In my last post I promised to address some of the concerns I’ve heard about this blog and the efforts of some of its contributors, including what we used to call the House in the Woods Club. I mentioned these criticisms: (1) that we are subverting the usual committees and structures of the community; (2) that we are die-hard preservationists who can’t tolerate design innovation; (3) that we value design over community and neighborliness; (4) that we are denigrating the good work of volunteers; and (5) that none of this is any of our business, things were wonderful before we showed up, and now we are tearing apart the community.
Here I take up the first one, that we are supposedly subverting the usual committees and structures of the community. Note that no one is trying to delegitimize those bodies or take over their functions. Perhaps critics are worried that having additional venues for discussing neighborhood matters somehow undermines the official venues. But how does having extra spaces for discussing issues undermine the process? Can’t it be seen as a complement, not a threat, to neighborhood commonweal?
I hope we can get over the sense that there has to be antagonism between “unofficial” public expression, no matter how contentious and lively, and the official venues. In fact some who have been involved in these other discussions are also past or present members of these committees. Those of us who are raising these issues are strong supporters of the processes that have been established over the years. We’d just like them to be more open and consistent.
Unofficial spaces for public discussion are not threats to official processes — they can be vital complements to them. In informal spaces — like the open forum e-mail list, the 4th of July picnic, on morning walks, in comments to this blog — we can take up and think through the community’s business, which is, after all, all of our business. There will be disagreements, but these can be very productive if we discuss things civilly. In these informal spaces we start to get a sense of what we collectivley think about issues. These informal spaces help to create public will; they don’t make policy. Formal bodies are for making formal decisions. There’s a lot to think through, and a lot to do. And there’s plenty of room for all of us.