Monday, November 30, 2009

Beautiful Trenton

Warming up for another chorus of Kumbaya

Tuesday night a group of concerned citizens will gather at Thomas Edison College on W. State Street to begin a dialogue about Trenton.

Reportedly, organizers of the event want to bring people together to identify concerns and issues that would then be placed in front of all the city council and mayoral candidates in the May 2010 municipal election.

Now don’t get us wrong. Anytime citizens come together with the intent to make things better is good. However, this most recent initiative leaves us scratching our head.

Aren’t there already groups in place that are or should be dealing with this? There are a variety of neighborhood based civic associations and the umbrella Trenton Council of Civic Associations who would seem naturals at generating the conversation.

There is the North Ward Citizen’s Action Coalition and Trenton Residents Action Coalition who have, whether you agree with them or not, spearheaded some pretty serious activity over the past couple of years. Fighting flagrant violations of Trenton’s residency ordinance, challenging the division and sell-off of part of the municipal water system are just two of the initiatives these groups have taken on.

Don’t we already know what the concerns are in this town? Do we need to convene another meeting to talk about issues that we are already familiar with and are (or should be) discussing?

Let’s be serious…talking about stuff we are already talking about and have been talking about for at least a decade or two is a waste of time if you don’t offer up some real concrete proposals aimed at making needed changes. We don’t need more questions; we need answers...and action.

Beautiful Trenton sounds like a civic version of a marriage encounter session. You can talk all you want, but if that discussion doesn’t lead to action, what is the point.

We suggest the first order of business on the Beautiful Trenton agenda should be to change its name. Beauty, as we have been taught, is but skin deep. Superficial would be another word.

Beautiful dreamers, take heed. Action, as we know, speaks louder than words and that is what is needed now.


Anonymous said...

More wheel spinning and distracting people from the real, serious problems Trenton has after 20 years of Palmer. Lets have a focus group, a feasability study, a panel discussion, then reconvene for more time wasting, while Doug and his cohorts destroy this town. NO THANKS.

Taneshia said...

I'm not one of the organizers and though I went to one of their meetings frankly with a demanding job, a toddler and carrying another child due in February I don't have the time nor energy to be part of any new ambitious effort. That said, I think that any work towards making our city better is a good thing.

One point I will concede is that there are already a number of groups in this city making laudable efforts on community betterment. There are many, many civic associations for a city that's only 7.5 square miles -- though most of these 40+ associations aren't, in my observation, active in the TCCA. One identifiable issue is that many of these associations are concerned with their own specific neighborhood issues and in the five years I've been here there haven't been efforts (or perhaps situations to warrant an effort) that have brought city residence from a variety of neighborhoods together in a concerted way. Perhaps that's just the sociology of a midsized city, I dunno but I do hope that Beautiful Trenton -- and any effort that is designated as a citywide one -- gets wide participation.

Old Mill Hill, perhaps it's the role of an anonymous blogger to be a gadfly, a cynic. But don't we have enough cynicism in this city?

Old Mill Hill said...

We agree that efforts to improve the city are needed and should be encouraged.

And we agree that there are already a multitude of groups and initiatives already in existence.

Doesn't it follow that yet another "new" group/effort is redundant, especially when leaders/participants are drawn from the same short list that are active in the existing entities that are already falling short of their potential to direct change.

We also agree that many groups are currently not active participants in TCCA. This was not always the case and would provide fodder for an additional topic to chew on.

Suffice it to say, it might be better to focus energies on rebuilding the TCCA (and some of the formerly strong member groups)rather than create another entity. This constant creation of new efforts does little but drain off the talent needed to keep the existing organizations robust and effective. And in the end, there is little to show but more time spent in meetings, flapping gums and writing down questions that are never answered; naming problems but not offering solutions.

There's just to much talking the talk and not enough walking the walk.

As for anonymity, cynicism and being a gadfly...think what you will. We make no apologies for our opinions because they are based on a wealth of experience. Let's see how you feel after another five, ten, or fifteen years with lots of wheel spinning and little progress.

Miss Karen said...

I do try hard (well, okay, sometimes not that hard) to combat my tendency toward cynicism, and of course people with good intentions for Trenton should be encouraged to do whatever they think will help. But I admit that I read and reread that article about Beautiful Trenton in the Trenton Times today a half a dozen times, trying to figure out what they're going to DO. I don't necessarily agree that this will be a distraction from Trenton's real, serious me it just sounds like more talking about those real, serious problems, which is not exactly a groundbreaking activity around here. If that talking leads to action and organization around viable, electable candidates who can actually make a difference, then great. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but I hope that essays are not the only tangible outcome.

Taneshia said...

You said:

Doesn't it follow that yet another "new" group/effort is redundant, especially when leaders/participants are drawn from the same short list that are active in the existing entities that are already falling short of their potential to direct change.

This is something that should definitely be explored so this is another point of agreement between us. Why is it that the same 10 or 15 people are involved in various efforts/entities? And why have existing entities, as you put it, fallen short of their potential to direct change? I suggest that it's because it's only been the same 10-15 people.

Old Mill Hill said...

Miss Karen, I agree there was little indication given as to what this group will do other than issue some essays.

The article did state that this was to be a "non-political, non-partisan movement that will not make any endorsements."

We would submit that is both a misleading and misguided statement.

The activity is by its very nature, political. It is attempting to bring together a community based collective to discuss a vision for the city. That sounds political to me.

It is misguided because going through the exercise without taking action...developing a platform and/or endorsing a candidate or candidates serves no purpose. It is a waste of the funders' money to sit around and discuss what we are already discussing.

Taking those two points together...the effort seems to be dooming itself to failure, perhaps in an effort to not step on the toes of current or possible future elected officials.

Old Mill Hill said...

Taneshia, as we see it, part of the problem is lack of capacity amongst the broader populace to effectively participate in civic life.

Apathy is another contributing factor.

It gets complicated and might best lend itself to one of the topics discussed by the Beautiful Trenton people. {Said with a wink and a smile}

Chrissy said...

I can't help but wonder if some aspects of Trenton civic life are almost the same as say, Hopewell civic life? My bet is no matter where you go, you find the same basic 15-30 uber-concerned and involved citizens, going to meetings and following politics, while the rest of the population chills at home? It's just in Hopewell, those folks at home are not facing the same challenges and are maybe slightly less apathetic; and maybe the 15-30 involved citizens are less likely to all run for, say, three open seats.

I'm not sure what my point is. I'm sorry. Here's to hoping the new group of similar faces comes up with new, workable solutions. Sometimes a change in venue/name/rules can inspire. And that's what we need here: inspiration. Especially that large mass of apathetic citizens here. We need them motivated and inspired or else this city will continue to decompose, regardless of the leadership next year.

Old Mill Hill said...

Chrissy, you may have hit on something there.

In any community it is a minority of involved, engaged citizens who shoulder the work. And there are a lot of reasons for that: family and job responsibilities are the first two that come readily to mind (as Taneshia pointed out in her first comment).

That's ok to a point. It is what representative government is all about. (government here would apply to civic endeavors as well as elected officials)

What happens too often in Trenton (and probably elsewhere, but we are talking about the Capital City) is that those who don't participate complain about being excluded from the process. Or they try to participate but don't want to follow simple rules and procedures for doing so and again complain that the process is designed to squeeze them out.

This creates mistrust and bad feelings.

At the same time, some parties will go out of their way to be inclusive and encourage broad participation as a way to avoid the charges of exclusion. This too often results in ineffective participation (and sometimes leadership) from individuals lacking in the necessary skills to work out a plan of action and execute it.

The end result in either case is that those same 10, 15, 30 "uber-involved" people who are motivated and have the skills manage to get things done.

Old Mill Hill said...

Let me add this to the mix for you all to think about:

Dan Dodson has sent out a notice via his Trenton Lofts newsletter that makes the point that there is at least the opportunity to attend the meeting and "force the discussion at Beautiful Trenton to be less beautiful and more pragmatic."

Taneshia said...

Chrissy, there is certainly an element of sameness to other communities and a political element that you also touch on in your comment. But the elephant in the room for many folks that look like me in Trenton (and 80% of Trenton is "black and brown") is simply race. And that is a sticking point for folks when they see the same 15 folks that mostly looks like the other 20%. Perceptions about race/class (from every spectrum) have to be confronted in this city. Not sure of the best way to do that though.

Taneshia said...

Ah Old Mill Hill I have some thoughts on what you just posted as I'm just seeing it after posting my latest comment, but they will have to wait until lunch or after work. I saw Dan's email this morning liked that he came at it from a "cynic's" view.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the "frequent 15" that show up to these meetings is that while they see the city's problems and call them out, the vast majority of the city's population is unaware of the issues and thus does not know what to do about them.

Out of 80,000 only 10,000 or so bother to vote. You have to figure that out of those 10,000, 1,000 or more are directly linked to the city's existing power structure through public or semi-public jobs (patronage), plus their families, and are probably here SOLELY because of the need to reside within the city to keep a city job.

Add to this the real estate developers, professionals, and others within our city's small elite who are also part of the status quo, and you can see why efforts of small civic groups, while genuine, are ultimately futile, except in some rare instances.

Old Mill Hill said...

Are we sure that “the vast majority of the city's population is unaware of the issues and thus does not know what to do about them?”

It could be argued that most people are aware of the basic, major issues confronting the city. Some of the subtler issues do escape the notice or comprehension of many people (the Santiago residency case for example). In either instance, if people feel helpless or unable to participate in working towards solutions they abdicate to the “frequent 15.”

Voter participation is another symptom of the malaise, and not just limited to Trenton residents. That feeling of “what can one person do” pervades the thought process and people give up. They either don’t vote (or participate) or go along with what they are told to do/think/say by “trusted” friends.

Yes, some do so out of fear for their or a loved-one’s job and others do so because it is an easy excuse. In addition, we can’t rule out that some “leaders” (community based or elected, doesn’t matter) feed that feeling to better control election outcomes and public opinion.

Nevertheless, in the end isn’t it the right and responsibility of every member of a democratic society to speak their mind and act on their beliefs? I don’t know of anyone who was born knowing how to participate effectively in civic life. Some manage to learn it, why can’t everyone?

{My we have covered a lot of territory in this little discussion, haven't we?}