Where Reaction Leads

What happens when the municipal officials of a small college town repeatedly malign – in print and on camera – a private business and college residents for the conduct of unrelated third-parties?

This is what happens:

The City of Whitewater Clarifies Recent Comments Regarding Spring Splash, Encourages Residents to Celebrate Responsibly 

Whitewater, Wis., February 11th, 2017 – For several years, many residents, primarily students, have come to look forward to gathering and celebrating together in early spring. Since 2013, Wisconsin Red has joined in the celebration through the organization and sponsorship of Whitewater’s Spring Splash. Spring Splash 2016 was, quite possibly, the most successful event to date; drawing more participants than prior years for what was a very well-run event.

While Spring Splash 2016 was well organized and free of problems, many other parties and events hosted elsewhere in the City [sic] were not. Due to the magnitude of visitors, many parties outside of Spring Splash outgrew their designated space resulting in large mobs of party goers roaming the city. Many groups quickly became unruly and dangerous.

In recent meetings with city staff, Wisconsin Red stressed that the events that transpired outside of Spring Splash were in no way representative of the organization’s mission or values. However, many officials believed that the successful promotional campaign on the Wisconsin Red website and social media pages had contributed to the large turnout of visitors and the mobs that continued throughout the day and night.

City staff met with Wisconsin Red representatives earlier this month to discuss its plans for Spring Splash 2017. While Wisconsin Red displayed great respect and organizational ability, anxiety over what could happen outside of the event prompted city officials to express continued concerns. After discussing the anticipated negatives that could result from a repeat of last year’s ancillary events, all parties agreed that it would be in the City’s best interest to cancel Spring Splash 2017 and consider revisiting in 2018.

“All the reports I’ve received regarding Spring Splash 2016 have confirmed that Wisconsin Red’s event was well organized and well run,” says Cameron Clapper, Whitewater City Manager. “It is the other parties and the meandering mobs we’re concerned about. Everyone deserves a chance to relax and unwind but no one can be excused from their civic responsibility to exercise good judgment, avoid dangerous behaviors and be respectful of our neighbors.”

The City of Whitewater recognizes most of the negative behavior that occurred last year was not from Whitewater students. The City does not want to limit celebrative opportunities for any group or individual but rather encourages safe and controlled gatherings.

The City of Whitewater and Wisconsin Red would like to express a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all those who celebrated responsibly last year and who assisted with the clean-up following the day’s activities. Thanks to the volunteer efforts of many community members, including UW-Whitewater students, the city was cleaned-up in less than a day.

“We hope that if an individual or group chooses to celebrate and have gatherings throughout the year, they continue to do so in a safe and respectful manner as Whitewater students have been known to do,” Clapper says. “Encourage party hosts to be respectful of their neighbors as well as their guests by not promoting bad behavior or inviting those that would. We are proud of our student body and want to continue to support them in hopes they can support and care for the city they live in.”

The City of Whitewater provides efficient and high quality services which support living, learning, playing and working in an exceptional community. Visit www.whitewater-wi.gov for community information and updates.

Via http://www.whitewater-wi.gov/residents/recent-news/3257-spring-splash.

The simple truth is that Whitewater’s town-gown divide is debilitatingly wide, despite empty insistence to the contrary, her municipal officials shuttle between support of one contesting faction within the city and another, overreacting to events, with over-wrought assertions and language, and without the detached and dispassionate view that would prevent the need for printed clarifications.

Film: Tuesday, January 31st, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Sully

This Tuesday, January 31st at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Sully @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Sully is a 2016 historical drama based on the story of Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River in order to save the flight’s passengers and crew.

The film is directed by Clint Eastwood, and stars Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney. The movie has a run time of one hour, thirty-six minutes and carries a rating of PG-13 from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Sully at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

At Whitewater’s Planning Commission: ‘Have you heard any rumors about..?”

There’s a brief discussion about a rumor that a new convenience store might come to small-town Whitewater that illustrates not only the problem of rumors, but others’ unwillingness to point out the problem of rumors. It’s the latter problem that is, in fact, the more serious one for Whitewater.

First, I’ve transcribed the exchange from the video segment above. (The full 12.12.16 meeting of Whitewater’s Planning Commission is online at https://vimeo.com/195844505.) Here’s the discussion:

Commissioner: Chris, have you heard any rumors about Kwik Trip?

Neighborhood Services Director: I, I have not heard anything about Kwik Trip.

Commissioner: ‘Cause I have.

Neighborhood Services Director: Well…

Commissioner: I heard somebody that works for Kwik Trip, they work in, like a big Kwik Trip, and they said that Kwik Trip, it has been approved to come to Whitewater, but not ‘til nineteen, ‘til twenty-nineteen or twenty-twenty.

Neighborhood Services Director: I generally don’t get involved unless…

Commissioner [interrupting, over-talking]: I’m just sayin’…

Neighborhood Services Director: No, I’m letting you know [unintelligible] I generally really don’t get involved until they’re they’re coming in for drawings, like that’s when they contact me because otherwise they’re contacting somebody like Pat [Cannon, contracted Community Development Authority director] so…

Commissioner: I understand they said they have approved it, it just needs to come later. It’d be nice.

Neighborhood Services Director: Yeah, it’d be lovely.

One can guess the problem the commissioner’s remarks make: they’re not just a rumor, but a rumor so light and trivial one might attach string and a tail to it and fly it on a breezy day. It’s that somebody heard that someone who works for… It’s undependable as offered. Relying on something like this would be relying on the unreliable.

There’s a second problem, though, that’s more important than a single commissioner’s over-credulous view of information. The more important problem is that no one bothers to state, clearly and on the record, the difference between substance and baseless speculation.

(It’s not enough to address this difference afterward, off camera; a firm commitment to sound thinking and credible evidence is a declaration to be made then and there, in opposition and correction to a shoddy case. Good reasoning need not – indeed must not – hide timidly in the shadows while rumor takes the center stage.)

There’s also a sign from this exchange that turning over more of the city’s meetings to the direction of common council members (however well-intentioned) will not work. It was, after all, a common council member who ran this meeting, and he made no effort to argue publicly for solid standards of evidence, and indeed made no response at all. There’s no point in having council members chair all meetings if, as in this case, most of them wouldn’t contribute where a contribution would be usefully instructive. (The Neighborhood Services Director does respond by explaining how a proper process runs, but she can’t be expected as an appointed employee to handle all of this.  The sensible course would have been for other commissioners to address the underlying lack of credible information.)

Rumor ruins policy, in small towns as well as large; the damage is worse when others (especially those elected to office) shirk from the obligation to contend for a better practice.

Film: Tuesday, January 24th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Florence Foster Jenkins

This Tuesday, January 24th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Florence Foster Jenkins @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Florence Foster Jenkins is a 2016 historical comedy-drama about a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer despite having a terrible singing voice.

The film is directed by Stephen Frears, and stars Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, and Simon Helberg. Just this morning (1.24), Meryl Streep received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for her role. The movie has a run time of one hour, fifty-one minutes and carries a rating of PG-13 from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Florence Foster Jenkins at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

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.

Film: Tuesday, January 10th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Hell or High Water

local

This Tuesday, January 10th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Hell or High Water @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Hell or High Water is a 2016 crime drama about a divorced father and his ex-con older brother who devise a criminal scheme to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

The film is directed by David Mackenzie, written by Taylor Sheridan (screenwriter of Sicario) and stars Dale Dickey, Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges. Hell or or High Water is a Golden Globes nominee for best film (drama), as is Jeff Bridges as a best-supporting actor nominee (any motion picture).   The movie has a run time of one hour, forty-two minutes and carries a rating of R from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Hell or High Water at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

Update: James Surowiecki on What the Press Missed About Trump’s Win

I posted yesterday on James Surowiecki’s contention that Trump’s success with non-college whites was predictable, but that Trump’s better-than-expected success with college-educated whites is what the press missed. SeeJames Surowiecki on What the Press Missed About Trump’s Win.

Surowiecki makes a few follow-up remarks to his tweet-stream of yesterday. First, Surowiecki is not saying that college makes whites more liberal: “I’m actually not saying anything about education making people liberals. I understand why college-ed. whites voted for Romney.” (6:03 PM – 5 Jan 2017.) On the contrary, he contends that “I don’t agree with them [Romney voters]. But I can see why they did it. Romney was a rational, experienced politician who would protect their interests.” (6:06 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

It’s Trump’s better than expected showing with college-educated voters that surprises Surowiecki: “Trump is irrational, has no experience, ran an avowedly racist and nativist campaign and acted horribly toward women” (6:08 PM – 5 Jan 2017) “[s]o yes, I did assume that would make him much less popular with college-ed voters, who have a lot invested in keeping the system stable.” (6:09 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

But Surowiecki acknowledges that some college-educated communities did abandon Trump, and Trump fared poorly with them as the press expected: “This seems exactly right. In places like Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs, college-ed whites did abandon Trump.” (6:54 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

Surowiecki’s tweets from yesterday seem right to me: (1) Trump did predictably well with non-college whites, (2) college-educated voters aren’t necessarily more liberal, but they are stability-oriented, even so (3) Trump did better than expected with college-educated white voters, but (4) still did (predictably) poorly in some college-educated white communities (e.g.,Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs).

There are no local data to show how college-educated whites (here I mean those already graduated) in the Whitewater area voted. It’s an interesting question: did they vote for Trump in relatively-low numbers like college-educated whites in the suburban areas Surowiecki lists, or did college-educated whites in this area vote for Trump in greater-than-expected numbers?

I’ve written before that Whitewater seems a community divided by college and non-college educated residents.  See, One Degree of Separation. They are, though, perhaps not so divided in their votes (or as different as they might wish to think) this last election.

Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017

A year like 2016 – nationally – should leave a prudent person cautious about making predictions. I’ll not overlook the lesson from last year’s national scene, and I’ll apply it to 2017’s local outlook. Rather than predictions, I’ll offer a few observations on the likely direction of local affairs.

Local politics. Trump’s election completes what amounts to a nationalization of politics, in a state like Wisconsin that’s already seen (these last six years) the triumph of statewide concerns over purely local ones. There are still local issues – and they’ll need to be addressed. The adage that all politics is local, however, has never be so wrong as it is now. National issues will stop being conflicts between Republicans and Democrats (and millions of people, of which I am only one, are neither); the fundamental national divide will come to be between radical populism and democratic republican government. See, Evan McMullin’s Ten Points for Principled Opposition to Authoritarianism and In a Principled Opposition, the Basis for a Grand Coalition.

Economy. There’s talk of another national stimulus program, although neither the late Bush Administration’s nor the early Obama Administration’s efforts did much for Whitewater’s economy except generate headlines for the local Daily Union. What Trump will do is unclear, but this small town has been saturated in public funds to without altering a trend of increasing poverty. See, The Local Economic Context of It All and  The way out in the near term would be a break with past practice of trying to guide the local economy, but that break isn’t likely to happen in 2017. See, How Big Averts Bad (where big isn’t a project but a break from control). The alternative is continued relative decline until a time years from now of gentrification.

Fiscal policy. Expect local government to try to consolidate a few staff positions, while simultaneously asking for as many big ticket items as possible, and pursuing revenue-generation schemes that either cost too much, achieve too little, and perhaps degrade the environment and quality of life while doing so.

University life. The last chancellor was supposed to be the bridge between town and university life, a longstanding town notable who would run the university the way city insiders wanted. If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s that Whitewater’s town notables are unsuited to run a modern American university. The future for UW-Whitewater lies in a more geographically diverse student population, but that population will bring higher expectations on and off campus.

Whitewater has a choice: meet those expectations, at the price of discarding traditional local standards, or frustrate those expectations, and watch the leading economic force in the city decline. Expect attempts to split the difference between competing views, in a way that satisfies few, and gains Whitewater nothing.

School district. Aside from assuring safety, construction will never replace instruction, and grandiose marketing will never replace unique and admirable individual accomplishments presented in a lively way. It’s an easy pose to say that no one else understands education except a marketing-mad few; it would be more believable if they made their work more than cut-and-paste presentations. All around, this community is filled with smart, well-read residents.

It’s an ill-fitting crutch to say that anyone who offers a critique is anti-education or opposed to children’s futures.

A combination of condescension to rural residents, and yet fear of their complaints, leaves the district’s full-time leadership mired in reactionary public relations that neither instructs nor uplifts nor attracts. Rationalizing that some aren’t ‘our population’ consigns all the community to the condition of the under-served.

Green shoots. Here’s what’s hopeful. In this city, the best ideas – private restaurants, a brewery, community events, charitable efforts, and a nearly-all-year city market, etc. – are successful not because city government guides them, but because talented, private individuals need no political guidance. See, An Oasis Strategy.

Whitewater will not be a prosperous city until her some of her residents stop deferring to local government as a solution (or, more commonly, stop using government as a brake on anything that they don’t like). Government as an overbearing father is politics-as-bad-parenting.

There are national political challenges that cannot – and must not – wait. The resolution of those challenges will assure a better life for all, across this continent. Yet for those matters unique to this small city, it is in the local apolitical work of so many talented people that Whitewater’s particular hope for 2017 rests.

Review: Whitewater Predictions for 2016

Here’s my amateur version of the late William Safire’s long-standing tradition of offering annual predictions. The was the list for 2016, the FW ninth-annual edition. Let’s see how I did (keeping in mind that it’s easier when one drafts the list):

1. Whitewater’s economy will
A. Expand along with the American economy
B. Expand more slowly than the American economy
C. Be stagnant
D. Fall into recession

Adams’s guess: C. Be stagnant.
Correct answer: C. There’s no discernible net growth.

2. For the Whitewater Schools, the biggest issue will be
A. Budgetary
B. Academic
C. Athletic
D. Of the arts and music

Adams’s guess: A. Budgetary. 
Correct answer: A. Budgetary. The single biggest public-relations tool for this school district has been successful referendums. It shouldn’t be anywhere close to the biggest topic, but it is. 

3. Local government’s efforts to reach out, generally, to residents to encourage participation in government affairs will be a
A. Smashing success
B. Slight success
C. Slight disappointment
D. Significant disappointment

Adams’s guess: D. Significant disappointment.
Correct answer: D. Significant disappointment. It’s a same-ten-people problem, and a same-ten-people problem that keeps getting worse (as local government has trouble successfully encouraging competitive residents to take part on committees, boards, etc.). 

4. Local government’s efforts to reach out, specifically, to Hispanic residents to encourage participation in government affairs will be a
A. Smashing success
B. Slight success
C. Slight disappointment
D. Significant disappointment

Adams’s guess: D. Significant disappointment.
Correct answer: D. Significant disappointment. It’s not a same-ten-people problem; despite the size of the Hispanic community in Whitewater, participation in government affairs from that community is more like a same-two-or-three-people problem.   

5. In the April 5 primary election, Whitewater’s electorate will be
A. Predominantly Democratic
B. Predominantly Republican
C. Roughly split between the major parties
D. Impossible to determine

Adams’s guess: C. Roughly split between the major parties.
Correct answer: A. Predominantly Democratic in the city proper.

6. In the November 8 general election, Whitewater’s electorate will be
A. Predominantly Democratic
B. Predominantly Republican
C. Roughly split between the major parties
D. Impossible to determine

Adams’s guess: A. Predominantly Democratic. 
Correct answer: A. Predominantly Democratic. Clinton won the city proper (the area in question); Trump won the towns outside that form the rest of our local school district. Add those other towns to the city total, and Trump carried the larger area.

7. On November 8, Whitewater will vote between major-party candidates
A. Clinton and Rubio
B. Clinton and Cruz
C. Sanders and Bush
D. Sanders and Trump

Adams’s guess: B. Clinton and Cruz.
Correct answer: None of the choices offered.

8. For UW-Whitewater, the biggest issue will be
A. Budgetary
B. Academic
C. Athletic
D. Campus relations and sexual assault prevention

Adams’s guess: D. Campus relations and sexual assault prevention.
Correct answer: D. Campus relations and sexual assault prevention. It’s a national story, of federal administrative complaints and a federal civil lawsuit now. No other topic touted locally has had anywhere near the impact of these national stories. 

9. The biggest community event of 2016 will be the
A. July 4th events @ Cravath
B. City Market
C. Christmas Parade
D. Run Whitewater

Adams’s guess: A. July 4th @ Cravath. 
Correct answer: A. July 4th @ Cravath. It’s still the biggest event in the city, although perhaps cumulatively a good year for the City Market might change that. 

10. The surprising development of 2016 will be the
A. Discovery of gold beneath the Starin Park water tower
B. Discovery of a witches’ coven beneath the Starin Park water tower
C. End of one local print newspaper
D. Departure of one local leader

Adams’s guess: B. Discovery of a witches’ coven beneath the Starin Park water tower.
Correct answer: None of these choices, as more than one leader departed in 2016, the same mediocre newspapers are crawling along, and we’ve found neither witches nor gold.

Tomorrow: Whitewater’s Outlook for 2017.

Film: Tuesday, December 27th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Guardians of the Galaxy

local

This Tuesday, December 27th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Guardians of the Galaxy @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a 2014 science-fiction comedy based on the Marvel series of the same name: “Kidnapped by aliens when he was young, Peter Quill now travels the galaxy salvaging anything of value for resale. When he comes across a silver orb however, he gets more than he’s bargained for. The orb is highly desired many but by none so powerful as Ronan. When Ronan finally acquires it, it’s left to Peter and his newfound friends Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket to stop him.”

The film is directed by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper. It has a run time of two hours, one minute and carries a rating of PG-13 from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Guardians of the Galaxy at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

Local Assumptions and Outlook, Winter 2016

This post is a quick summary of thoughts on the local outlook, including the local political economy.

1. Politics & Economy. I’d say the outlook is for turbulence in the national political-economy, and stagnation in the local one. See, The National-Local Mix and The Local Economic Context of It All.  The way out of several years’ local stagnation is a more decisive break with past, but there’s no evidence whatever that Whitewater’s local government will take this step; nothing else will be adequate. SeeHow Big Averts Bad. More of the same, which is easily served up time and again, will be no more effectual tomorrow than it was yesterday. (Spending too much time on the subject is like giving too much attention to people who believe in perpetual motion machines.)

There’s also a chance that we’ll see local political-cultural  revanchism, using enforcement to buttress one community in Whitewater against others. If that happens, the city will become a place of individual injury, and of toxicity to competitive newcomers (whether conservative or liberal). A hard-to-move short-term offering will become an impossible-to-move one. SeePlain-Spoken in a Small Town? Not Most Leaders.

2. Local Cultural and Charitable Efforts are More Valuable than Political-Economic Ones.  A lively prioritization of private over public, of cultural over political, and small and individual over big and collective, would be an effective local approach even in turbulent times. (Where lively is both a manner of expression and of action.) SeeAn Oasis Strategy. As is always true, Culture Without Grandiosity Works Best. We can get through difficult times, but what’s been done (and will be done) by local government won’t be adequate.

3. National Affairs Will Dwarf Local Matters.  Honest to goodness, it’s worth asking When Are We?  If these were ordinary times, little different from last year or five years ago, then a commitment to local routine politics (including ineffectual subsidies to entice businesses) would be, so to speak, local routine waste.  If however, these should now be unusual and unusually dangerous times, then an emphasis on local political routine is worse than local waste – it’s an error of immeasurable size. (I’m reminded of a line from the first parapraph of Wells’s War of the Worlds: “as men busied themselves about their various concerns….[w]ith infinite complacency men went to and fro…about their little affairs….”)

I’ve always felt that through national one finds the proper way to see local, but if I’d never thought so before, I’d yet begin to think so now.

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.

When Are We?

A simple but significant question about the time in which we live: when are we?  That is, looking at past events, how far along would we say we are in within a given historical progression (assuming one can say)?  Assuming one can say is hardly a simple conditional, but if one could venture a guess, what might one guess?

I’d say that, nationally, we’re at the beginning of something, where that beginning will lead to far worse and far more volatile conditions, perhaps for many years.  I say that locally, we’re in the middle of something much smaller, where this small city is likely to see a continuing but slow decline, likely for several more years.

Which, though, matters more?  In good national times, one might principally focus on local matters (although I’ve always argued that local should be considered from a national perspective).  Yet, I’ve not even the least perceptible feeling that these are good national times.  On the contrary, these days have the feel of incipient loss, with this beautiful republic at risk, of a kind unlike that expereienced within our time.

I write all this coldly, with composure, as I’d guess the country has a not a sudden, but rather a lengthy, time of struggle ahead.

Perhaps one can’t find the comparison, but it’s worth noting that a man in the Boston of 1861 or in the New York of 1939 would have more on his mind than events close at hand.

At the least, one would hope so.

If ever one had confirmation that a narrowly and exclusively local focus was foolish, then one has that confirmation now.

The Search for a Composer

At Whitewater’s Planning Commission, a smart, educated resident (to whom I have no personal connection) mentioned how very much Whitewater could use a reliable publication, so that residents might be properly informed of community developments.

The unexpected in this was not lost on me, as only a few feet away from the resident, at the commissioner’s table, sat a commissioner of powerful intelligence, graceful expression, and undoubted civic commitment. (Many of the people in the room were familiar to each other, making the question of communication – of a suitable composer or symphonist, so to speak – even more notable.)

We’re not the Royal Navy, nor should we be: residents cannot be impressed into service. There are countless ways to do good works for others.

And yet, and yet, how surprising: she who might so skillfully express the city’s hopes and fears was, last night, like a surrealist’s idea of the marvelous, just beyond their fingertips.

One might linger over this longer, but dark developments far beyond the city compel one’s attention elsewhere.

At Whitewater’s Planning Commission: Millions But Still a Politician’s Unsatisfied

Last night, Whitewater’s local government conducted its (mostly) monthly Planning Commission meeting.  It’s mostly because there aren’t always enough new projects each month to justify holding a meeting.   At Item 4 on the agenda, the commission held a public hearing “for consideration of a conditional use permit for an automotive shop at 113 E. Main Street.”  The commission granted wisely the permit.  (One wishes the applicant the best for his new business.

One Thirteen East Main Street, Whitewater: it’s a spot near a recently-completed two-million-dollar road improvement project, on the east side of this rural city.  Much of this work was truly road beautification, on the possible theory that if we sank enough public money into a small intersection of the town, then we’d all be putting on the Ritz.

When last night’s applicant received his approval, it came with a suggestion (from a member of the commission and also on the city’s common council): perhaps a bit of landscaping might make the area look nicer.

Oh, dearie me: were those millions not enough to transform the city?  After it all, all of it being public money, should a private businessperson have to pay another cent at government’s suggestion?  If he so chooses, of course; it’s just that having taken so much public money for a project that evidently hasn’t beautified, one might have hoped for a bit of official humility.

Nothing of the sort; instead, a suggestion for more, at private expense.

My point is not that the public project should have cost more, to add better plants; it’s that having cost what it did, it should have been plain that the cost was too much, for too little gain.  (I opposed the project, but at the time conceded that the architect’s illustrations were attractive.  Even that concession, while otherwise in opposition, too generous to the project.)

The millions were a waste in a city that could have found a hundred better uses for them.

On Lake, McHenry, and Walworth Counties

In August, I wrote that dorm-construction wasn’t the big story at UW-Whitewater, but rather it was the federal lawsuit against former Chancellor Telfer and [then-current] Athletic Director Amy Edmonds.   Even in her mundane story of residence-construction, the Journal Sentinel‘s Karen Herzog got it wrong: the bigger story was an increasing number of out-of-state students (now about 1-6 of all students), including many from Lake and McHenry Counties in Illinois.

Why does that matter?  Because many of those students are coming from out-of-state counties more affluent than Walworth County.  They and their families are likely to have different expectations.

The figures on median household income and poverty are striking.

For median household income (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015: Walworth County $53,445, United States $53,889, McHenry County $77,222, and Lake County $78,026.  For persons in poverty, percent:  McHenry County 6.9%, and Lake County 9.5%, United States 13.5%, Walworth County 13.7%.

The superficial answer (one that Whitewater has tried for a generation) would be to use public money to build more, in the (false) hope that the town will look better, and so be more attractive to outsiders.  (That’s been mostly the search for young families, but some of the same standards apply to young, non-married residents.)

That’s not, however, the solution if one wants to keep attracting this kind of student, or successful families. (One knows public-funding of construction isn’t the solution; if it were, Whitewater would already be Brentwood.)  The expectations and gap from them are cultural, and only a change in campus & community relations – especially in the attitude of those in authority – will assure Whitewater is a desirable destination for those accustomed to a different level of care and opportunity.

Film: Tuesday, December 13th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park, Love the Coopers

local

This Tuesday, December 13th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Love the Coopers @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

Love the Coopers is a comedy account of how “four generations of the Cooper clan come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, [when] a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday.”

The film is directed by Jessie Nelson, and stars Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, and Olivia Wilde.  The 2015 comedy has a run time of one hour, forty-seven minutes, and carries a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.

One can find more information about Love the Coopers at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.