What roles do neighborhood organizations play within a city? For a look at two neighborhoods in the District, we asked forreports from a citizen leader in River Terrance, a neighborhood bounded by Kenilworth Avenue, the Anacostia River, Benning Road and East Capitol Street, and from an elected advisory neighborhood commissioner from Single Member District 8C06 in Ward 8.
Thomas Jefferson might have had a community such as ours in mind when he wrote, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hands of force might destroy but cannot disjoin us." So it was for those noble, concerned citizens who sought to unify the warring forces rearing their ugly heads in our community in the early 1950s. Desegregation had just become a reality, and strong resistance was in evidence: burning crosses, flattened tires, etc. A new elementary school had just been built--and there was great concern that not all River Terrace children would be able to attend it. The schools were still segregated.
The climate was ripe for major racial problems. Fortunately, the founding members of the River Terrace Community Organization took steps to bridge that gap. They did so by first agreeing on an organizational title that would differentiate their group from the prevailing system that had set up "civic associations" as black groups and "citizens associations" as white groups in the neighborhoods. From its inception, the River Terrace Community Organization would represent all who lived within its confines. This spirit remains as strong today as it was 32 years ago.
A great many things have changed since, but this organization has kept community pride as the main ingredient in its recipe for a stable community. Instead of continual fights with the "establishment," River Terrace attempts to have practical dialogue. This does not mean that our citizens shy away from battles when the need arises; it simply means that we try to exhaust all rational efforts first. Even then, our concept of "force" usually is exercised through the ballot box or some similar way of impressing those who would deny or ignore the neighborhood's requests.
River Terrace is a cul-de-sac community of approximately 3,500 citizens. Our neighbors include apartment dwellers, people in other rental units and in single-family homes. A continuing emphasis of our citizens is that "whatever affects one segment of our community affects every other segment of our community." Accordingly, all citizens are invited to bring community concerns out in the open, for the attention of proper authorities. We maintain harmony with our local police district commander and officers. We embrace the advisory neighborhood commissioners as a welcome adjunct to our community growth efforts. We make it a practice to throw bouquets with greater enthusiasm than is evident when we are called upon to throw brickbats. In short, we believe firmly in peaceful co-existence.
Each June, "Community Awareness Day" (River Terrace Day) is celebrated enthusiastically throughout our neighborhood. Even before this event, housing authorities are requested to perform exterior inspections of all homes, and to encourage owners to repair unsightly and dangerous areas. Friendly competitions are encouraged to improve the beautiful lawns and flower gardens that line the parade route. Picnic baskets are prepared and brought to River Terrace Park on the western edge of our community. Following the parade, there is a brief formal ceremony and the whole community participates in an afternoon of togetherness that concludes the River Terrace Community Organization's summer activities. Come September, it is back to the business of uniting, to reaffirm our heritage as a "model community."
We look forward to this effort, just as we welcome the opportunity to assist our mayor and city council members--whoever they may be--in making the rest of Washington an extension of our model community, into a "model city." We encourage our neighboring communities to join in the effort. This is our "municipal math": that the whole model city is a sum of its model community parts.