What roles do neighborhood organizations play within a city? For a look at two neighborhoods in the District, we asked for reports from a citizen leader in River Tereace, 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.
Looking fromthe inside out, now as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, instead of looking from the outside in as a longtime community organizer, I can see that the grass is not greener on the other side, but the opportunity to make it so is enormous.
The idea of the advisory neighborhood commission, as incorporated in the D.C. home rule charter, evolves from a basic principle of democracy as described by Plato: ". . . democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike." Since then, from the time of the American Revolution and on through congressional reviews of self-government for the District of Columbia, the concept of decentralization has been a part of the democratic process.
But in Ward 8 as elsewhere, there is still a certain amount of resistance to the advisory neighborhood commission concept, largely from established citizens groups that see no need for new rivals and also from officials downtown--but not the mayor--who may see no reason for another set of "advisers." But most people realize that there are pressing problems on the doorsteps of Ward 8 residents that demand the attention, energy, cooperation and resources of all neighborhood and citywide levels of government and citizen participation.
One of the most important functions that a neighborhood commission can perform is in the field of planning. After all, it is the people living on the block who notice, and have strong feelings about, the buildings going up or being torn down around their homes-- housing, the stores and neighborhood services. Other close-to-home issues include crime, education and transportation--all of which need the understanding and response of the city government.
Right now, for example, two very important and pressing issues are of concern to all Ward 8 residents:
* Metro's Green Line. Our citizens have met over the years with any and everyone interested in talking to them about where the Metro Green Line subway should be routed. And because of the interest shown by residents of Ward 8, arguments were presented on route alternatives and station placements, including the building of a stop at 13th Street and Alabama Avenue SE. But now, because some businessmen in Prince George's County (Branch Avenue) are worried that they may not get the business originally anticipated, a U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore has stopped progress on the service we need so badly. If this line is put on Branch Avenue, Ward 8 would lose the station at 13th and Alabama; and our small and crowded section of the city will have been dictated to by the metropolitan area.
* Camp Simms. Should this area be a housing and shopping center, or a proposed "tree and bush nursery"? I say, thanks, but no thanks to the idea of putting any nurseries on the Camp Simms site. Ward 8 residents need a nursery like we don't need a subway-- all those heavy trucks and equipment tearing up streets, all that dirt and mud in and around a residential area.
Some people may think differently, but it is up to the advisory neighborhood commissioners to bring these matters to the attention of each other as well as to the various other organizations that should be concerned. That, at least, is my opinion looking out through a very small window--with optimism.