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REAL TALK: Citizen Activation

Growing discord between and within political camps, low voter turnout, and resultant cultural apathy feed a narrative that all is lost and that we’re civically doomed. While I appreciate differing opinions, and always will, expressing your opinion comes with responsibility. Social media platforms have gone from being the new town square to a showcase for how vitriolic opinions have become. Imagine if we took all that pent-up energy and did something positive with it. Imagine how that would enhance your relationships, workplace, and neighborhood.

Despite the seeming hopelessness of the socio-political landscape, it’s not impossible to channel that energy into positivity. Words alone don’t change much without accompanying actions. And, coincidingly, we can’t depend on our leaders to fix everything that’s wrong in our lives or communities, especially when they seem to disagree with one another more than they speak with their constituents. So, what can WE do as individuals, as citizens?

There are many ways we can ALL make positive change in our community and it begins in our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods are the secret sauce of what makes this community great. Whether a neighborhood has been neglected or tended to, it’s a litmus test for the identity of the greater community. While the following is by no means an exhaustive list of possibilities, it begins a conversation you can have with your neighbors.

If you have public safety concerns, there are many ways you can spark change. Proper education can help combat crimes of opportunity. For example, larceny in the Northwest quadrant of the city is more than double as compared to the rest of the city. Why? Because vehicle and homeowners aren’t locking their vehicles or closing their garage doors, which makes them especially vulnerable to personal property crimes. Communicating and exchanging contact information with our neighbors and looking out for one another is at the core of what will keep us safe, especially with how easy it is to communicate in the era of cell phones and social media.

Working with your police liaison and requesting increased patrols and working together to implement community policing is an excellent way to build relationships with the Fort Wayne Police Department. It also establishes trust and a heightened sense of security. And, proactive maintenance, known as positive activation, actually helps lower crime. For example, adding neighborhood signage, cleaning up empty lots and parks, picking up litter, and trimming overgrown foliage, improves perceptions of safety, which helps lower crime.

Our roads, alleys, and sidewalks are a vital part of creating a safe transportation infrastructure. If you live on a busy street (with less than 10,000 vehicles in volume) and are interested in a traffic calming initiative, there’s a program just for that, read my post on traffic calming for more information! You can also join the local group Three Rivers Active Streets and help support Vision Zero - a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for everyone.

They and other groups also support Complete Streets which is an approach to planning, designing, building, operating, and maintaining streets that enables safe access for all people who need to use them, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

Similarly, FWCS endorses the Safe Routes to School program that promotes and incentivizes walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, and safety education. Parents can commit to auditing how their children’s schools are acitivating this program, by walking or bicycling with their children on randomized days to assess route safety, and reporting concerns to FWCS transportation.

Whether you live in an urban or suburban area, you can preserve our tree canopy by planting and replacing street trees for the next generation to enjoy. The City of Fort Wayne actually offers a cost-sharing program each spring for homeowners who want street trees! Then, of course, you can start a Little Free Library or plant exchange - with the idea that you offer as much as you take. Creative landscaping ideas and public art can also really bring a neighborhood together by beautifying eyesores.

You can join your neighborhood association, and if you don’t have one, consider creating one with the help of the City of Fort Wayne’s Neighborhood Planning & Activation Team. Our neighborhoods offer the perfect opportunity for democratic participation and civic engagement. My neighborhood association meets regularly at an ice cream shop!

Most of these ideas require more sweat equity than anything else. My vision for this community is not only to serve on City Council, but to mobilize neighbors. Citizen activation engages, grows capacity, and provides a greater sense of safety and identity in our neighborhoods. Personal investments lead to community investments, and you don’t have to be an elected official to be a force of change.

Citizen Activation Graphic

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