New Ways of Being the Same

As the New Year is a time to give us pause, to reflect, in the short days and long dim rays, to look back and forward both, to measure and evaluate our place in between the past and the future, it seems to me that this forum is a fine and appropriate place for us to work toward one of our utmost goals - to be transparent. To tell anyone and everyone who is or isn't interested what we are doing, and why, and how, and ask for input and criticism and support and inspiration.

I read an article about 3CDC's work just north of us in Cincinnati a few nights ago as I watched my Packers struggle through another game. It is interesting how things come to you in their right time and place, to strike chords and pluck strings you didn't know you had, to teach you about the modulation of your soul's key and beat. Among all of the differing perspectives, it was startling how little 3CDC seemed to care, or even be interested in engaging with the public they were acting upon and affecting, if not serving.

They were, and are, acting, in many ways both in perception and in practice, as some sort of benevolent, well-funded developer of a place they had very little true foothold in, very little grassroots support from. And while I know they function and operate with many more 0s after their name than we do, it seemed to validate our search for transparency as essential - a bellwether of some lesson not to miss, not to let drop.

It is vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual. - Jeremy Bentham

I received this quote on a slip of paper at a conference a few months ago, and I carried it around with me, in my pocket, in my mind, chewing on it, extending it, applying it, testing it to see where it fit in my mind, in our ethos. And I think that the logical extension I've come to is that the community that Bentham is talking about is the collection of all of those individuals, with their differing viewpoints, agendas, dreams, hopes, and fears. And so, we will tell our stories, both as individuals and as an organization, so that we can be known as part of the community, so that we can be worthy to receive your stories.

So what are we doing?

That thing that I'm most focused on right now is building - to take over a year of preparation, rezoning, lining up financing, planning, designing, partnering, property replatting, demolition, tenant relocation, contract negotiations, and now, finally, turn all of that into purposeful and calculated action in the form of earthwork and masonry and utilities, preceding framing and roofing and siding and trimming and all of that fun stuff - the physical trappings, the materialization and embodiment of this one goal: to build, to build community, to replenish this community's building stock with affordable, well-built, inspiring, flexible spaces for living, working, growing, making, being - being who you most want to be.

It has been a struggle - we often refer to this process as the most sadistic kind of Russian nesting dolls, testing our pluck and gumption with each layer revealing that next challenge, some blowing up in your face as you check off that last task. But this is not to ask for sympathy or adulation, but to put it all out there. It has been hard, but it has been some of the most fulfilling work I've ever done. And, ever the optimist, I'm wagering that both the process and the end product will be something that even the critics can't wag their fingers too much about, for all that it is now, finally, come into being.

[KMN]