Sunday, January 11, 2015

Nextdoor South of Greenwyche

I was recently asked to be a member of a neighborhood group called Greenwyche South of Drake(Nextdoor).  I had some questions about the purpose of joining this group but I reflected a moment and thought it a good idea.  We should have a "North" of Drake group too that together would comprise the Greenwyche Neighborhood Association.  The purposes are not obvious so I would like to address the advantages of such a community association.

The first thing to note is that no matter how friendly we are with our neighbors we are not dependent on them. We are not a village.  We are a group of independent families. Our lives circle out of our neighborhood to our jobs, activities, churches, schools, and shopping.  Most of us typically rely and depend on family members, work colleagues, fellow church members, city services, and paid service providers. If our neighbors are our friends then of course we rely on them but our proximity does not make us interdependent, like a normal village would.  A village would be an assemblage of mutually supporting interdependencies, one step up from the household economy, but today, being independent,  we have no obvious reason to build closer dependencies.  Building a community is time consuming and in our current economic environment has not been seen as necessary.  “Community” is thus one of those things that you don’t really need until you need it.  Currently we enjoy our freedom. 

There is a problem though.   I don’t think “community” can be suddenly turned on when it is needed.  Local government at the city council level encompasses the entire city (all 215 square miles of it), not the neighborhood level.  So the locus of communal action is the city or county level.  In many circumstances this scope of concern is too large.  We don’t necessarily care what is of concern on the other side of town.  Our schools are here,  not there. The big five utilities are electricity/gas, water, sewage, trash and cable/internet.  We have a public utility that provides the first four and private companies (Comcast, Google, DirectTV, and Wow) that provide the last. Our primary concern with these utilities is that they work.  Our secondary concern is that they do not go up in price too fast. We understand a little adjustment every year and we understand gouging. There is nothing governmental about these critical parts of our infrastructure and we are totally dependent upon their interest in our welfare.  Our complete quality of life depends upon these vital services.   What other sorts of neighborhood issues do we face today? Burglary? Neighbor relations? ( A catchall that could include frequent parties, barking animals, poor home maintenance).  Road maintenance?   Land use or property maintenance? Recreation? Schools? In short, we pay taxes and expect services from the city for life quality issues. 

So what would a community association do?  Is there anything  we would like to do jointly that the city would not be inclined to help us with?  Are there any problems BEST addressed at the neighborhood level?  I think there could be if we considered adopting neighborhood goals that fostered greater community and self sufficiency.  What would some of these goals be? 100% home ownership?  Employment for everyone who wants a job?  50% renewable energy with solar? Community watch/policing?  Better school involvement from non-parents? less garbage/waste? disaster preparedness? local currency district, community gardens?

Right now, at this time, I do not think there is an overarching need for  or even interest in greater community governance but I think it would be wise to consider a shadow structure that could be prepared to make important local decisions. I believe that living  primarily locally and sustainably is an important goal for the future.   Globalism and transnationalism have been the dominant philosophy for the last 30-40 years. Our growth model has increased specialization and complexity. But I think we are undergoing a retrenchment.  I think we are in the process of watching those international  multilateral organizations disintegrate.  Ultimately I think resource issues will curtail this philosophy of expanding international linkages and then a slow slide into a de-industrial future will be recognized as having already begun.  We are dependent on growth for our current lifestyle but infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.  When growth stalls and the Progress Myth evaporates, our focus will need to turn to a more local level.  I believe peak oil represents a fundamental change in our economic system that will necessarily lead to a new financial normal. If we truly desire to live with as much freedom as possible, it will be important to have a solid local community. 

 Paradoxically, in the past, large cities and their anonymity have given people more freedom while local communities have been more confining, not accepting deviant behavior and demanding adherence to specific norms.  But a Community may be able to resist a future of atomized individuals ruled through the national State which could have sharp restrictions on freedom.  A financial calamity would leave us all dependent, like New Orleans after Katrina, on assistance from outside our local area and it may not be available or come with onerous consequences. There could be rules we don't like such as you only have access to your bank account for $300/week.  You can't travel to other cities. We need more taxes and your house is in our jurisdiction. There may be many rules for what you can and must do to support the authorities and all couched in the need for "sacrifice" for the common good.  Do not doubt that I am willing to sacrifice for my neighbors but I may be disenfranchised from contributing to how that is best done. What if a mandatory 2 year draft for young people is instituted so they are required to help in failing schools or "keep order".

I am expecting a collapse of our current financial system. I have no real idea of what that means.  I expect bank accounts to be revalued, pensions to be altered, debts forgiven and payments demanded.    This nearly occurred in 2008 and only massive injections of suddenly created money were able to stabilize the downturn.  Those issues have NOT been solved and will re-play again leading to financial and commercial collapse or massive economic changes in the near (2-10 year) future.  A broken financial system could mean widespread joblessness and erratic food and consumer goods supply.   
Several years ago we had a tornado in Northern Madison County that impacted our neighborhood with power loss for 5 days.  Individually we sat around our radios at 9:00 AM waiting for the mayor to tell us what was going on.   We then did whatever we thought necessary to improve our situation.   We had a curfew—no driving after dark by order of the sheriff and we bought generators to power refrigerators and re-connect ourselves to the outside world.  We did not face security problems—burglaries and the like nor did we have food insecurity issues.  The areas around us had power and a short drive could re-supply most needs.  If the involved service area had been much wider, this favorable condition may not have been the case.  We were also graced with perfect temperate weather, no heating or cooling was necessary. If the grid is down for longer then the 5 days we experienced, then many, many problems become immediate and critical.  Refrigeration.  Heating/cooling.  Cooking.  Water.  Food availability.  If banks and money are shut down, nothing will be like it was.  Old prices are no longer meaningful.  The ATM moment occurs when cash does not come out of the machine.  Credit/debit cards are just useless plastic.  Could this happen?  It did happen in 2008 in several countries.   We would look to government to fix it.  And then we may not like ‘the fix’.  We could be like stranded Katrina survivors waiting for someone to rescue us.  In some cases, that did not work out well. ….
Greenwyche neighborhood can be defined as all the houses whose occupants leave the neighborhood by Drake Ave or Garth Rd.  Cedarhurst is a small subset. From Robin Lane to Downing to Appalachee to Chandler around to Toney.  Nextdoor has included only the homes SOUTH of Drake but we should encourage a North of Drake group that includes the hill country people on  Downing, Barcody, Hickory Hill, Chandler, and Stonehurst.  This would include all the people in the shadow of Monte Sano.  People on the other side of the Farm are Jones Valley people and is another neighborhood.

So now that we know who we are, what sort of community are we?  I am going to think out loud about it.  If everyone was encouraged to join this group we could establish the structure of representative democracy where all issues of concern to the neighborhood were brought up for consideration, discussed, and codified. We could do it actually in a meeting at a central location like Valley Methodist Church or virtually in an app like Nextdoor.  A village of 1,000 homes is too large for everyone to know everyone else and operate like a pure democracy.  Dunbarton's # suggests that people can "know" approximately 150 other people well.  We would know everyone with one degree of separation.  That is why we would need a representative system perhaps organized by blocks.
We already have a local government and it is a reasonable question as to what exactly a neighborhood group is organized to do  We can exchange lost dog info and warn of burglars and car thieves but I think the most  practical purpose is to encourage community awareness and foster local decision-making institutions.  We all work together to control the problems of living together.  Philosophically, the need for community organizing is really only necessary when larger government entities do NOT provide for the general welfare.  If  everyone is happy with how life is in our community then we do not need to utilize this proposed “shadow” neighborhood system. But if conditions at a larger level fail and our circumstances are deteriorating, then we will want the protections of a well organized local community.

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