Thursday, July 2, 2009

Front Porch Cycle Chic: The Delano District as community-state

The 2003 re-zoning map for the Delano District. Click on the image to enlarge. Image found here.

For this third Front Porch Cycle Chic post (the others--and, be forewarned/forearmed, they are lengthy but not vital to have read for this post--are here and here), I want to try to link up some things said earlier to my post from April on Rob Horning's "Hobby Economy." By way of reply to the April post, Karen of Delano Wichita posted "Delanonomics," where, within the context of the Delano District's quest to have some gateways built to demarcate the neighborhood, she links to some articles about various DIY projects taken on by other neighborhoods when they got tired of their local governments' inactions. She closes with this:
I’m still not sure where to go with all that. Is it the (an?) answer to the recurring, “I’m a resident of the Delano Neighborhood/member of the Delano Neighborhood Association. What’s in it for me” question? Which is, you guessed it, the subject of another upcoming post.
She is asking, in other words, about the community's sense of itself, its identity. How can Delanonians come to regard their neighborhood as a place not merely where they sleep, but where they live?

Delano Wichita is, to my mind, very much part of that discussion--not in the sense of what in grad school we called subject-formation, but in the sense of providing the District with, well, a virtual front porch, a place where neighbors can share and comment on the news. It's the commenting-on where the work of identity begins: out of that commentary emerges, over time, a clearer sense of what is important to Delanonians as Delanonians--that is, what their commonly-held concerns are. Out of that discussion will emerge, over time, a peculiarly Delanonian sense of their common good. (For a nice discussion of the difference between common concerns (what Augustine called "loved things held in common") and common good, see the comments section, beginning at the 6th comment down, of my friend Russell Arben Fox's Front Porch Republic post, "Communitarianism, Conservatism, Populism and Localism: An Updated Survey.")

But, as Delanonians' frustration with not having gateways shows--indeed, with there being some confusion even at the official level with the very boundaries of the Delano District--it's difficult to establish what common concerns are without the existence of common goods--which, as I just said above, ideally arise from and as expressions of common concerns. This is why the Delano Clock Tower (image found here) has become so iconic: for now, it's the only public-space expression of the District that signifies with anything like adequacy that one has arrived in the District. But the tower isn't in the center of the District but on its eastern end. Meanwhile, there are street signs that say "Delano" along Seneca on the approaches to Douglas, but they point only east: as if to say that "Delano" consists only of Douglas from Seneca to McLean. And to my knowledge no signage, accurate or not, of any sort appears on the western edge of the District.

So, the need for some sort of prominent--and accurate--gateways, or at least signage, for the Delano District: that will define a space mutually acknowledged not only by Delanonians but by Wichitans generally . . . a visible first step in establishing a community-state's distinctiveness. But boundaries are as much (more?) for other people as they are for the residents who live within the space they delimit. Communities are defined not just by boundaries but by what they contain. And besides, you may be thinking: what does all of this have to do with bicycles?

Well: as I said at the beginning of this post, I think of Delano Wichita as being something like the District's virtual front porch, but it still needs a physical space that performs that same function, one of such a nature that people would bike/walk to and in it--in other words, a space seen primarily as Delanonian (though not to the exclusion of Wichitans, of course). The long-proposed, till-now-delayed bike path, which I first mentioned here and and recently spoke with Janet Miller about here, is a good example of what I mean: the path, plus what the path would have the potential to foster as people propose and develop residences and businesses physically and conceptually oriented toward the path and its traffic. A space distinctively, clearly Delanonian, because it would be a destination as well as a thoroughfare, in which, via not only residences and commerce but also public gatherings of whatever sort--some integrated with Wichita events, some more neighborhood-oriented--Delanonians cultivate and participate in the communal life of the District. Such a space might also provide impetus toward the development of the urban village called for in the District's revitalization plan. The bike-path and the space on either side of it would by its very nature not have to be car-centric in the way Douglas's recent re-design is; it would be the sort of space that people so inclined would regularly want to walk or ride their bikes to, and not just for recreational purposes--especially if there were residences on the path as well as near it, and especially if basic shopping were provided . . . like, say, a corner grocery store.

There'd be no other part of Wichita quite like this. It'd be cooler--because more livable--than any other part of the city. I'd think that Delanonians would be quite all right with being identified with such a space.

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