"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Thursday, December 07, 2006

my own private Kansas

I applied for and was appointed to a Citizens Advisory Committee to help with our county's General Plan update process. I missed the first meeting due to a conflict but attended one tonight in which the group showed photos of things they liked or disliked about our county, and we reviewed a set of "guiding principles" that will be used to chart the rest of the GP update.

There were many, many photos of the open spaces, ag land, forest, recreation opportunities etc. (Like), and some photos of illegal dumping and aesthetically displeasing industrial uses (Dislike). Unfortunately since I missed the first meeting I didn't find out about the photo homework in time. We were put into groups as part of this discussion. One of the people in my group had a profound concern that the commercial developments along our highways were being painted in colors that did not encourage people to shop / eat there. She expressed this at some length. Another person explained that we need to develop more recreation options because now everybody wants to live where they play since they can do all their work remotely with the internet (uh, except for the people who mow the golf course lawn, run the concession stand, teach math to the children of the liberated recreating home-office workers, and respond to 911 calls; but sure, everybody else is just here to play).

OK, trying to respect the inherent worth & dignity of the people in my group. Maybe they are really deep in ways that were not apparent. I would love to wallow in progressive-minded self-righteousness here but listening to everyone in the room made me realize that going to work every day, where I work, has given me a very distorted view of what public priorities are. It's not just that the concerns of the poor are overlooked, it's more like there's an active hatred or aversion.

All the group introductions happened in the first meeting so I haven't been outed as a legal aid lawyer yet, though people probably became suspicious when I tried to suggest that we establish a guiding principle that the General Plan will address the needs of housing for all income levels. It is kind of scary to realize that somewhere between 15 - 30% of the population of the county may have no voice at all in this process if I don't pipe up now and then with my wildly popular ideas.

On the other hand, my background and affiliations were fully disclosed in my application to serve on this committee, so it seems likely that somebody in the planning department really wants to hear from me. Time to step up.

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