I have really enjoyed writing about our Downtown personalities over the past year but need to take a break this month to talk about the importance of meaningful community dialog. Over the last couple of months we have seen how divisive debates can be; they create vast spaces between political parties, races, classes and socioeconomic status. Strangely, they also unite our country as Americans exercising our rights to speak freely, cast votes and disagree. At the end of the day we are all seeking to build a brighter future. A future where everyone has enough to eat, they are safe to walk down streets, they have a home, they are respected by others and they know the warmth of love. I’m not only talking about loving a spouse or a child. I’m talking about the bigger picture of loving their community, its people, places, arts and culture. I often wonder whether I am doing enough to build a better future and what the process might look like.
This August, the Downtown community showed up to support the showing of Urban Century: America’s Return to Main Street at the Fremont Theatre and it struck a chord with me. The building process of great communities is relatively unchanged from centuries ago; meaningful dialog is still the foundation that civilization is built on. That night in the theatre was the modern day equivalent to people gathering around a small fire in a cave saying, “We love this cave but we can build a better cave!” Before the movie even started, the atrium was filled with conversation about loving this Downtown as well as the parts of it that need improvement, “We love this Downtown but we can make it better!” At the end of the night, our organizing team collected dozens of question cards from the audience that we later compiled into a list for future discussions. We had planned to hold more discussions and these questions were the encouragement we needed to demonstrate that the community wanted more opportunity to participate.
I am excited to announce this month I will be moderating the first in a series of community discussions about Downtown issues that were brought forward by our audience. The Downtown Foreword will be held in the SLO Library Community Room on the evening of November 16th. Local parking and transportation experts will start the event with a panel discussion about the science and theory that drives how we travel through a downtown environment, alternatives to cars and the advances in technology that will shape the future of transit. We will complete the evening with questions and answers from the public. The participation of attendees is what will define the night as a meaningful discussion and my hope is that we all go home inspired by the experience and empowered with the knowledge of something new.
Downtown Foreword is a play on words that comes from the need to talk about community issues before we can act on them. Using parking Downtown as an example many people choose to not come down at peak times because they once experienced a lack of parking. Their observation is that there is no parking so their action is to not go Downtown but that is only one side of a bigger issue. Through a community discussion they may realize that many people use alternative means to get Downtown and they can try a different action than general avoidance. Perhaps a family bicycle ride to the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market is a more enjoyable experience for the whole family than waiting in traffic with anxious children while circling the blocks looking for a space to park the car. Your observation of a parking shortage for cars would likely still be the same but you just might find that car dependence has been depriving you the enjoyment afforded by a bicycle. You may even find that you love riding your bike.
Downtown Foreword alone is not going to bring world peace but it is another meaningful conversation in the overall process to build a brighter future. When our founding fathers first met to discuss a better country they could have never guessed the implications that building a free country would have on all of mankind but they saw an immediate need and met regardless. Similarly, my hope is that we can engage in a process starting in November that will leave a positive impression on the stamp of time. This community has shown me time and again that we have incredible people with brilliant minds and I believe we can be a model Downtown for small to mid-sized cities. For more information on Downtown Foreword please click here.