Op-Ed: The State of the Neighborhood in 2013

By Juan Gonzalez, Orion Kriegman and Greg Buckland

Special to the Gazette

When Hurricane Sandy hit last October, many of us were shocked by images of New York and New Jersey under water. While 2012 was the hottest in U.S. history, and this is the second mild Boston winter in a row, the AccuWeather men tell us the Northeast is expected to get steadily warmer and wetter, perhaps settling on a climate similar to Philadelphia’s today. Today’s ongoing destabilization of the climate means we can expect continued freak weather events like the floods that hit Boston in March of 2010. Are we preparing?

In the past two years, over 250 neighbors have attended each State of Our Neighborhood forum, for a community conversation with our elected officials about what future we want for our neighborhoods in 10 or 15 years’ time. The third annual forum will be held Feb. 12.

While the economy continues to limp along, and food and energy prices keep rising, many of us sense we are in the midst of a great transition in which the next 10 years are likely to look very different from previous decades. While many of the changes in the world are outside of our control, there is still much we can do locally to ensure all of us live well as we adapt together as neighbors.

Discussions among neighbors begun at the previous State of Our Neighborhood forums have led to many potlucks and movie nights, as well as innovative projects to build community resilience—strengthening local food systems, supporting local businesses, learning together and weaving a web of mutual support:

The Egleston Farmers Market, launched in November 2012 with support from Egleston Square Main Streets, is JP’s first winter market. Over 500 people each Saturday are conversing with local farmers; buying veggies, meat, egg, cheese, fish, chocolate, honey, and art; listening to local musicians; and connecting with friends. Don’t be surprised if this becomes a year-round affair.

The Boston Bean, a local currency pilot program, weaves relationships between local businesses and neighbors into a network of mutual support. Potlucks and teamwork, including breakout groups at the State of Our Neighborhood forum, have led to the launch this Valentine’s Day of JP Local First, to support independently owned local businesses.

The JP Resiliency Measures Project surveyed neighborhood forum attendees, and analyzed and reported on information about Jamaica Plain’s population, transportation, employment, acreage under cultivation and energy use. The first report attracted the attention of scholars working on community indicators. The second annual report is due out at this State of the Neighborhood forum on Feb. 12.

JP Yard Sharing, a nifty idea that even with a late start last season made some good matches between yards and gardeners. Andrée from JP Greenhouse, who coordinated the pilot, noted that we need more gardeners to fill the demand of folks who want to share their yards.

In addition to neighbors finding common interests and launching new projects, the State of Our Neighborhood forum is a good opportunity to find out what co-sponsoring local organizations are doing and how to get involved with ongoing efforts to improve the neighborhood. Immediately following last year’s forum, responding to requests from attendees, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation hosted conversations and two training sessions providing residents updated information about housing rights for both tenants and landlords. Forum attendees have joined in with efforts such as City Life/Vida Urbana’s efforts to fight back against bank evictions; Legalize Chickens’ negotiations with the City to permit backyard hens; the T Riders Union fight to fund the T; and community efforts to help local families, including affordable housing projects.

Of course, the forum is also an opportunity to meet our elected representatives, talk with them face-to-face and hear what they are doing on behalf of the community.

The 3rd Annual State of Our Neighborhood forum is Tues., Feb. 12, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Kennedy Elementary School in Hyde Square. We hope you will be there to lend your voice to this ongoing conversation about the future of our neighborhood. And bring a neighbor!

Juan Gonzalez is Director of Community Organizing at the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. Orion Kriegman is an Egleston Square resident working with the JP New Economy Transition (JP NET). Greg Buckland is coordinator of the Jamaica Plain Forum. The Gazette is a co-sponsor of the forum.

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