I have awakened again at 2am for the third night this week and cannot help but ponder a community advisory meeting I attended yesterday evening. A few things stood out to me the most about this meeting that sort of strikes my very core. The purpose of this meeting is to serve the southern entry to my lovely town and to keep us apprised of the revitalization efforts that are occurring here. It was the first meeting I have ever attended, although they have been doing this for more than six months rather routinely. The first thing that became evident was that the city is really trying to make this area look better. The feedback from “us,” those in attendance from this area, was not coming from a gratitude-based place so much I soon noticed. In fact, for a moment (and subsequent moments throughout the two hours I was present), much of the feedback was coming from a fear-based place.
Four streets to my south is the entrance or the ending of my city, into other city limits. This particular area is not horrible, but it is not somewhere I would choose to be out alone in late at night. It is, however, where I frequent the local convenient store and go to do my laundry. There are drug dealers, homeless folks, folks who live just below the border in low income housing also frequenting these places. I remember when I first moved in here and told a couple of neighbors that I used this laundry mat and used this convenient mart frequently in my power wheelchair. I was cautioned nearly a year into living here about this area. I was aware and rarely, if ever, went either of the places at night anyway, but not because I was afraid. I was aware that sitting in a wheelchair with a maximum speed of five miles per hour pretty much left me a sitting duck and I did not go many places at night as a result.
I am no longer in a wheelchair, nor a sitting duck, but am not stupid either and exercise my common sense to choose not go to the laundry mat at night and will generally only go to the convenient mart if I am driving there or walking with others. Talk at the meeting was about creating an ordinance to have laundry mats not be open for 24 hours because of safety issues from the type of people who use this particular laundry mat. I sat there during the meeting, not certain if I should be offended personally by all of this talk. If there were such an ordinance, it would not directly affect me because, as I said, I do not use the laundry mat in the middle of the night anyway (generally, this is when I sleep, with clearly this week being an exception from the crud). The talk of the ordinance was not my concern, although it does make me pause. My concern was that we (as a group of citizens at this meeting) were afraid of differences. Just because someone is dealing drugs, does not mean they want to hurt you because you are going to the convenient mart. Just because a homeless man is doing his laundry in the middle of the night to be inside does not mean he is going to hurt you because you are also at the laundry mat.
I am a relatively attractive female and I have been using that laundry mat and convenient mart for nearly six years and living right here as an involved citizen of Dunedin (yes, as a renter) without incident. Honestly, without real fear of incident either.
The fear-based nature of the concerns was frankly disconcerting to hear, mostly because it is the antithesis of community. Additionally, it is disconcerting that the south side residents appeared to be quite intolerant of any differences in status. I do not like to think of my city as that, but I have always felt certain I was a bit disillusioned and that behind closed doors, the fear-based talk occurs and continues to feed itself. The south side is not great, is far from upscale and most folks are decent working humans trying to keep up with the basics. What is four streets down is not all that much different from my perspective. Besides that, I am not that much different from what is four streets down. I am neither a drug dealer nor a drug doer, but I am not rich in money and do live in a rental. Do they think there is not a drug market here in this town? There is a drug market in every town. One neighbor of mine was visibly upset with the outcome of another business that was a topic of conversation. She was quite angered that the city could not make this business look more appealing or run them out. During the rest of the meeting, she also seemed interested in ridding the area of rental properties as well. Absent property owners, do not keep up property and you cannot control who lives there—her bottom line reasoning. I get that, but am not sure ridding the area of rental properties solves the problem.
Again, I am not sure if I should be offended personally and chose not to be. I was reminded, however, that as open minded and accepting as this town can be with so very many things, and one thing remains, yes, even here. Fear. The projection of fear onto those who are different is being used as a defense mechanism for insecurities. If I need to hang on to what I have so badly that I am willing to exclude business and other humans from my general area, then I am living in fear. If I can appreciate what I have and understand that change occurs and be a part of the change rather than resisting the change, I am not living in fear. The revitalization efforts are an opportunity to be a part of the change and to create something better in the long term, rather than let the changes happen without foresight. Something better can never exclude those who, whether we like it or not, are a part of the community. To me, this is something reserved for those who chose to live in gated communities and have neighborhood associations with restrictions on house color, plants in the yard and types of cars parked out front.
This fear-based approach to problem solving also eliminates the possibility of embracing these “others” cooperatively, while providing an opportunity simultaneously to lift them up and giving them a sense of pride in their neighborhood. Communities can really do this when fear is not the primary motivator for involvement of the individuals making up the community.