What do you propose to do about the city’s racial/economic divide?
Ultimately, I think this issue comes down to the ability to participate in the City. While race and economics are two ways of looking at the problem, I look more along the lines of how rooted individuals are in the City and much of that is the homeowner and renter divide. I think the City’s efforts to support tenants’ associations are great steps towards addressing this issue. Additionally, I feel council members should regularly walk their wards to talk with the City’s residents.
One additional idea that I think would help as well involves building on the arrival of Capital Bikeshare. I would like the City to work to attract more car-sharing locations within the City limits; this would increase access to transportation to all residents but particularly those with fewer resources and are less likely to own a vehicle.
I would further like the City to investigate whether it makes sense to subsidize the car-share or bike-share memberships of residents, particularly those with fewer economic resources. In order to allow more residents to use car-sharing, the City may also want to consider having the Recreation Department offer drivers’ education classes.
The city’s racial and economic divide is linked to two issues that I have identified as priorities for the city: First, to maintain income diversity, we must continue to support rent stabilization without undermining the quality of rental housing. We must try to increase the inventory of accessory apartments without adding to the demands on street parking. And we must take actions to reduce the property tax burden. Second, to broaden access and participation, we must find ways to reconfigure our informal social networks so that more genuine friendships develop across lines of class, income, race, ethnicity, language, age, homeownership status, and geographic location in the city.
Festivals and special events do little to foster these kinds of new friendships. Neither do listservs – in fact, we all know from experience that listserv and email-based discussion of important civic issues tends to narrow, rather than broaden, access and participation because of the nature of this medium.
The best way to foster new friendships that cut across dividing lines in the community is to create opportunities for people to engage in hands-on productive activities together. Such activities could include teen and youth local employment networks involving local businesses committed to local employment and job training; the creation of an energy conservation/efficiency corps to audit and retrofit buildings for energy efficiency; school-related functions, community gardening, gleaning from urban orchards, environmental stewardship, and literacy programs, programs to link senior citizens with children, sponsored opportunities for nanny training and networking, and expanded sports leagues and sports offerings.
In my personal experience, Takoma Park’s class divide is more profound that any racial divide. I would like to say a little more about this issue. The City tends to face inward towards Old Takoma while turning its back on New Hampshire Avenue. I would guess that most city council members, and most residents, cannot name the Ward 3 businesses along New Hampshire Avenue and do not think of this area as economically significant in comparison to the Junction.
At a Takoma Voice-sponsored forum last year, council members were asked to respond to the question, “Will there ever be any nightlife in Takoma Park?” A couple of members mentioned the Olive Lounge and implied that, well, that’s about all we have. Not a single member mentioned the Come to Africa nightclub on New Hampshire Avenue. This, to me, is symptomatic of a class divide that is reinforced by transportation patterns and by social networks.
A progressive town surely never intends to turn it back on the future! If we want people on the edges of town to become active in civic life, changing the dominant perspective is more important than changing the voting age. I live on a block that is equidistant from Carroll Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue, and I’ve chosen to take a strong and active interest in the eastward direction as part of Pinecrest. We’re building a genuine, warm sense of community in a great, diverse neighborhood. In Ward 3 and in the City as a whole right now, we need to pursue great opportunities in our edge neighborhoods and great partnerships with our jurisdictional neighbors. This kind of perspective will help to reduce the class divide in Takoma Park.
There are a number of people in the city working on this issue and I look forward to joining them to address the city’s racial/economic divide. One example of the exciting work that is taking place to bridge this divide is the work of CHEER (Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research).
At the moment, CHEER is spearheading a collaborative effort to address major concerns related to local youth and is planning a Youth Summit to address issues impacting young people in the community. I have also been discussing ways to connect members of the community with young men and women who are participating in M.A.N.U.P. (Making a New United People) a program that works directly with local adolescent boys and girls through social programs that emphasize education, social responsibility, self-empowerment, and economic awareness. Both efforts have received significant financial support from the city and I would continue to support them along with grants to other organizations that help bring us together.