To the Editor:
As a resident of north central Columbia, I follow in the footsteps of many citizens in the First Ward who have bought and renovated older properties, raised their families in these modest structures, and most important, created a real sense of community on their block, along their streets and among their neighbors.
Our shared vision is to have First Ward neighborhoods that call to families with children to move in, buy houses, and renovate and restore them as first-time, second-time and third-time homeowners.
In most church communities, one sign of a healthy congregation is a congregation with children of all ages. Similarly, healthy neighborhoods have children who live and play there.
In order for families with children to want to live in our neighborhoods, to invest in our homes, to renovate and restore our historic properties, to enable their kids to walk to our local schools, we need functioning infrastructure. If we repair it, if we renew it, if we replace it, they will come.
I have spoken to the City Council half a dozen times on the issue of storm water infrastructure in my neighborhood.
If you look at the older neighborhoods adjacent to ours — Benton-Stephens, East Campus, Ridgeway, West Worley Street Park, Park Hill, Westmount, Old Southwest, West Ash, the newly re-energized Douglass Park — we have similar needs.
We need storm water systems that can handle the capacity that surrounding development has created. We need water pipes that are in good repair. We need sewer lines and lateral connections that are in good repair.
These neighborhoods cover four wards out of six. We have a lot in common. And together we connect our neighbors in the more suburban areas of our wards to the downtown and all it has to offer.
We, collectively, across ward lines, across race and class lines, have this in common.
Our cause unites us. We understand how local government works. We, the citizens, know the pressure of competing interests is constant; there is difficulty in creating change at all levels of city government, even when that change is desirable.
We each fight a powerful inertia that keeps us from addressing serious and expensive problems when they arise. The city has a 30-year legacy of deferred maintenance on our storm water systems in our older neighborhoods.
If finding the resources to fix that were easy, a solution would have emerged 29 years ago.
Some organizations and individuals have the financial resources to hire representatives who attend meetings, give input and lobby on their behalf. The average citizen does not.
We can attend meetings only when our work and family schedules permit. City Council members are on the receiving end of that paid-for pressure all the time.
That makes their job harder than it should be, given that they are volunteers. Those lobbyists and lawyers (and their day after day 9-to-5 access) deny us the ability to participate in what should be a public process, a transparent airing of competing interests and pressures, where we should all be able to watch it unfold.
If the City Council combines us into a single ward, as is contemplated by Trial D and Trial D amended, or combine some of us in a single ward, as is contemplated by Trial A, they will make their volunteer jobs even more difficult.
If they vote for and pass either of the D plans or the A plan, they are asking us, the downtown neighborhoods, to put all our eggs in one basket. I can’t recall any instance, in my time following the work of City Council and the work of city staff, where putting all one's eggs in the same basket was a strategy for success.
The city has multilayered strategies for attracting large tech-based employers. REDI has multilayered strategies for bringing venture capital to our community in its pursuit of economic development.
Like these city departments, we have a dynamic strategy for accomplishing our goals. We, the citizens who represent our downtown neighborhoods, work together.
We bring to council’s attention the neighborhood issues that affect each of us and the issues that affect all of us. We do that most effectively by having the ability to lobby as individual citizens, despite our limited resources, our individual First, Third, Fourth, Sixth Ward council member.
We currently have four of six wards covered.
I’ve heard the kind words that council members have openly stated: The will still care about us after most of us are reapportioned into the First Ward. However, look at the workload they already have, the pressure they are already under to attend meetings with their constituents, both the average citizen with a phone and an email account, and those extraordinary citizens with extraordinary resources to pay representatives to contact city staff and City Council on their behalf.
As our city challenges increase, so will the pressures on our council members’ time. Despite their best intentions, we doubt they’ll have the discretionary time to meet with ordinary citizens and neighbors from outside their own ward.
The good news is that downtown neighborhoods and the City Council have a strong alternative choice.
Trial E, because it meets the requirements of the city ordinance for contiguousness and compactness. Because it brings balance to the two wards whose populations are the furthest from the desired number of 18,063, and because it reunites the previously divided Park De Ville neighborhood, Trial E keeps our neighborhood multi-layered strategy for success viable.
Bringing families and children to the downtown neighborhoods to buy our modest single-family homes is good for Columbia.
We do that by having functioning infrastructure so they can concentrate on their family’s needs and not have to continually worry whether, or when, the street or the sewer in front of their house will fail.
We in the First Ward see a bright future, a renaissance in home ownership and home repair, continued employment for our neighbors who renovate older houses, more sales for local merchants who sell building materials and more people interested in and able to stay in Columbia and live downtown.
In order to accomplish this multilayered success, we must maintain our vibrant, multilayered process for working with each of our elected officials, all of them, to solve our common problems.
Citizens of Columbia: Please contact our mayor and your individual council member and ask them to support Trial E.
Come to the City Council meeting on at 7 p.m. Monday and take your turn at the podium.
The next 10 years of financial and policy decisions will allocate time, money and resources to preserving our historic downtown neighborhoods depend upon each of us standing up for Trial E.
Pat Fowler lives in Columbia's First Ward.