It was just a few months ago that we watched world class athletes from over 200 countries compete in London on an international stage called the Olympics. Although folks disagreed on the tape delay and maybe on a few gymnastics scores, most would probably agree that it was a fair competition. And though we cheered as hard as we could for Team USA, we still saw a bigger spirit and intention alive in the brave performances by many others, such as a double amputee or a woman from Saudi Arabia.
But recently, I’ve been less worried about the nationalistic tone of international athletic events, but more worried about – to coin a new term – the neighborhood-istic tone of local planning conversations. Both in community meetings and across the Council dais, I’ve heard residents talk about representing the interests of southern Chapel Hill or the importance of protecting “our area,” when referring to just a couple of streets.
I’m not sure how this neighborhood-ism came so quickly to the forefront. I understand and believe in private property rights and know that our town encourages citizen participation, but the conversations that have developed seem to have encouraged a subdividing of our community, creating arbitrary borders, and allowing the most proximate property owners to have almost exclusive input on the vision and planning for their surrounding area.
There are two problems with this game plan:
1) It excludes other people that should be part of the conversation, other people that should be on the team. Why shouldn’t we include commercial property owners, renters, students, business owners, business managers, public housing tenants, and nonprofit managers? These perspectives not only are necessary to include, but incorporating their input will yield a better result.
2) It doesn’t solicit a bigger vision for our town, our entire community. If you have only neighbors design their own neighborhood, you won’t take stock of our entire community’s assets and put them to their best use. You won’t incorporate important perspectives in designing how we grow and how we address community challenges, not neighborhood by neighborhood, but working as a team.
I’m also disappointed that I’ve been witness to some pretty unsportsmanlike conduct by locals who are at least four times as old as gold medalist Gabby Douglas.
Maybe it’s naïve of me to suggest, but to continue the Olympic analogy, I want the equivalent of Morgan Freeman’s voiceover that cheers, “Go World!” Because all of those images convey that yes, we do have pride in our country and we will cheer them on, but that something bigger is at stake. That we can all be inspired by athletes from other countries. And we’ll put aside allegiances, to cheer on the greater community interest.
So, I hope everyone will try out for the team and join the conversation. But please, let’s leave the divisiveness and competition on the basketball – or maybe, badminton – court. This is our community’s future. And we should go for the gold.