Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Does Uptown Have a Sense of Community?

One of the charges sometimes leveled against Uptown is that it lacks a sense of community. Could this possibly be true? And if it true, even if only in part, why is that the case and what can we do about it?

I am not a trained social scientist, but I think a few minutes spent reviewing the Sense of Community Index (SCI), an index used to quantitatively study this exact issue, would be worthwhile. You can read the entire document on the Association for the Study and Development of Community's website, but I'll pick out a few questions or statements from the questionnaire for consideration:

"Community members and I value the same things." I think this is a source of tension in Uptown; as I mentioned in a previous post, I think there is a "clash of cultures" at work in the neighborhood. Still, there should be enough overriding big issues - safe streets being at the very top - that we can overcome our other differences.

"People in this community have similar needs, priorities, and goals." Again, I'm not trained in this stuff. I have some questions on this particular point. I think a vibrant community has people of all age brackets, and realistically this means that there will be many different needs, priorities, and goals. I hope that an overall shared goal of having a safe and supportive environment in which to live can unite everyone regardless of age, family status, or personal interests.

"I can recognize most of the members of this community." Obviously this is never going to happen for Uptown as a whole. We should aim to recognize everyone living on our block, and beyond that to recognize or know at least some of the other people that we encounter at the parks, at the stores, at the coffee shops, or just out and about the neighborhood.

"Being a member of this community is a part of my identity." This is true for many Uptown residents; for others the neighborhood is just a temporary address as they move forward in life. At least Uptown is a distinctive, well-known area; we don't need to be worried about people not realizing that they live in Uptown. How important that address is to their personal identities is a bigger question.

"I expect to be part of this community for a long time." This one gets tough - it's easy for homeowners to say this; they have a house or condo, and if they're lucky they have a stable, fixed rate mortgage and know that they'll be around until they die or move off to Florida. It's not so easy for Uptown's many, many renters. Renters may want to stay around for a long time, but at some point they'll face a decision the decision of whether to rent or to buy. Without a broader range of affordable housing many would-be Uptown homeowners are simply priced out of the market. The result is a two-tier system, with homeowners having an incentive to invest in the community while renters face the conundrum of giving Uptown their all yet still having to give it all up if their rent goes up or if they want to buy. Some renters never intend on staying - Uptown is a fun place to live with friends in that post-college, pre-family stage. Others want to stay and raise their families here but don't have much of a choice. I don't know what the solution is (rent control, perhaps?) but do think that the revolving door of renters does impact the larger shared sense of unified community.

I believe that Uptown does have a strong sense of community, but do think that this renter/owner split does need to be addressed. The neighborhood organizations need to continue to reach out to all residents regardless of age and home status, and to make a concentrated effort to bring renters and young professionals into the fold. The powers-that-be need to continue to address home affordability issues. Renters and owners alike need to reach out to their fellow neighbors. Block leaders need to be recruited, supported, and energized - maybe they can help draw people together to ensure that even those who don't attend formal meetings feel like valued members of the community. Together, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood, we can prove to ourselves and to the city at large that Uptown is overflowing with community spirit and pride.

1 comment:

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