On Office Clean-Ups and Community Change

In the midst of NBT’s recent office “purge” – conducted in anticipation of upcoming office renovations – I unearthed a stack of dusty easel pad pages in a corner of my office. The pages, it turns out, contained notes from various community meetings and workshops from the first few months of the Esperanza Project in 2014.

As cleaning out old spaces often does, it led me down memory lane. I leafed through the pages, sneezing from the dust but also fondly recalling the excitement of those early community engagements.

One thing that I noticed from these old pages – besides the fact that I am a pack-rat! – is the consistency of themes in community members’ opinions and ideas. Consistency not just between engagements at that time, but also across time to our ongoing conversations with residents today. Clean streets, safe places for kids to play, good housing: These are some of the basic hopes that people consistently express for their neighborhoods and for New Brunswick as a whole.

In a sense, of course, this is no surprise. Most of us, particularly once we are raising children, tend to agree on the basic elementsof good quality of life. When we stop to look around and consider our surroundings, the obstacles to that quality of life become readily apparent. No one wants to live in deteriorating housing, or struggle to pay the bills, or worry about the safety of their children outside.

Recognizing the consistency of these concerns over time, considered one way, could be a source of frustration. Does that mean we’re not achieving anything? After five years, after so many clean-ups and community meetings, shouldn’t the problems be solved?? Anyone who has worked long-term in community development and organizing, of course, knows that change is not so simple and so fast. (Thankfully, we do know from our recent neighborhood surveys that residents’ perceptions of these quality of life issues are trending in a positive direction.)

Considered another way, the fact that there is so much commonality among residents’ complaints and aspirations is encouraging. If we agree on a problem, we’re more likely to agree on a solution. Maybe it’s not a quick fix. It may require a lot of time, resources, and will power. It may even prompt resistance. But if we can name it, visualize it, record it for posterity– well then, we’ve started a conversation that might lead somewhere. Even ifthe paper ends up in a dusty office corner!

February 22, 2019

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