Wednesday, February 25, 2009

City Council Economic Growth Committee Meeting

The Council created the Economic Growth Committee to to facilitate communication and cooperation between the Council, the administration and the business community. The first meeting of 2009 will take place on Monday, March 2 from 5 pm to 7 pm at City Hall. The Council members on this committee are Bill Reid, Rashid Burney and myself (chairman). We will be discussing a proposal from Rutgers and NJIT to do a community visioning study for Plainfields' transit corridor and transit hubs.

Members of the public are welcome. I have invited representatives from the Special Improvement District and the Chamber of Commerce. We will also be discussing plans for the downtown summer concert series. The goal of these concerts is to entice more shoppers to come downtown and spend money in Plainfield stores. Stimulating the local economy is an important feature of a sustainable community.

So join us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Social capital is alive and much needed in Plainfield

Last Thursday I attended a meeting of Friends of Sleepy Hollow (FOSH). When I arrived at the Plainfield Public Library for the meeting I was pleased to see that other community oriented activities were happening in full force. I stepped into the main meeting room downstairs only to find the literacy volunteers organizing an all out attack to promote basic reading skills of local residents. In another room a group of church members were strategizing on a search for a new minister. When I was directed next door, I was surprised to find, not FOSH but the League of Women Voters Board meeting. Finally I found the right meeting.

My evening at the library demonstrates what is good about Plainfield. Dedicated citizens working together to improve the community. In contrast to staying home watching television, we have social connectedness of the best kind, teams of people working for the common good.

According to Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone", the term social capital originated in the early 1900s when the state superintendent of West Virginia schools wrote that it meant " coming into contact with neighbors so there is an accumulation of social capital which may satisfy individual social needs and have potential to improve living conditions in the whole community".

What does it look like in Plainfield:
  • parents at a PTA meeting
  • citizens speaking at a City Council meeting
  • healthy attendance at Plainfield High School boys basketball games (by the way, we are ranked 4th in the state)
  • a full house at church services on Sunday

Social capital can be for destructive causes as well. Gangs and the Ku Klux Klan are examples. So social scientists distinguish between kinds of social capital with bridging and bonding being the most beneficial kinds. We certainly need more of both in Plainfield.

The need for bridging was illustrated Thursday at the four library meetings. There was a good mix of male and female, young and less young, black and white. Not many Hispanic residents in attendance though.

The presence of gangs is a clear indicator for lack of positive social capital. In its absence young people create their own. The solution can't be just increased law enforcement. It needs to be more adult role models, mentors, a stronger role for educators in children's lives and job opportunities.

Today I attended a meeting of the Hillside Avenue Neighborhood Watch. At the meeting, Herb Green, a passionate advocate for Plainfield children, urged residents to get involved with the local school, Evergreen School. Bob Chanda urged the Public Safety Director to create volunteer opportunities for citizens at the new video surveillance center when it is up and running. These volunteer actions are not just cost saving measures. They will increase buy in for good causes and the interconnectedness of all Plainfield stakeholders.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Honoring Al McWilliams

I read the following statement into the record at the February 2 City Council meeting:

"It is very fitting that the City Council is approving a resolution honoring Al McWilliams. Al exemplified what is good in the city of Plainfield. The Al McWilliams Memorial Plaza will serve as a reminder of all he accomplished in Plainfield. We see his accomplishments everyday: the Park Madison complex, the elimination of the blight at the Teppers site, the downtown streetscape, putting abandoned and dilapidated residential properties back into service. Some of his projects continue: the Senior Center and the restoration of City Hall to name a few.

Mayor Al with wife Darlene

In a way he is a local predecessor to President Obama in that he stood for change when Plainfield desperately needed a new and progressive direction. When he was first elected, most Plainfielders felt that local government was not working for them. He brought us hope and a new attitude about public service being for the people.

He will be remembered as Mayor but let's not forget that he also served as Councilman and as Chairman of the Plainfield City Committee and part of his legacy is sitting here tonight – four City Council members that he ran and now a daughter following in his footsteps.

On a personal note, Al was the reason I ran for office. I had been considering a run for City Council but I wanted to spend more time with my children. But when Al became Mayor I could see we finally had a leader with a vision for Plainfield. Plainfields time for progress had come and although it was too early according to my plans, I decided to jump into politics to support Al's vision. I look forward to the day that we dedicate the Al McWilliams Plaza. He truly deserves the recognition".