Monday, April 5, 2010

A Tale Of Two Cities

It was the best of meetings. It was the worst of meetings. The meeting referred to was the first of three community meetings to gather input on redevelopment plans for the west Spring Valley Road area in Richardson. After the jump, two different perspectives of that meeting.

Here's how the city described the meeting:

"Approximately 60 people representing a cross-section of stakeholders in the study area and from the surrounding neighborhoods attended. The 188-acre corridor is bounded by Coit Road on the west, Spring Valley on the south, Central Expressway (north to Dumont Drive) on the east and the single-family residential neighborhood on the north. The objective of the study is to create a redevelopment and reinvestment strategy that takes into account community goals, market realities, physical constraints and opportunities, political priorities and public and private financial resources. Two additional community meetings are planned for May and June and the final presentation of the strategy to the City Council, including implementation steps, is scheduled for July."

"Cross-section of stakeholders." Sounds representative, right? Well, dig a little and the doubts emerge. Here's how blogger bloggermouse described the same meeting:

"The majority of the ~50 attendees were homeowners. There was a renter and some biz owners and some non SVC interlopers like me. Apparently some folks from Dallas were there. ... The audience skewed distinctly Anglo, shall we say. ... What Richardson Heights doesn't want: Mexicans. Things that are Mexicany. Admitting that it's about Mexicans."

I've blogged about this subject before, in a piece titled "The Hispanic Elephant in the Room". It's all well and good that the City of Richardson is holding community meetings. It's all well and good that homeowners in the area (who are indeed stakeholders) turned out in respectable numbers to let the city know what they would like to see (and not like to see) as part of redevelopment. All of that is good and should be commended.

But if there is any significant faction of stakeholders who are *not* represented, the city risks getting it wrong. It won't matter why they aren't represented. The mistakes will have been made. If the city wants to get it right, the city needs to ensure all stakeholders are at the table, whether they want to be there or not, whether others at the table want them there or not, even whether they live in Richardson or only come across the street from Dallas to shop here. Here's what I said in that earlier blog post. It still appears to be valid today.

"Let's face it. Richardson's minorities are not represented on the city council or at council meetings and work sessions even though that's where the decisions are made that will have a huge impact on the neighborhoods where Richardson's minorities live and shop. Perhaps it's because minorities don't vote in numbers big enough to have their voices be heard. Richardson's at-large system of government is designed to keep it that way. Until minorities speak up, it's likely that roomfuls of white people are going to continue to make the decisions for the community as a whole. It's up to the elephant in the room to speak."

In a different, but related story, The Dallas Morning News reports that Richardson City Council member Amir Omar has been proactive in giving another often overlooked stakeholder faction a seat at the table.

"Early most Friday mornings, 11 University of Texas at Dallas students gather at the Comet Cafe on campus to talk about the week ahead. ... The weekly gathering is with City Council member Amir Omar, who last year assembled his 'staff' to help him do background research and to develop programs. Some of their work has been adopted as city policy, including the new Tree the Town initiative to plant thousands of trees in the city. Some projects are well under way; others are simply ideas that may or may not come to fruition."

It's great to see someone at City Hall taking the initiative to involve historically uninvolved students in the city's future. Maybe another city council member will take it upon himself to be the champion of community outreach to a different unheard stakeholder faction in southwest Richardson.

Update March 6, 2010:

At Monday's City Council worksession, Amir Omar suggested the city solicit inputs from renters at future community meetings. (Good for him.) Community Projects Manager Monica Heid, who updated the council on the first community meeting, indicated that renters weren't approached directly because they might have ideas that property owners wouldn't like. (In the city's view, stakeholder means property owner. Living, working, shopping, playing in the area does not qualify one as stakeholder.) John Murphy said he would listen more to property owners than renters. (It's more like listen *only* to property owners given how the first community meeting was organized.) Gary Slagel indicated his opposition to getting input from renters by saying the city isn't planning for what's there already but for what we want there. (Why renters aren't qualified to have good ideas about what we want there wasn't explained.) Bottom line: things are even worse than I thought. If I were a renter, regardless of ethnicity, I wouldn't feel welcome in Richardson.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

On The Dallas Morning News' Richardson blog, Ian McCann parenthetically summarized my position as 'It's not that they're apartment dwellers. It's about race.' In fact, my position is that ethnicity and class are both fault lines that run through the landscape in southwest Richardson. My bottom line regarding the community meeting was that 'If I were a renter, regardless of ethnicity, I wouldn't feel welcome in Richardson.'