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Civics Lessons

June 25-30
Written July1+
Dear Diary and Friends and Family,

In our 15 years overseas we had the luxury of being disconnected with local politics and civic duties.  When we moved to Fresno, we considered getting at least a little bit more active and, of course, the need for activism has only increased in the last two years.  Here's what that involved in the last week of June.

I suppose the ground level of our "civic involvement" is just hanging around with our neighbors in the 900-1000 block of East Cambridge Avenue.  The welcoming and active involvement of our dozen neighbor families is a good place to start being involved.

Our neighborhood is nestled up against Fresno City College (FCC) and there is a long history of interaction with the school, reportedly not all of it good.  A couple decades ago, the college bought and leveled several old historic homes to build their parking lot.  Old-timers in our neighborhood never forgot.  More recent college expansion plans called for a parking lot ("Lot M") at the end of Cambridge Avenue and the promise of added traffic and congestion has motivated all of us.

d180625_02_carole.jpgSince we moved in, I think we have been to three or four meetings with the FCC management, mostly under the sponsorship of Carole Goldsmith, the FCC President who arrived about the same time we did.  Despite our visible skepticism about FCC promises, she continues to seek engagement.  On Monday (25th), she sponsored yet another event, this time on the "Cambridge Commons",  a front yard patch used for neighborhood events.

Several college plans were on the agenda, starting with that old nemesis "parking".  I believe we got assurances that Lot M would not get developed, although I am certain our folks will remain vigilant. Trust but verify.

d180625_04_tempaddition.jpgThe next plan was a surprise: introduction of six portable classrooms on "our" side of the campus.  The back-story here is that the neighborhood had fought to remove ugly temporary buildings 8-10 years ago, when the old administrative building was restored.  Now, new temps?   Dr. Goldsmith and Fresno Unified School District managers explained that this was the result of a long-standing commitment to a science and technology "high school".  The school had been on FCC property for years, located across Blackstone Avenue from the main campus.  Carole said this location required many of the 280 students to make the dangerous highway crossing every day.  (She likened it to "playing Frogger".)  Two kids had actually been hit while crossing - with the light, in a crosswalk!  The sales pitch was successful, as no one present objected to making the kids safer.  We did get assurance that the temporary spaces would be replaced by permanent rooms in the new Science Building, within five or six years.  Again, we will be watching.

Overall, a good interaction, at least from my viewpoint. 

d180626_02_betterblkstn.jpgOn Tuesday evening, I attended yet another local activism meeting: a workshop concerning the potential changes to Blackstone Avenue.  I have joined a citizen's advisory group for the ambitious project whose goal is to turn Fresno's main north-south, car-centric highway into a modern, multi-purpose avenue.
The Better Blackstone organization obtained funding for a detailed study of what could be possible for the southern three miles or so of Blackstone, including the section near FCC and our neighborhood.  Currently, this section is a desolate expanse of used car lots, auto parts and services shops, empty parking lots, and abandoned businesses.  Workshop participants had walked the three miles of the project the weekend before and came away with first-hand incentive for improvement!
Thomas, the project consultant, gave several options for making the grim highway a pleasant avenue. The most ambitious was to remove curb-side parking, decrease from three lanes each way to two, and use the freed-up space for bike lanes, sidewalks, and five rows of trees.  Most people loved it, although it is hard to imagine how such a drastic change can be sponsored and implemented.  In our lifetime?
He offered suggestions for more humble changes as well. Just removing the mostly-unused street-side parking would enable adequate bike lanes, expanded sidewalks, and more-practical pedestrian crossings. It could be first tested on parts of the highway, a little at a time.  Sounds great to me!

The Better Blackstone improvement project has meetings planned almost every month and I will actually be looking forward to the prospect of local change.

No reason for these Thursday-morning pictures, except I liked the light.

On Saturday, we had our most strenuous civics lesson - a street protest of the Administration policy of treatment of migrating families at the US-Mexico border.  Marianne and I returned to the Blackstone and Nees corner where we had first marched, in the Women's March following the last inauguration - our first-ever street protest.
Plenty of messages.  I hope someone is listening.
Marianne held her sign high.

Neighbor and history professor Ethan showed up, fresh from a book tour.  ("Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy" a recommended read!)  His protest has the weight of years of real thought and research.
Priscilla, a friend/client of Marianne also showed up on our section of the sidewalk, having driven 70 miles from her valley home. She and her husband are retired State Department folks.  Her protest was based on both world experience and sensitivity to valley neighbors to whom immigration problems are not theoretical.

It's nice to be back where we can see civics in action and just in time for Independence Day - another story.

John and Marianne


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