Tuesday, November 30, 2004

GANA Meeting Minutes

GANA (Green Acres Neighborhood Association) Meeting
7:00 PM, 11/29/04 Georgia Schaich's house

Marian Hoffa, Betty Byrne, Halley Walsh, Georgia Schaich, Ann Kreilkamp, and two guests from other neighborhood associations, Sarah Pearce and Keith Romaine.

Agenda and Summary
A special meeting called to talk with Keith Romaine, of the McDoel Gardens Neighborhood Association (and famous locally as "the banner maker") about his interest and follow-up on the recent Bloomington presentation by a the founder of Portland's City Repair Project (www.cityrepair.org).

The Process
Keith, who is finishing a doctorate in Art History with a dissertation on how the presence of public spaces makes cities more viable, loves Portland's City Repair project, because it "sets up public squares within the usual city grid"&emdash;by revisioning intersections, to create the sense of a piazza (like in European cities and towns). As an example, the before and after photos he presented from the cityrepair.org website showed neighbors painting a gorgeous spiraling Fibonacci design on a typical drab intersection in a middle-class district of Portland. These neighbors drew on community resources - their own architects, designers, and, of course, painters, to create their own "public square," and presto! - the result was an colorful and attractive centerpiece to their neighborhood.

This neighborhood project was initiated in response to fast-moving traffic. A number of children live in the neighborhood so they were especially concerned about safety issues. Creating a public square out of the intersection had the immediate effect of slowing cars down.

In this and other Portland neighborhoods where intersections have been turned into public squares, other things begin to happen. He showed us photos of a "24-hour tea station," for example (a little table with iced tea and glasses on it), and a "library," (a tiny cupboard on legs with books in it), and a "24-hour chalk station" (for drawing on sidewalks and the street). Other neighbors put benches out in front of their lawns, facing the street, for walkers to rest. Each of these little gestures by neighbors in front of their own houses helps to foster a festive, even whimsical, interactive sense of connectedness and belonging. As neighbors meet on the street, they get to know each other better, and sooner or later birth new group projects (all extremely inexpensive and that utilize found objects), by incorporating diverse talents of those who live there.

Keith told the story of how the City Repair Project began—with a "tea house" built by a couple of architects and engineers out of branches and plastic on an empty lot in a Portland neighborhood. The first evening 25 people came for free tea, the next 35. Then 75, 100, 500, 1000.... As the word got around, the city found out and of course got upset, because it was not legal and they had no permit. The founders tore it down, but the point was made. People hunger for community.

Empty lots aside, Portland now has an ordinance that states that any intersection in Portland can be turned into a public square where people can meet and cars can go - with the caveat that everybody living within two blocks of the intersection has to be contacted. Keith pointed out that we could push for the same ordinance here.

The downside of painted intersections is that they have to be repainted every year. (But, said Georgia, that just means more community participation!) Also, as Marian pointed out, Portland probably doesn't have much snow, and she wonders if snow machines would scrape off the paint.

Re: our concern for traffic calming on Hillsdale: Keith said that in his reading about these issues (he especially recommends Street Reclaiming, by David Engwicht, (in the local library)), he discovered that people drive to the limit of what they think safe. So if you have a long straight wide road with no visual obstructions like Hillsdale people are just naturally going to drive fast, no matter what the speed limit. Whenever roads are widened, cars drive faster, and the sense of community diminishes. Besides making public squares out of intersections, another traffic-calming possibility is to just narrow the road in places, and he suggests neighbors instigate that on their own initiative by having some kind of project jut out slightly into the street - he mentioned an art project in this context. Or, if kids - or adults- are out in the street playing hopscotch with chalk from the nearby 24-hour chalk station....

The whole point, says Keith, community is "about involving everybody."And for Keith, it's important that we not just focus on big serious issues like zoning and sidewalks and storm drainage, but that we incorporate our artistic sense as well as have fun. When he moved into the McDoel neighborhood, he says, that's when they began to have annual street parties. (He's known, he says, as "the party man.") At first, they held the party at the local Baptist church, but the year they moved the party to someone's backyard and billed it as "Beer, Buns and Brats," it came alive. The McDoel Neighborhood Association was formed in 1998, in response to the city, the hospital and RCA wanting to tear the neighborhood down. In 1998, 60% of the neighborhood was renters, now it's down to 40%.

Prospect Hill also has a very successful neighborhood association. Georgia says that her daughter, who is very active there, asked permission to beautify an empty lot from its owner and with a few neighbors, created a garden. To cap it off they placed an arch that the city wanted to get rid of at the entrance to the garden. Again, very low cost.

Keith pointed out that CONA - Bloomington's Council of Neighborhood Associations - wants every neighborhood to have a center and a sense of place unique to that neighborhood's character. (This reminds me of Julia's idea for a Green Acres motto: "The neighborhood that walks"- particularly apt, given our proximity to both downtown and the IU campus.)

Keith's presentation inspired Sarah Pearce, an artist with twin toddler girls and a professor husband who has just started a neighborhood association with a letter stuck in the door of her Grandview neighbors (east of the bypass, between 10th and 3rd). At our meeting she got the idea of Grandview neighbors celebrating the city's decision to build a sidewalk from the post office along 10th to Grandview by holding a party on the sidewalk when its finished.

Georgia wants several of us to get together to walk the Green Acres neighborhood, take note of empty lots, if any, of intersection possibilities, and possibilities for other types of projects that might interest us. I also like this idea and invite anyone to join us some sunny day soon.

Next meeting
Monday, January 31, 2005, 7 p.m.
Georgia's house, 202 S. Hillsdale Dr.

Happy Holidays!
Ann Kreilkamp

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