Sunday, August 25, 2013

City Hall, the Local Business Community and Street Festivals

I attended the board meeting of the Plainfield Special Improvement District last week.  I wanted to ask the board for their thoughts on how city government can work more effectively with the business community.  I heard many ideas and actually got more than I bargained for since the use of downtown parking lots for "cultural" festivals was on the agenda.

The growing number of these festivals prompted much discussion and board member comments ranged from thoughtful to emotional.  Ultimately a motion was made to ask the City Council to deny the Faraones/Garcia festival request for September and it passed unanimously (eight members voting).  Here is a summary of the SID board's concerns:
  • merchants with stores near parking lot 8 where Garcia has held previous festivals estimated that they lose 20 - 40% of usual sales during festival days.
  • merchants who purchase tables for the festivals pay $800 per day and the SID board members believe that all of them are from out of town - they believe that not one downtown Plainfield merchant has participated in these festivals.
  • the SID board described the loud music and outdoor alcoholic beverage consumption as disruptive and discouraging of customer activity in downtown.  
  • Public urination, presumably related to the drinking activity, has not made for a family friendly shopping environment and according to the SID board members the smell lingers well after the festivals are done.
  • The stores near the sound stage experience music so loud that some stores literally vibrate from the music throughout the day and night.
I was unaware of the extent of these problems until the night of the August agenda fixing meeting when two downtown merchants spoke about these concerns.  When they left the meeting early, I followed them out and advised that if other merchants felt as they did, to circulate a petition around downtown and present it to the Council.  And so they did.  The number of signatures casts doubt on Mr Garcia's compliance with a stipulation in his resolution requiring he have the support of local businesses.

This should make for interesting discussion at Mondays Special Council meeting.  The Council has supported the growing number of festivals over the last 5 years because they were presented as opportunities to celebrate the cultures south of our border and bring people to our downtown.  The input we are getting now casts serious doubt on the benefits to Plainfield, especially the festivals as they currently operate.

Whatever the Council decides about the Faraones/Garcia proposal on Monday, it is clear that we need to revisit our ordinances regulating where, when and how festivals should be run.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

National Night Out in Plainfield

Thanks goes to the Netherwood Neighbors who organized the party I attended on Tuesday night.   I enjoyed the camaraderie, food and weather   Afterwards, I began to ponder a question prompted by a neighbor at the Cook School pond.  What is National Night Out about?  What are we trying to accomplish beyond having fun with neighbors.  So I went to the NATW website to learn more about the organization that started National Night Out:

"National Association of Town Watch (NATW) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and promotion of various crime prevention programs including neighborhood watch groups, law enforcement agencies, state and regional crime prevention associations, businesses, civic groups, and individuals, devoted to safer communities. The nations premiere crime prevention network works with law enforcement officials and civilian leaders to keep crime watch volunteers informed, interested, involved and motivated. Since 1981, NATW continues to serve thousands of members across the nation.
The introduction of National Night Out, “America’s Night Out Against Crime”, in 1984 began an effort to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back. NATW’s National Night Out program culminates annually, on the first Tuesday of August (In Texas, the first Tuesday of October)."

This night is about empowering neighbors to claim and, in some places, take back their neighborhoods, even if just for a night.  It is to promote partnerships between citizens and law enforcement to fight crime.  So how did Plainfield measure up to the objectives of NATW?

Judging by the number of people who came out for the two get togethers - at City Hall and Cook School Park - pretty good.  And we had a good turnout of police, fire and elected officials.   All combined I estimate between 300 and 400 people joined in. 

My thought provoking neighbor challenged me (thanks Pat TK) to consider how we might do National Night Out in the future and that led me to the following ideas:
  • take the party to the neighborhoods that are "crime hot spots".  There are places in Plainfield where residents don't feel they can come out at night.  That's where we need to take back the streets.
  • we need to empower our block associations to take the lead in planning National Night Out.  Public Safety officials, Mayor and Council members should get behind them, not in front of them.
  • we truly need to empower our city-wide black association group.  Currently it is run by the police.  Our block association leaders need to take it over and get more support from the police.  They need to receive regular, real time crime information that they can take back to their neighbors.  When public safety problems (and proposed solutions) are brought up at their city-wide meetings, the police representatives may need to use the chain of command to provide the proper response.  But they do need to follow-up and bring back responses. 
We had a good night in Plainfield.  With new leadership coming in city hall, we have the opportunity to improve on our successes, try new approaches to public safety and make our streets safer, not just at city hall and Cook School Park, but in the places where people don't feel they can freely partake of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".