This is from the portion of the meeting where Commissioners report on their concerns and observations. Last Tuesday at the 1/8/13 City Commission meeting, Commissioner McVoy began first. After talking about the tree incident, advisory boards and a domestic violence tragedy, he referred to an article that appeared in the New York Times on January 7th of this year. The article is titled "Diagnosis: Battered but Vibrant" - I encourage you to read it as it introduces the concept of social cohesion and the importance of neighborhood groups - but that is where any conclusion as it relates to the context of Lake Worth should be drawn, as I will demonstrate.
Actually, he didn't cite the actual source of the article and it makes me wonder if he didn't do so just so people would have trouble finding it. This is what Commissioner McVoy says, verbatim, starting at about the 4:15 mark of the above video.
"I read an article this morning I thought was very interesting and thought was relevant to our city. There are people who do research, this is somebody from Harvard I guess, who does research on comparing somewhat comparable communities and looking at why one seems to weather hardship better than another one does and whether you can make any sense out of patterns of that. And this one in particular was looking at communities in the Chicago area, the south side of Chicago, some of you will know parts of that or not, such an easy place. And one of the comments, and they did Chatham, apparently is a community that's had quite a bit of difficulties but apparently cares for itself a lot and has done pretty well. One of the things that they commented on was, this is criminologist Peter St John, Analysis of Physical Spaces, in a community with small buildings, single family houses, like here for instance, relatively easy for the old lady next door to walk over and tell you there is trash on the lawn or turn down the music, and pointing out that low rise communities can have a better record of community safety. And that's something that I think we want to think about. Obviously, you know, you can't take something from another community and completely wholesale it [unintelligible] but I think it's something we that we do want to think about. We obviously have and shared concerns [sic] with community safety and let's take that into account. Learn from other communities as best we can. And that's the end of my comments."
Now let's dissect the omissions and misrepresentations of fact present in this statement from someone who is an elected official speaking from the dais at a public meeting, has a doctorate from Cornell and is familiar with, and supposedly subscribes to, the scientific method. This apparent contradiction between fact and falsehood becomes more apparent after reading the article and the geographic and social context in which it is set. Much of the article deals with an event which galvanized the community - the murder of an Iraq war veteran at a local park. This is also set in the context of the Great Recession's impact on Chatham - which is a neighborhood, not a city - and the results of tearing down public housing high-rises that were inundated with crime, much of it violent. From the article:
"Older residents, perpetually anxious that the younger generation is losing their values of tidiness and mutual respect, now had visible evidence of social erosion. They saw it in the habits of their new neighbors, many of them moving from the Robert Taylor Homes, which were torn down in the mid-2000s."
|The Robert Taylor Homes as they stood before demolition.|
"The neighborhood has something else that many nearby areas do not: uniformly small buildings. Neat rows of one-story brick bungalows and ranch houses stand shoulder to shoulder, at attention, astride modest commercial strips, with few buildings more than three stories tall.
“This is what I call ecological advantage,” said criminologist Peter St. Jean, the author of “Pockets of Crime,” an analysis of the physical spaces criminals occupy. “In a community with small buildings — single family houses, like here, for instance — it is relatively easy for the old lady next door to walk over and tell you there’s trash on your lawn, or to turn down the music. It is much more intimidating to approach troublemakers in a larger apartment building; you don’t even know where in the building they live.”So, Commissioner McVoy, is this what you are attempting to say: If our Lake Worth Towers housed a disreputable, delinquent population and our high-rise building was infested with the type of crime typical of the Chicago public housing projects, and was being or had been demolished, and those residents with their culture of crime would now descend on the city's low-rise neighborhoods we would face the same situation as Chatham? If so, then there might be a parallel between the article and the situation we have in Lake Worth. In many ways, Lake Worth's "social cohesion" in the form of neighborhood groups and people watching out for each other might help mitigate such an intrusion of anti-social behavior.
Or, Commissioner McVoy, are you saying that residents of the Lucerne (six story "high-rise") are intimated in approaching their neighbors if their stereo is too loud or if someone is parking their car in the wrong space - just due to the height of the building and its physical size?
Or, Commissioner McVoy, are you saying that those additional visitors that would be housed in a 5th or 6th floor hotel room that would be allowed east of Federal, should the height referendum fail in March, contribute to the types of criminal violence and social ills explored in the article? Hardly. What those additional people would do is bring new money from far away places and spend it in our downtown - not quite a "social ill" - unless you have some sort of problem with our consumer-oriented society.
What are you trying to say?
The point here is that this is not the issue here in Lake Worth and certainly not somehow related to the height referendum in the downtown that will be on the March ballot. And I would suggest to Commissioner McVoy that he be more careful and circumspect when using some source of information provided by "his people" to politic on an issue from the dais. He might also want to make sure of things like the researcher's name - Peter St. Jean - not St. John - and that he is from the University of Buffalo, not Harvard. As any "researcher" knows, citing of references is critical to sound intellectual discourse.
But, hey, this is what we have come to expect from this Commissioner and his ilk. Just a preview of some of the "facts" that will be toted out on the campaign trail leading up to March.