to select a bid for artificial turf for the Treyton’s Field of Dreams project, and to authorize down payment on the project.

Council’s decision tonight may determine whether the project meets the continuing requirements for a Pepsi Challenge grant.

I believe that the Treyton Kilar Field of Dreams project deserves particular municipal support because of its chartiable nature (beyond contrasting, ordinary projects), and that no action the city takes should result in a net loss of financing for the project. Additionally, the city needs a better, more systematic way to consider projects’ environmental impact.

Before beginning, I’ll be very clear: I’ve no special knowledge by which to assess the supposed environmental impact of artificial turf.

Significantly, I believe that whatever decision the council makes, they should assure that their action causes no net loss in funding, or reduction in likelihood of completion, for this charitable project.

Because this is a community-based, privately-backed, charitable project, it deserves more, not less, deference than an ordinary municipal one. There is neither a principal economic nor personal advantage sought in this: it’s a sincere, charitable, good-hearted community effort. We’ve had many projects that were either more expensive or more useful for political advantage; the Field of Dreams has neither of those unfortunate attributes.

There is no selfish striving in this; it’s a hopeful project in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy. We have too little of projects like these. There’s no politics in it, no career advancement in it. It came about not through politics or ideology but through the efforts of a family and the many that they have inspired. Politics will never matter as much.

If Whitewater’s Common Council should now act – however sincerely – to impede this community-backed private effort, then they should assure that there is no loss of net funding nor impediment to the project’s timetable. This project did not originate with government, or a single business, but within the community.

As a community-based, charitable effort, it should not be hindered. It should mean more to this city, not less, than an ordinary government or commercial project.

Finally, and most significantly, Whitewater needs an orderly, routine process for addressing environmental concerns. They should be considered – I would not fault anyone for his or her sincere concerns – but considerations like this should be part of a routine city process, addressed early on. We have had far larger municipal projects in the past (in size and area), and ones yet to come, that have received less consideration.

That’s simply a substandard practice. Other projects (with fanciful economic claims) have been rushed at every turn, with little or no review at all. Now this simpler project is held up at the last minute. It’s below a proper, professional standard to react this way. Municipal review should be orderly, early, and thorough.

I support this project, and would hope that Whitewater’s Common Council tonight assures that whatever action it takes leaves the Treyton Kilar Field of Dreams on track, and on schedule, for funding and successful completion.

Whitewater’s 2012 Freeze Fest for Special Olympics, 2.18.2012

Last weekend, Whitewater held its 2012 Freeze Fest polar plunge for the Special Olympics.  It’s become a tradition in Whitewater, and this year’s plunge had more participants & more spectators than ever, successfully raising thousands for a worthy cause, while showing all involved a great time.  

For more about the 2012 Freeze Fest, see Whitewater Polar Plunge boosts Special Olympics.

There’s not the slightest doubt that Freeze Fest represents the best of what we are.

Here’s a short video clip, a picture of some of the leading law-enforcement sponsors, and shots of a few mascots, too —