Just returned from a 3 day visit to Philadelphia by way of a program sponsored by NeighborWorks America. It’s a peer to peer site visit to learn more about how other organizations operate. Some organizations function more like construction companies or property managers providing affordable housing to urban and rural populations that are otherwise underserved primarily because of their location or their per capita income. I chose the New Kensington Community Development Corporation(NKCDC) in Philadelphia because of the neighborhoods they represent and their emphasis on community organizing.
Ever wonder about why you feel more comfortable in some places then in others? Why some neighborhoods feel more friendly or safe then others? Why politicians always have pictures of flags, babies, and seniors on their brochures? Your favorite date place has soft lights, maybe candles and friendly service? Offices have cubicles or some churches smell of incenses, or even why policemen wear uniforms. Its all about creating an environment, establishing a sense of order, who the players are and what their role is.
Code for America? Whats that and what are they doing in Kansas City, Kansas? Well let’s start with who or what is Code for America? The Washington Post described Code for America as “the technology world’s equivalent of the Peace Corps or Teach for America.” The article goes on to say, “They bring fresh blood to the solution process, deliver agile coding and software development skills, and frequently offer new perspectives on the latest technology — something that is often sorely lacking from municipal government IT programs. This is a win-win for cities that need help and for technologists that want to give back and contribute to lower government costs and the delivery of improved government service.” So what are they doing in KCK? To be fair the team is actually working in KCMO and KCK. Both cities are lucky to have been assigned Code for America’s “A”team, Andrew, Alison and Ariel. They will work as a team conducting listening and work sessions with community leaders and neighbors and with city government in a collaboration to develop a web application to solve a civic problem identified by the city in their project proposals.
It can mean everything or it can mean nothing depending on who has defined what it means for your neighborhood. If you ask your neighbors what they want they will undoubtedly produce a list of things – like better sidewalks and curbs, faster police and fire response, less vandalism and fewer stray dogs and feral cats. Others want coffee shops, retail stores, bike trails, community gardens, or entertainment and recreational centers, even wifi. Its true these things can make life in the neighborhood more enjoyable, more convenient and even healthier but what these things really do is create a sense of place.
Like most things it depends on who you talk to. Local government defines graffiti as anything, usually painted, on public or private property without the permission of the property owner. Gang scripting generally associated with territory or messaging and then there is tagging the process of making a mark. Graffiti artists may tell you that they focus their work on blighted areas because they want to draw attention to civic priorities, inequality, or make statements about politics and social injustice. Some just want to show their work or that scripting and tagging are about being noticed. Some say this goes back to the early days of man and the first hand print on a cave wall – mans quest for relevance. In the eyes of property owners its vandalism and to governmental bodies and businesses it is a form of vandalism that robs monies from parks, infrastructure and public safety budgets each year.
Los Angles spent 7 million dollars last year abating graffiti. Omaha about $100,000 and Kansas City, Mo about $250,000 – surely there is a better solution . Many cities across the country have employed artist to paint murals that brighten avenues and downtown areas. Some have created spray walls or free spray areas where any of the above can do their thing. Sometimes blanking the canvas every month or so to start anew. Most murals have remained untouched for years but of late there has been a trend to “tag” someone else’s work. To tag new structures, windows, highway signs, cars, and public art. Even religious symbols that used to be untouchable are being hit.