What the Master Plan Means to Gentilly: Resident Participation
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)
The crowd at the District 6 meetings for the Master Plan are different than the GCIA’s General membership meetings. Perhaps the Master Plan holds more cachet among the residents, or perhaps the Planning Commission’s advertising is just so much better.
What I find as striking at the Master Plan meetings is that most of the questions that are asked are questions that should be discussed on a continuous basis at GCIA committee meetings.
And that is what the Planning Commission and other sponsors of the planning meetings are trying to tell us, but not too successfully. At one point of the latest meeting last week an apology was made that the residents of District 6 needed to come up with a solution. Broad hints were made that more public discussion was needed on a variety of issues facing Gentilly. Let me make it clear that I think that the meeting was successful and that the moderators addressed every question that was deemed most important by the ten break-out groups.
The Master Plan and the zoning plans being discussed will culminate in guidelines for future infrastructure and land use in Planning District 6. Most of the questions raised by participants addressed current or looming problems like blight, crime and bringing needed health, social and commercial services to Gentilly. These are questions that concern planners in a very general way, but the participants are asking for SOLUTIONS and the SOLUTIONS filtered through such meetings are subject to the interpretations by planners who do not have to live with the consequences. The real SOLUTIONS will come from residents who meet on a regular basis, document their discussions, continuously query other residents and research programs that have succeeded in other communities.
TAKE GENTILLY CRIME…PLEASE!
A recent appearance by Major Greg Elder, NOPD at the Gentilly Terrace and Gardens Association echoed this theme. The police are constrained by the U. S. Constitution and laws regarding what they can do to prevent crime. The same laws that prevent them from arresting bad characters at will are there to protect the rights of all citizens. They can observe the people we suspect but they have to have a very good reason to enter homes or hassle “visitors” (Zombies?) that drive or walk through out streets at all hours of the night. Major Elder said outright that residents need to be proactive in addressing these concerns – the solutions are initiated by citizen discussion and action.
I have voiced some ideas about what we can do:
- A GCIA committee on public safety.
- A “neighborhood defense fund” that would pay for shared legal services.
- Neighborhood covenants that restrict future construction of two-family or multi-family construction.
- Establishment of drug-free zones with signs.
- Support of neighborhood crime watch groups.
- A security district with paid patrols to augment police efforts.
- Public demonstrations in crime-prone areas with brass bands and pizza.
These ideas are not originally mine, so there are many other people out there who want to discuss actions. The only step left is to formalize these discussions and make sure that those residents who are not directly committed to the discussions know that there is a public effort being made and that their input is welcome.
The reasons for discussion are many. These programs raise their own questions. Covenants can be construed as targeting African Americans and they will test the strength commitment of a neighborhood group. Drug-free zones also can be seen as targeting minorities – nationally 95% of arrests are of black suspects. A security district takes legislation, a vote of residents and money. I also agree with one young resident that Gentilly needs more townhouses, inexpensive housing that will attract young professionals, our college population. But most older residents might say that we have enough doubles in Gentilly already and they are being populated with “section-8” or “Central City” families by well-meaning but detached government-funded programs. Most programs are more interested in filling empty spaces than building a community.
Crime is but one area of interest that needs to be discussed district-wide. The GCIA, through the neighborhood associations, needs to take up these forums. At every opportunity the neighborhood groups need to urge residents, including those not currently participating, to come forward and be a part of the solution. With the level of discussion at the Master Plan meeting I know that there are enough questions on the minds of Gentilly residents to make committee meetings worthwhile.
To discuss problems and take action now may sound like the work of alarmists but when our problems overwhelm us, any efforts taken now may seem woefully inadequate. We would do well to heed the words of Edmund Burk.