Community | Unity

It seemed in many discussions I had while at the PlaceLab Ethical Redevelopment Salon last month, and in the tone of what I was hearing while there, that there was an implicit group of people who were "on our side" and another group who was not. In my very provincial way of thinking about this, at least, this seems to be a very reductivist and overly simplistic binary paradigm. And it seems that if we are brutally honest with ourselves about being truly and fully committed to hearing community and reaching some modicum of consensus of support for our work, we have to hear everyone, especially those who might disagree with us, and it might take some work, and might require us to swallow our pride and hear things we don't want to hear. We have to hear the nay-sayers, the critics, but more than that (because often those critics and nay-sayers and pot-shoters are external to the affected community) we have to hear, and work to seek out and hear the slumlords, the gentrifiers, the absentee land-owners, the opportunistic developers, as much as we seek out those who we may subconsciously identify as the "true" community - longtime residents (both owners and renters), longtime business owners (both owners and renters), and all of the other people and groups whose outlooks harmonize with our values, goals, or ways of thinking. For each slumlord, each gentrifier, each absentee land-owner has a story, and it is very rarely rooted in pure evil or intentional harm or neglect. It is rarely as simple as that. And to hear that story, to hear those stories, I think, holds the greatest opportunity, perhaps because of the greatest potential for a shift - to educate someone, or at least try to show them your logic, what makes you and your work tick, and see if anything resonates with them. Please don't misunderstand me, I in no way intend to diminish the importance or value of those who are most committed to the betterment of the neighborhood, nor do I want to eschew their work or place in a place. I am only saying that, with some diligence and humility, it may be possible to turn a perceived or actual foe into an ally. It may come down to how you could help them solve a problem they are facing. And in so doing, you might just be able to sneak in your values, your agenda for good, your vision for equity, for opportunity for all, like a sheep in wolf's clothing. This is true of many groups, including government agencies, law enforcement, politicians, and so on. So, I wanted to offer this up, as it has been rattling around in my mind since I drove south down Stony Island Avenue and out into the Midwest darkness. Obviously all communities are different, and that is both the most beautiful and the perpetually perplexing thing about community. Every one is different.