The morning of January 2nd, I showed up at my building in Rockford to find the external speakers smashed in, and my music was no longer playing. (Apparently, there are humans who aren't fans of Nina Simone; I have no idea how that's possible). I stood there in the cold, raged for a few minutes, then filed a police report. I picked up the remaining shattered pieces of my "make the neighborhood better through outdoor music" experiment--as well as the all-too-familiar empty booze bottles littering my stoop--and got back to work.
I'll be damned if I was going to let 2018 take me down that quickly.
Later that night, I attended a meeting at City Hall. One of the neighboring convenience store owners had petitioned to get a liquor license to sell packaged alcohol, and I wanted to hear the outcome. The tension in the room was thick; neighbors held signs in the air. A heated debate ensued. By the time it was over, an alderman had called those people selling packaged liquor "predatory," and an alderwoman had called those people opposing my neighbor's packaged liquor license "racists."
Somewhere in the middle of the verbal fisticuffs, a mediator suggested that we all ask ourselves what we want Rockford to look like.
And I haven't stopped thinking about that question.
I have my answer.
You know what I want the city of Rockford to look like? I want to see more sidewalks with more people walking on them. I want to see more bike lanes with more bicyclers on them. I want to see cleaner streets where people feel proud to live and work. I want to see green spaces where kids and animals can play without fear of stepping on the all-too-familiar empty bottles of booze.
I want to see public art lining our city's most travelled corridors. I want to hear music playing from street festivals and outdoor concerts and buskers. I want to smell more grass and rain and leaves and less car exhaust. I want to see the evidence of renewable energy use, from solar panels in fallow fields to wind turbines on roof-tops.
I want to see the boarded up, one-of-a-kind buildings restored and filled to the brim with people of every race and gender and religion. I want to see people doing their business without feeling pressure to change or assimilate to fit in. I want to see people embracing each other (read: I actually wish people hugged more), despite differences. And I want to see the differences within a community be celebrated and supported and cherished.
And now one step further.
I want to see myself and others listen when marginalized people are talking about racism, sexism, and classism, to feel empathy while they are speaking rather than forming internal counter-arguments. I want to see myself and others take responsibility for what we've done knowingly--as well as what we've done unknowingly--to undermine our fellow humans. I want to see myself and others be forgiving of each other as we work toward understanding our pre-existing prejudices. I want to see myself and others believe in a positive future, one where we don't talk down to each other for any reason. I want to see myself and others believe everything can be reshaped, that we can reshape our city's landscape just as we can change the landscape of our minds and hearts.
Mostly, I want to see a city where I'm not worried about what I'll find smashed on my stoop every morning.
Reader, when I think about what I want my city to look like, I don't see a still-shot. A singular frame cannot contain my vision; my vision is not something that is achieved and then completed. The future I see is a progression, a time-lapse video of improvement. People and cities continuously evolve. I'm continuously evolving. Whatever you're up to this week, I hope you feel like you're getting a little further along than you were last week. I'll see you next Sunday. -Em