Billie Silvey
Neighborhoods
Whether you live in a major metropolitan area, like I do, in a small
town, or somewhere in between, one thing we all have in common is
a neighborhood, a community--a place where we live, work, shop,
and have friends.  Some of those elements may be further away and
some closer, but each of us has some area we identify as home,
some place where, returning after a trip, we  suddenly experience a
sense of the familiar, the comfortable, our place in the world.

I grew up in the tiny West Texas town of Happy.  At the time, the
population was 642.  My dad ran the weekly newspaper, and our
whole family worked on it--gathering news, selling ads, setting type,
and printing the paper to distribute to townspeople and farmers for
miles around. We had a real sense of community and felt responsible
for improving things.

Now, having lived for forty years in Los Angeles, a sprawl of distinct
neighborhoods and communities that covers much of the Southern
half of our state and in which many residents are far, in distance and
in feelings, from the center of power downtown,  I am again aware
of that sense of responsibility.

One way Los Angeles has attempted to draw its diverse population
together and encourage participatory democracy is through a
network of
Neighborhood Councils.  In 2004, our neighborhood of
Palms became the 85th such Council in the city, serving 27,026
residents.

According to a 1993
study of participatory democracy by three
professors from Tufts University, “Too few people . . . share the
responsibility for making government work better.  Too many . . .
rely on their elected officials to solve society’s problems even
though they are dissatisfied with the results. . . .

“Face-to-face democracy moves politics away from its
adversarial norm, where interest groups square off in conflict and
lobbyists speak for their constituents.  Instead, the bonds of
friendship and community are forged as neighbors look for common
solutions to their problems.�

According to
The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment
(DONE), “The Neighborhood Council system provides a forum
for public discussion of neighborhood needs and the delivery of city
services.  It facilitates and improves community between
neighborhood stakeholders, other Neighborhood Councils and the
City of Los Angeles.�

I’ve made my maiden plunge into local politics through the
Palms Neighborhood Council.  I had worked for over a year as a
member of the Organizing Committee, helping us become the
Palms
Neighborhood Council.  We were certified in December of 2004
and held elections in May of 2005.  At that time, I was elected to
represent the 5,000 residents of my immediate area and asked to
serve on the outreach and vision committees.

Outreach is something I’ve done a lot of--in the church, on the
job, and in local agencies.  Vision is a new and exciting challenge.  
We’re trying to help our historic part of the city move into the
future without the overwhelming traffic, impossible parking, and
choking pollution that seems destined to confront us.

We envision a pedestrian-friendly community that tempts people to
get out of their cars and walk, to congregate and visit, to enjoy trees
and flowers, not just the blinding glare of concrete.

We envision a neighborhood of safety, where children grow up and
play in parks, where mothers push strollers and walk older children
to neighborhood schools, a community that is not just livable, but
desirable.

Check out your own neighborhood.  What can you do to get more
involved, to contribute to a better life for yourself and others?
September 2005
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