The announcement last week that a group of Meadowood residents are organizing to set community standards, Southwest Side residents asked to back a 'residents bill of rights' provides the opportunity for meaningful change in a great Madison neighborhood, presents a real challenge to city officials, and can serve as a model for future progress:
A group of Southwest Side residents, in conjunction with a public affairs organization, is promoting a new social contract for residents in the area intended to address a recent increase in crime and other quality-of-life concerns.
We know that no matter how high the standards of a community, if the residents do not fight to maintain those community values, they can succumb to crime and poverty. That a group of neighbors see this is encouraging.
But there are some problems. The leaders of this effort "are all white, and most of those who are helping organize the effort also are white," and "Another group, calling itself Families and Communities Unite, has begun a similar effort to tackle problems in the area and is led primarily by black residents."
Both efforts willl fail unless they are merged and combined. Both sides of a racial and economic divide must make a unified effort to do two things: make the area safe from thugs and simultaneously improve the real economic condition of all area residents.
Meadowood is not an affluent area - it never was and never will be. The modest owner-occupied homes are the residences of working people who generally do not have the time to engage in much of the philosophical discussions that pepper the Internet. They are undertaking a major effort that requires support.
City officials and other resources including religious organizations and many of the excellent non-profits that serve our community can play a valuable role as resources and facilitators in moving this discussion along and translating the aspirations into reality.
There will be some other challenges. The proposal that the neighborhood have a veto power over the location of Section 8 housing probably flies in the face of federal law.
The underlying concern is a real one.
Every neighborhood and every community has a limited capacity to absorb low income housing. It is not the question of just the housing - it is a question of all the other support services that come with combating poverty, which paces demands on the public schools, transportation systems, job training resources, and health care providers.
For the past decade, Madison has focused on providing housing without making a commitment to the other services needed to make the housing commitment functional.
These issues must be addressed. The social compact cannot be limited to elements of behavior.
One more thought. It is troubling over the past few decades to see every document, legislative or otherwise, characterized as a 'bill of rights.'
This is not a bill of rights. As the introductory paragraph of the Wisconsin State Journal says, it is a social contract, or perhaps better yet, a social compact.
I have some issues and disagreements with part of this effort - some are minor, some are significant. It in incumbent upon all of us to contribute to making this effort work.
Jim Monroe, a minister at True Worshippers Community Church in Madison and one of the organizers of the families group, said people have a tendency to look at differences, rather than similarities.
“At some point you have to bypass it,” he said.
Monroe said he’ll attend the Wednesday meeting at Falk if he’s invited but said what’s really needed is a dialogue between his group and Severson’s. “They really need to have a few people from their group and a few people from our group meet,” he said.
That's the key.