Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Talk versus Walk

Sometimes the things we do speak so loudly, it's hard to hear what we're saying to one another. Sharing information, and respecting the right of others to speak and to listen is all well and good, it seems, but there always comes a moment when, in a desire to make a decision that often looks like a rush to judgment, we default to banging a fist on the table and offering 'because I said so' as the excuse masquerading as a reason.

At the first City Council meeting in July, there was a great deal of public comment during the meeting on one topic in particular: a resolution to tear down two previously-shuttered schools, Buckingham and Greeneville, because of the claimed costs in maintaining and retaining them in the municipal inventory. Sometimes demolition leads to deliverance and redemption but sometimes it's just another world for destruction. Sometimes the commonweal is unable or unwilling to agree on the definition of the common good.

Both of our children attended Buckingham School and we all know parents who had children in the Greeneville School. Neighborhood schools were, and often still are, an integral and familiar part of the landscape in cities of every size and economic strata. Not just in Norwich, neighbors look to schools the way the fingers of the hand look to the thumb. The Board of Education's decisions to close each of those facilities were not made lightly or taken without exploring alternatives and considering as many contingencies as possible.

The night of the Council meeting, many in the public who spoke (and there many who did) were concerned at the speed, perceived by many as haste, in deciding to tear the buildings down. Concerns about burning boats at the water's edge and in not having a fully-articulated plan for 'what's next?' seemed to impress enough members of the seven person City Council that the resolution for demolition failed to get the necessary five votes.

The city has earned itself a breather and an opportunity to create the possibility of an answer to "what's next?" as we struggle, yet again, to understand how important both asking and answering a question can be.

A week from tomorrow, next Thursday evening, starting at seven in the Greeneville Fire Department, the next installment of the One City Forum wants to hear from dreamers and schemers (and everyone in between) on ideas for what to do with both the Buckingham and Greeneville Schools. Bring your poems, prayers, and promises, but most especially your plans, and don't leave the meeting until you've had a chance to make yourself heard, and to listen while others do the same.

As someone who attends a lot of these meetings and who sees himself as a relentless pragmatist (others might say pain in a lower extremity), I would hope for a massive turnout of energized and engaged citizens from across the city and the region who seize this opportunity and use it to define a goal and refine the means of reaching that goal. We are much smarter together than we are alone--and we need to not only change our city, but to become that change.
-bill kenny

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