Get creative, get committed (and shovel!)

By Pat Thompson

Commentary

We’re coming up for air after the grueling election and recovering from a divisive presidency.

And we’re still in the depths of the pandemic, and we’re also heading into winter.

So, as we deal with all of that, let’s figure out what it means to “build back better”—right here—and then do it.

The St. Anthony Park neighborhood is known for its community institutions, from the library and public schools to organizations like the Bugle and Community Foundation, to events like the Arts Festival and 4th in the Park. All of these—and many more I haven’t mentioned—have suffered from the pandemic while all of us individually have been under extraordinary personal strain, too.

Despite all of this, we need to maintain our community institutions. In fact, we need to expand and extend them. They are what make this the place where we all want to live.

Weaving ourselves closer together through our shared institutions and welcoming in more people to the neighborhood will help develop the resilience we need as our climate becomes more unpredictable.

Sometimes that commitment to our institutions is financial support to keep something like the Bugle going. Sometimes it’s volunteering time, especially becoming a key volunteer who helps plan over the long term for an event or program. But even starting to pitch in on a small scale is good—just start! You have knowledge or experience to bring—you have ideas. Bring your dreams and willingness to learn. Show up!

A recent example in Bugle-land was the way people in both St. Anthony Park and Lauderdale adapted Halloween to deal with the pandemic. SAP Elementary School parents organized an on-foot, socially distanced parade along the edge of Langford Park for kindergartners and their siblings. Households around the neighborhood put out the word about their candy chutes or other ways of “non-handing out” goodies.

In Lauderdale, when the city sponsored event for kids was cancelled, neighbors devised a decentralized plan. They made a map showing homes with COVID-safe pre-bagged treats—called gHosts—plus icons for decorated houses and selfie stations where trick-or-treaters could take photos in their costumes to upload to a community page. Lauderdale folks combined all this with a scavenger hunt bingo card and a coat drive.

Now, with winter coming, going above and beyond in shoveling sidewalks can be a next step. That’s the simplest form of helping a community exist, by making it possible for people to get around on foot, especially during COVID times. This winter, let’s all pay extra attention to our next door neighbors’ sidewalks and even our whole block, if we’re able, to make sure everyone can get down our sidewalks safely.

And let’s especially make sure that the curb cuts, hydrants and bus stops are clear. The folks who live on corners already have an extra burden with two sides to clear. Keeping the curb cuts and other areas at corners clear when snow piles up from late plows is an added challenge. Let’s help them out to help everyone out—all of us, on every block. If we break it down like that, it’s much less of a burden.

All of the organizations and events that comprise a neighborhood, all of its streets and sidewalks, plus places like the library, parks and schools—these are our public infrastructure. Some of them are supported by our taxes, but many are not. However, all need the extra oomph of human effort to bring them to life, to make a place.

It’s what we call “infrastructure maintenance,” something that we need to pay attention to make sure that things don’t fall apart. This winter, let’s shore up our base of infrastructure—physical and human—so we can go into spring and the unknown future ready for the challenges we’ll face together. To make this place better than it was for more people than ever before.

Pat Thompson is part of Transition Town—All St. Anthony Park and co-chair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council’s Transportation Committee. Transition Town’s next Ideas & Planning Group meetings are Dec. 3 and Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. Email info@TransitionASAP.org for the Zoom link.

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