Monday, November 22, 2010

The Art of Community

So, as previously blogged, I advocate for lower taxes.

How can we maintain quality of life for less fortunate members of society while decreasing funding for things like shelters, libraries, fire fighters, schools etc.?  The answer is community.  I don't know how much I have harped about this topic over the past decade, but what really brought it into focus for me was my work in Altoona with the Community Interest Group (CIG).  The CIG was my experiment in democracy.

If any of you are familiar with Altoona, you know that it has become increasingly depressed over the last 60 years.  I had to live there for my first two years of college, it was a downer.  What puzzled me, however, was the amazing assets the city had:  an impressive Railroad Museum, an historic Theatre (the Mishler), a local theater company, two really unique and satisfying art galleries,  more than three chocolate factories, the historic Horse Shoe Curve railroad track, a beautiful historic downtown (although empty), a plethora of  one of a kind ethnic mom and pop shops and restaurants, 35 community parks (almost all in disrepair), and a Penn State campus.  So, what is wrong with this city?  Why hasn't it found a way to recover?  My main findings over two years of research on the community was this: one, though the city had exemplary community leaders and organizations they did not communicate or work together (they actually fought with each other over 'turf' and projects for glory and funding); two, citizens of the community did not want to get involved (though they knew how to complain); three, the downtown was held hostage by old, wealthy interests, who demanded extraordinary rents and wanted only big corporate offices downtown; and four, everyone had a really bad image of their own town, so they did not believe that it could change.  In short, though the tools and pieces of a great community are waiting to be used, the city does not have a positive, active community. 

Altoona is an extreme example.  The citizens expected the government to do everything- keep up the parks, renovate dilapidated buildings, plant trees on sidewalks, clean the leaves from the trees on the sidewalks, police neighbors and neighborhoods, revitalize downtown, support the library, etc.- along with their mandatory duties of maintaining streets, keeping water and electricity running etc.  All of those things require tax dollars, and everything in the first part of that list could have been taken on by an organized community.

That is what I tried to do- organize the community.  You could have called me (cover your eyes!  don't utter this word to your children...) a COMMUNITY ORGANIZER (OMGosh, I said it, and in cap locks!  Soon they'll be calling me socialist and demand to see my birth certificate.)  Look, if your community is not organized- it needs to be.  People working together to create a good quality of life for themselves and their neighbors is what made America's what makes any country, state, town or city great.  Also, elbow grease and TLC by part of citizens decreases burdens on our government and can DECREASE DEMAND FOR TAXES.

I see a lot of finger pointing and complaining at the government, and I haven't heard enough "Ask not what your government can do for you, but what you can do for your country."  The fact is most people don't pay attention to what our leaders are really doing, and most people don't do what they can to contribute to their own community.  This has led us into a downward spiral of:

Citizen:  "Our leaders aren't listening to us."

Elected Leader:  "Leaders are elected to lead, not to listen to the b*#ch and wine club." (actual quote from Altoona Mayor)

The fact is, I went door to door, and organized events to get people involved in their neighborhoods in Altoona- everyone was enthusiastic when talking about it, but when the time came for action NO ONE SHOWED UP TO ACT.

If you advocate for lower taxes- find out what your community needs and organize your community to do it.  The United Way, City Planners, and Community Action centers (one in every county in PA) are all good places to start.

My experiment in democracy failed, I hope ours as a whole can find a way to come together.


  1. These are just a few thoughts: Deregulation and outsourcing of jobs to other countries (closing of our factories, etc)are two big problems causing our economic demise (aside from the lying, enbezzling banks, wall street, the fed reserve, and insurance companies). As far as Altoona, these are my questions: How many job opportunities exist in Altoona today vs 60 years ago? Are there old businesses that require workers? Are there new businesses starting that need new workers? Of the abandoned, closed buildings, how many used to be a place of work. Somewhere that manufactured something? How many people have moved into the community vs. how many have moved out? Just a couple of thoughts.

  2. Kat, love it!!! You said it well. while your uncle Jim and I are republican, it is still We the People. And while everyone wants our government to take care of everything, boy they pull the plug, when it starts to infiltrate your little corner of the world. So Bravo for you and your message. Our neighbors don't know their neighbors so to do such a thing in today's world with both parents working and the kids growing up alone so to speak, the days you speak of for many are a mere memory of perhaps their own childhood. Love you and welcome to motherhood.
    Aunt Vicki & Uncle Jim