I was very glad to see Alejandro Puyana’s opinion piece in January’s Pecan Press (“Is HPNA Inclusive and Democratic”) and read his views about the effect of the neighborhood association’s bylaws on democracy, participation and inclusiveness. I agree with almost everything he had to say; however, I believe overall attitudes and behavior affect inclusiveness and participation issues as much as or more than the bylaws themselves.
Like Mr. Puyana, I also attended the December meeting, witnessed what he described, and overheard others on the sidewalk after the meeting expressing the same views. Although that meeting didn’t differ much from other monthly meetings I’ve attended, I don’t recall ever hearing quite as much dissent and disgust after the meeting. As Mr. Puyana stated, many Hyde Park residents feel shut out of decision-making, for a variety of reasons.
His description of the current HPNA decision makers as old guard and their allies is useful; and so for the purpose of this discussion, I’d like to adopt that term, abbreviating it as OG. And for want of a better term, to distinguish the amorphous group not so aligned with it, I shall designate as other members (OMs). The lines between them are sometimes blurry and do not correspond to the length of time one has lived in the neighborhood. I myself have owned a home in Hyde Park for more than 20 years, have lived in “the hood” for longer than that, and have fought alongside and supported the OG on several issues over the years; but sometimes even I feel like an OM and an outsider when condescended to by the OG.
Although I try to keep current on neighborhood issues and communicate with my own neighbors, I do not regularly attend monthly meetings: I find them tedious at best, and an unhealthy dose of snark at worst. But I force myself to attend at least every few months, especially if the agenda includes voting. True to form, the meeting and discussion that night (specifically, the discussion regarding the requested zoning and repurposing of the house at 45th and Speedway) was pretty much par for the course.
I was pleased to notice so many OMs in attendance that night. Like many of them, I saw the idea of the café as a plus for our neighborhood. But of course the OG had a different opinion; and, as usual, they prevailed. The OG did make some good arguments against the zoning request, but what I object to is the tone in which those arguments were made. As Mr. Puyana noted in his letter, the attitude that the OG projects is that any change is bad and “get off my lawn.” And even if that isn’t always the case, what I witnessed that night was the all-too-familiar attitude of smugness and “you just don’t know what you’re talking about, but we do, and so we’re right and you’re wrong.”
As someone who feels she can see both sides of this divide, I’d like to address each group separately in what follows.
To OMs: First, thank you for coming out to support Tony Hooman, the owner of the property in question, and your idea for change in the “hood.” Even though you felt shut out and overpowered that night, please don’t let that stop you from continuing to come out again in the future to make your voices heard, to participate, to serve on committees, and even to change the bylaws if necessary. Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to fall prey to the same “snark” that the OG often relies on. If you do succumb, you become one of them (it’s too late for me, but save yourselves).
At the same time, please keep the big picture in mind. Recognize that many of the good things about this neighborhood exist thanks to the efforts of the OG. If they had not dug in their heels and fought the good fight over many years, Hyde Park would not be the neighborhood that drew you here in the first place. It long ago would have been bulldozed and replaced with something much less unique and inviting. So, yes, perhaps they often seem adverse to even small changes that they see as perhaps leading to more drastic, undesirable changes; but whenever you have the chance, please thank a member of the OG for what they’ve done so far on your behalf.
To the OG: First, thank you for the years of hard work, long hours, and sometimes thankless commitment to preserve the neighborhood as we know it. Many of you actually accomplish your goals with grace and respect.
But some of you do not and you need to lose the attitude, or at least dial back the snark. Please stop patronizing your own neighbors and being so dismissive of their views. My husband and I used to volunteer for neighborhood committees and projects, but dropped out along the way because of all the snarkiness, even among people who largely agree with each other. We now direct our volunteer efforts elsewhere.
Next, please choose your battles more carefully. The current campaign to “Keep 45th St. Residential” seems tone deaf and weak. Many businesses are currently located on 45th St. The house in question, in fact, faces Speedway. Perhaps “Keep Speedway Residential” might have resonated a little more clearly.
And finally, I would say to the OG, stop undermining your own efforts. During monthly meetings, please don’t always be poised to shoot down anyone opposed to your ideas. Sit down and really listen to your neighbors, including the OMs. It doesn’t help the neighborhood to replace actual bulldozers with human bulldozers. What will we have really gained if we don’t maintain a sense of community and a sense of camaraderie? So, enough already.