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Tuesday, May 14, 2013


DUMPSTERS AS A METAPHOR—By definition trash isn’t flashy in fact it’s the opposite, but trash can take away a neighborhood’s luster and rob it of its pride and often its future.  Trash in streets shows a community doesn’t care or has given up.

In this wonderful part of San Diego, North Park neighbors have organized dumpster days, whereby the community can rid itself of the refuse that often ends up in alleyways or in empty lots.

A simple dumpster day is nothing flashy.  There’s no danger of you being called a hipster if you roll up your sleeves and organize a trash drive, but without folks doing the unglamorous jobs no one wins. 

A dumpster day event shows someone cares.  By filling up dumpsters it shows we care as a community.

Events like this helped North Park pull itself out of a steep decline that by 1992 saw our community so decimated by neglect that historic North Park (which is home to the world’s largest inventory of living breathing 100-year-old bungalows) was on the verge of being labeled a blighted area by the feds.

But back then something magical happened.  North Parkers at heart: homeowners, renters, merchants, landlords and community leaders (volunteer or elected) decided we were not blighted in our souls.  And, beginning in the early 1990s, North Parkers began demonstrating a unity that continues to this day.  We started picking up after each other. 

Dumpster days began.  Also, we started scraping paint off of old houses and discovered historic craftsman bungalows underneath all those peeling layers.

Many of us pitched in to fix our own sidewalks when the city was too fiscally distracted to fulfill this basic responsibility.  Others planted trees along side one of the most humble elementary school sites.  Today, thanks to community involvement Thomas Jefferson Elementary is a force and it is also a valued community park.

We started attending meetings asking why can’t we get some of the tax-sponsored improvements that other communities like La Jolla enjoy.  North Parkers organized into powerful community groups, none stronger than the North Park Community Planning Committee, North Park Main Street and the North Park Community Association.  We began pitching in little by little.

In fact, we as a community had asked earlier another hard question: Why does our elected District 3 councilperson live in La Jolla?   Why can’t we have our own city councilperson elected by District 3 residents?  Is it too much to ask for our Councilperson to live within the limits of our district? 

Voices were heard.  North Parkers indeed forced the city to change how to govern itself.  Councilmembers had to be from the District they represent.  No longer could La Jollans (or other non-District 3 residents) vote for our District 3 rep.  And, as soon as we had our own voice at City Hall things started happening for the better.

We began to ask more questions.  Concerned North Parkers asked the city council why is the city putting social service offices into prime real estate units along North Park’s best retail streets? Why can’t the city make an investment to return viable retail back into what once was a proud shopping area?   Granted social services are needed, but do they need to occupy prime retail locations?  How different North Park would be today, if fiscal engines like Grace-Ful Living, Claire de Lune, Linkery, North Park Theatre, Urban Solace, Pigment, Caffe Calabria, were turned away because they couldn’t find prime retail space because a social service was housed there instead.

Before you rock the boat over what I just said: It helps any community stand on its own two feet if you have social services occupy space on side streets and not on prime economic avenues.  For example, the County Probation site on Ohio Street is fine where it is.  We don’t need it located at 30th and University or 30th and Upas.  The city and retail landlords finally got that picture.

Once again, our voices were heard.  North Park Main Street arrived in the middle 1990s to bolster our businesses and make it work along side the residential core.

North Parkers continued to ask questions.  Why can’t our councilperson be a gay or be a woman or be a gay woman?  By asking those social questions, North Parkers benefited from an entire generation of progressive leadership because we embraced diversity and common sense. Thank you, Christine Kehoe and Toni Atkins.

City Hall got the message.  And another thing this city should comes to grip with:
North Park is the most diverse community in the most diverse district in our city.  By population alone North Park and District 3 are huge. No longer are its residents sleepy and uncaring.  And, if you have aspirations to being Mayor in this town—the path to being elected begins and widens north, east, west and south at 30th and University.

During this last election we only saw one candidate for Mayor knocking on North Park doors and asking for our vote.  That person is named Bob Filner.  The next Mayor of San Diego will be in North Park knocking on doors.

So, let’s put an end to this essay by asking did a lowly dumpster help save North Park?

Sure did. But we all contributed.

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