Op-Ed: What is the ‘State of Jamaica Plain’?

By Juan Gonzalez and Orion Kriegman, Special to the Gazette

The 2nd Annual State of Our Neighborhood forum? What’s that?

Last year, over 250 people came out on a cold Feb. 15 to gather in English High School for the first State of Our Neighborhood forum, where the elected representatives of Jamaica Plain shared their reflections on the state of JP.

About 120 neighbors stuck around to talk with each other on topics of concern—from environmental issues to youth opportunities, peace in our communities, growing inequalities and local business. Others were concerned with the situation of immigrants, and others with the Casey Overpass. All of us came out because we care about Jamaica Plain, the strength of our community and the future we are making here.

While many of us plant gardens and orchards, keep bees or backyard chickens (shhh…), and enjoy building local resilience through urban agriculture, the big trends—persistent unemployment, hurting economy, freak weather, climate change and rising costs of food, gas and healthcare—worsen and people are suffering. Consider how little has changed since we wrote in the Gazette last January:

The economic meltdown of 2008 exposed the vulnerabilities of an economy based on debt, inequality, housing speculation and predatory lending. Years later, few of the underlying conditions that caused the meltdown have been addressed.

A political paralysis at the national level—the result of corporate capture of Congress—is blocking urgently needed reforms in job creation, foreclosure relief, energy policy, climate change and economic development.

Concerned neighbors have met for brainstorming sessions, in working groups and at potlucks. One potluck this fall brought together over 50 local people helping to build a sustainable food system—including Jess Laborio, the urban farmer for the Food Project; Alicia Perez, daughter of Plaza Meat Market’s owner Harry Perez; and local entrepreneurs Andy Brooks and Gerald Robbins. After hearing their inspiring stories, folks got right to work forming small groups—for a winter’s farmers market in JP, for complete streets comfortable for the youngest bicyclists, for city and state policies that can support neighbor-led efforts, for identifying indicators of community resilience and ways to measure our progress.

While the next 10 years are unlikely to resemble the past 10 years, it is important to remember that the future is not somewhere we are going, but something we create together.

Jamaica Plain faces urgent needs for affordable housing, youth jobs, crime prevention, quality transportation and lower-cost energy. Many of our challenges are rooted outside the neighborhood, but we know there is much we can do to strengthen equity and resilience right here.

As a neighborhood, can we create a shared vision of where we want to be in the next five, 10 or 15 years?

The JP Neighborhood Development Corporation, the JP Forum, ESAC, Bikes Not Bombs, Egleston Square Main Streets, Franklin Park Coalition, the Jamaica Plain Gazette and many other JP groups along with the Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition (JPtransition.org), invite you to the second annual community dialogue on our future. Join us on Feb. 9 6-9 p.m. at English High School to continue a conversation about the State of Our Neighborhood.

We hope you’ll be there to add your voice.

Juan Gonzalez is director of community organizing at JPNDC. Orion Kriegman is an Egleston Square resident coordinating JP NET.

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