Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Umm, it's the system

Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a couple articles about political privilege in the city, how Mayor Gray has hired more people at the executive level, is hiring cronies and/or their children, and is paying higher salaries compared to Mayor Fenty ("Gray hires more senior staffers than Fenty did, and is paying them significantly more") and how Council Chairman Kwame Brown has induced the city to lease for him very expensive SUVs ("'Fully loaded' SUV puts D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown on the spot"").

This is something I wrote on a local e-list on January 7th, 2010:

The mistake in the ABF [Anybody But Fenty] type argument is expecting that different people who are products of and participants in the same system are somehow different.

The problem isn't Fenty per se, but the system that produces him and other people just like him (M. Brown, K. Brown, R.D. Peebles, V. Gray, etc.).

On occasion there are outliers (i.e., Paul Wellstone), but it doesn't happen very often.

What the real issue is the problem of the "system" and "network" -- how and why it doesn't generate the outcomes we want and prefer -- and our role in maintaining it. (This is abetted by weak neighborhood and civic organizations and the lack of any substantive "good government" advocacy organization in the city. But you can't blame people necessarily for the lack of civic capacity and capability. We haven't built solid institutions to assist people in developing their own efficacy.)

I try to fight the power through analysis. But most people tend to ignore it and search somehow for a savior as well as maintain a militant refusal to look within to see whether and how they contribute to the dysfunction.

As long as we do that, we guarantee that things won't change. (E.g., just because you change a burned out light bulb doesn't mean that the light fixture is somehow significantly different.)

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