By Shane Nicholson
The “Not in my neighborhood!” cries of those wanting to see the death of the South New Towne Drive housing project have a rather apparent and seedy undertone.
Even from initial statements put out by County Board members last month reeked of it. “I believe that this project will have an ill effect on property values and has the potential to increase crime,” said District 16’s John F. Sweeney.
Then you had last night’s meeting at Gregory Elementary School, one that really showed a democratic process in action.
“We don’t want it!” was the refrain from a noticeably monochromatic crowd. Let them speak? Nah, it’s better to just shout over them.
“It’s like a concentration camp,” said one resident of the proposed plan without a hint of irony. “Are they supposed to stay in this little park? Are they going to run through my yard and play in my yard?”
Gasp. Children happening through your yard. The horror of it all.
So what is it they don’t want? What about the project would have an ill effect on property values? Why would crime shoot through the roof? And what about those kids playing everywhere?
You can beat around the bush all you want–call it Rockford’s peculiar east side/west side problem–but when it settles out it’s simple as former RPS teacher Mary Jo Powers said Thursday: “I think what’s behind all this is racism, but nobody wants to talk about that.”
No Mary, they don’t. They want to hide behind property values and haphazard playing children and boogeymen who will bring untold crime and pestilence to the area.
They want to look inside their own bubble and not worry about the empty shell that sits on the other side of the river.
They want to slap each other on the back every time a new community awareness group does something to benefit the already (relatively) prosperous east side of town.
Look no further than the raucous and at times obscene celebrations over a chain restaurant opening on East State Street. People are more passionate about buying Italian beefs from yet another out-of-town business than they are about enacting progressive solutions to systemic ills in their community.
It’s as if denying persons a chance to climb out from under 30 years of decline on the west side of town is a measure of success for a neighborhood.
“Buy our houses for $105,000 a piece and you’ll have units already built,” was one of the sound bytes to end all sound bytes from Thursday’s meeting. “I’ll leave! I will leave!”
And there you have it in a nutshell: the uniquely east side solution to fixing Rockford is maintain the status quo, one that has seen this town slip down the ranks of Midwest cities in nearly every economic indicator. And if you try to fix it–try to break the cycle that has led us to this point–well screw it, I’ll pack up and go.
Congratulations, you’ve given up on your city. You’re not part of the solution; you’re part of the problem.
You’re part of the reason that half of this community has been stuck in an economic death cycle for decades with no recovery in sight.
You’re part of the reason that upward mobility in parts of this community is nothing but a pipe dream.
You’re part of the back-slapping meeting crowd who praise each other for anything but real progress, who sit around and talk about all the problems in our community and then come up with such solutions as “Let’s have another lunch meeting next month” instead of creating jobs.
You’re part of the reason Rockford is what it is, and because you can’t fathom the thought that something different needs to be done to change it you’re part of the reason it will stay this way indefinitely.
And all of this vitriolic shouting Thursday night based around preconceived notions of how people live on a side of town that those so disgusted at the thought of having new neighbors actively and proudly avoid. Those boogeymen on the west side will getcha, what with their drugs and their property value-sucking magic powers.
Yes, it’s most certainly a potential new construction project in your neighborhood that will be the death knell of your property value; not the decades of economic decline for the entire region allowed to go unchecked because a good portion of people on the east side of Rockford would rather build a wall up Rockton Avenue than address needs and concerns of residents in those areas.
“That’s what you’re bringing in here, nothing but drugs,” said one very angry woman at Thursday’s meeting. “Why don’t the mayor put them in their neighborhood?”
Nothing but drugs. Not people trying to make a living. Not families trying to do better for their kids (who may or may not run through your yard). Drugs, that’s all people from the other side of town have to offer.
“We know we have an obligation to do more than just maintain the status quo,” Mayor Larry Morrissey told WREX Thursday night.
Sadly Larry, it seems a large chunk of this town doesn’t agree, even if they can’t bring themselves to lay bare exactly why that is. Maintaining the status quo of a divided Rockford is exactly what they want. That is unless you can somehow make it better without doing anything they can actually see.
So we have it: Not in my neighborhood! The cry of the oppressed masses of South New Towne Drive, having to consider the notion of neighbors who don’t fit their ideal image of what the east side of Rockford should look like.
The indictment of a part of Rockford willing to see this city die slowly rather than do anything about it.