Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Steven the Community Activist

I live on a residential street that is pretty much hidden away from the blaringly busy and commercial streets that surround it. People who know my neighborhood (which is most locals, as I live quite near one of the most notorious intersections in town for various illegal activities) do not believe me when I say I live in a great apartment. When they come to see it they are amazed that it exists where it does. And even though I am a mere two lots over from Lake Street, I am greatly shielded from that street's activities by the arrangement of houses, fences, and greenery (in the summer).

One of the things that protects my street is that it is a one-way street, so that you cannot drive directly onto it from Lake Street. One of the things that hurts my street is that on the corner, with the driveway entrance directly across from my front door, is a used-junker-car lot and towing service owned by a man who, to put it mildly, has never been a good neighbor. The other night I learned just how deep and pervasive is the antipathy of my home-owning long-time resident neighbors. It was scary. At one point during the meeting with the City Councilor I feared that they would take up torches and storm the owner of the business (who does not actually live on the street, although he plows the snow from his lot onto the street and regularly parks overflow cars from his lot on the street.)

I was at this community meeting because a few days ago I received a very odd notice in the mail claiming that there had been interest expressed in the community for returning the street to a two-way street and there was to be a meeting at a local taqueria to discuss this. (The street had been made one-way after a petition campaign 11 years ago, and even that was a safety compromise from the cul-de-sac hopes of the residents which would have yielded no direct access to Lake Street). I found this startling. Who would want such a thing? Ah, said my neighbor, that would be the owner of the used-car lot. Of course. As it is he instructs his customers to drive the wrong way into the street to get to his lot, and he himself ignores the one-way sign when towing cars.

So I was up in arms. Turns out all of my immediate neighbors were also up in arms. And up in records and documentation from the neighborhood meetings 10, 12, 15, and 20 years ago! Including agreements the car dealer made to get the zoning variance to have an entrance to his lot on the residential street (rather than on the business street, although who knows why). Including a copy of the letter the former mayor sent to this man 10 years ago listing the various ways he had never fulfilled his part of the agreements (which he still has not done). The current city councilor and the city planner he had in tow took all this in, and said that evidently there wasn't going to be any neighborhood groundswell to turn the street back two-way. No, there was not.

But then came the accumulated grievances against this man. Oh boy. All I kept thinking was, "Why would anybody want to piss off their neighbors so much?" All I could do was attest to the snow-dumping issue and testify (passionately, of course) about what we were trying to maintain in the neighborhood and how detrimental it would be to turn the street two-way. But these folks had angers and resentments going back decades. How exciting.

So now the City Councilor is figuring out how to enforce some old zoning agreements, and reassuring us all that they will not change the street signage. He only wishes he could do something more about the enforcement of the one-way.

And me? I found it invigorating and inspiring and energizing to be at this meeting. Democracy in action. Little people against business interests. I also learned a lot about the major reconstruction plans for Lake Street in my neighborhood, which will make things impossibly inconvenient loud and horrible for a while next year but which, in the long run, seem promising.

My gosh, this makes me want to consider become more politically active locally.
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