Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another sort of Critical Mass?: Some observations regarding last night's Delano Neighborhood Association meeting

Image found here.

Thanks to Karen (she of Delano Wichita--her post on the meeting is here, by the way) and her kind note in a comment, I attended last night's meeting of the Delano Neighborhood Association (DNA), which had as guests two representatives of Wichita's planning commission to discuss progress on Delano's neighborhood revitalization plan (which, by the way, includes a rails-to-trails conversion that will cut an east-west route through about a third of the breadth of the neighborhood)--and surprise (to me) visitor, District 6 council member Janet Miller (An added bonus: a representative of the Wichita Public Library was in attendance, as well, ostensibly to talk about the library's summer reading program but who fielded questions about the new central library building, to be built in Delano). It was a pleasure to meet both Karen and Janet and, even though, as Karen phrased it, I actually live in "Greater Delano" and not in the actual neighborhood, I was made to feel welcome there. I look forward to attending future meetings.

Karen told me that last night's meeting was well attended--she'd done a good job of getting word out: all told, there were about 20 people there.

Some personal impressions later. First, though, a few words on the rail-to-trail project. Here's a summary description:
Convert vacated railroad right-of-way into a linear park with small plazas, water features and activity nodes; thus connecting neighborhood parks and expanded recreation opportunities in the neighborhood and the waterfront.
The route appears on the city's bike-route map as the tan line running about a block north of Douglas from the west bank of the river to two blocks west of Seneca.

As the description makes clear, this project would be very much in the mode of the recently-completed Midtown Bike Path--and will cost about the same amount of money to build ($1.7 million in all). And about that money: According to the handout given to us by the Planning Commission's Dave Barber, the money is currently in the city wish-list, but not until the 2013-2014 fiscal year. As I listened to the discussion, it was clear that everyone who spoke is in favor of getting this project done; indeed, the recurring question was, in essence, Why isn't this thing built already?--and one person mentioned the Midtown Bike Path by way of implying that Delano's wishes for something similar had been passed over in favor of the wishes of another part of town. Barber pointed out that the Midtown path had also been years in the making, from proposal to ribbon-cutting, and the solution to ensuring that the Delano project stays in the funding pipeline is to keep speaking up on its behalf in meetings and in letters to our representatives (Janet Miller and Paul Gray)

(Aside: as a first-time visitor to DNA, I'm afraid to say too much on this matter, but it seems clear that Delano folks don't feel that their wishes for their neighborhood always get acknowledged at City Hall.)

This project, it's clear, matters to Delano folks, not just in and of itself but also because it is the first step in the direction of achieving something larger, also mentioned in the Revitalization Plan:
Create a world-class multi-use neighborhood village, taking strategic advantage of proximity to Exploration Place, the Arkansas River, Downtown, and the Museum District. This will serve as a catalyst for additional fill-in and renovation.
A fuller description is here--scroll down about halfway to find it.

As I understand it, the linear park would run through that part of the Delano envisioned for this space and would itself serve as a catalyst for the development sought there. I will need to pick the brains of those in the DNA who are more knowledgeable about the initial discussions of the Urban Village, but it's clear from the description of the concept that it's very much in line with notions this blog has supported with regard to creating urban spaces that envision people actually living there--and not just in the Delano, either. Surely, there's space elsewhere for such a concept.

Some personal impressions, now, colored by both my usual optimism and by the fact that I'm going on first impressions. Last night felt like an important night for the Delano. On the one hand, there were folks who have lived in the community all their lives and who love it and its potential but who, well, have been at this for a very long time (some of these folks are in their seventies and eighties). The changes they want to see, they know they will not live to see completed--thus for them, to borrow a phrase, the fierce urgency of now: they know how bureaucracies work, that once some money actually gets spent on something it's hard to shut it down until it's completed. On the other hand, it seems equally clear, thanks to folks like Karen stirring the pot, that the chance to get these things started on is stronger than it has been in some time. She told me, in fact, that she'd Twittered so much about the meeting that Cindy Klose got in touch to ask her if the station should send a crew to the meeting. (I told Karen that she should have said, "Yes--there will be people there with hand-painted signs!!") And even better, there are friends of cycling and livable cities on both the council and in the Planning Office: Janet Miller, whom I immediately liked, is every bit as committed to cycling in person as she is in writing, and she passed on to me the word about cycling allies in Planning.

So, like, good, y'know? But, again: my big lesson and reminder from last night is that true governance at its best, especially at the local level, is not top-down but a dialogue among citizens, elected officials, and administrators. It seems clear to me that, in the Delano at least, there's strong interest among residents for something better for their section of the city and strong receptiveness among those city officials who were there. But the twain need to meet--and keep meeting.


Karen in Wichita said...

I'm gonna gerrymander you back out if you keep calling it "the" Delano, though. I don't get the whole "the 'Ta" nickname either, which probably means I'm too old. I vastly prefer the old Marsh Murdock rhetoric... I mean, how can you not love a town nickname like "Magical Mascot of the Meridian"? I ask you.

But seriously: I think the problem isn't at its core that Delano is ignored by City Hall so much as it is that there's only so much City Hall can do with our unfunded mandates. That's just shorthand for the real problem, which is that Delano is ignored by everyone with the resources to develop it, so complaining to City Hall is of limited effectiveness.

I'm still trying to figure out how we can pull off sneaking out one night (or in broad daylight under the "look like you belong" principle) and paving the darn thing ourselves. And putting up guerilla neighborhood markers, while we're at it.

I've been too busy ironing the technical kinks out of DWcom to editorialize (and now I gotta write up that whole meeting myself too), but I keep thinking we ought to play off the way the businesses are starting to tend (Twist, Sew What, the clay studios, the art studios), and push the "DIY Delano" thing. Bypassing City Hall on a few things would fit in with that pretty well. (Provided it happened in such a way that nobody got arrested, anyway...)

Russell Arben Fox said...

When is the next meeting, John? And whenever it is, do you think you could wrangle me an invite? There are some ideas I have which I'd like to bounce around with some of the folks there.

John B. said...

Given the dilemma over just what the official name for the neighborhood is--not to mention its physical identity troubles--I'd thought "the Delano" might resolve things. But I don't want to rile the real residents. As to the rest of your observations, yeah. We could use an angel or two along the lines of the ones beginning to flock to the downtown revitalization project. But I'd think the linear park's completion would be a potential enticement to developers with a bit of imagination, too.

Russell--good to hear from you. I've sent your e-mail address on to people who can do the wrangling better than I can.