“Everybody’s restless and they’ve got no place to go/ Someone’s always trying to tell them/
Something they already know/ So their anger and resentment flow.”
– – “Mohammed’s Radio” Warren Zevon
As an organizer for Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN), I was looking forward to a Common Council committee meeting last night. After all, SUN had convinced Pamela Hunter, the chair of the council’s Public Safety committee, to host a joint meeting with the Housing committee to discuss the ways that the explosion of vacant houses in our neighborhoods has led to increased crime and property code violations. In order to drive home the point that our neighborhoods’ quality of life had deteriorated, we also convinced Councilor Hunter to hold the meeting at the Southwest Community Center, rather than at City Hall.
SUN has worked on the intertwined issues of crime, vacant houses and problem corner stores for many years. We helped write and amend both the city’s Nuisance Abatement law (1991, 1995, 2004) and the certificate of use business license (2003). Our goal was to get all the players together in one room and have the Council and neighborhood residents question the administration’s agency heads on how to improve our efforts to make our neighborhoods safer and more attractive to potential homeowners and businesses. SUN had a couple of meetings with residents to get some ideas on what our priorities should be and came prepared with a list of 10 strategies to pursue.
However, it quickly became apparent that this meeting was not going to be a productive enterprise. The department heads were invited to give brief descriptions of their activities on vacant houses–no one mentioned anything that our neighbors haven’t heard at countless meetings before. One by one, representatives from Neighborhood Development, Code Enforcement, Law, Police and Fire gave practically substance-free presentations and not one councilor asked a single question of any of the agency folk. When the public was invited to speak, a few mentioned particular eyesore vacant properties that have languished on their blocks for years, but several also ripped into the collected officials for paying lip service to the concerns of our neighborhoods. The anger and frustration was palpable.
One of the bedrock principles taught to all organizers is the three-step approach to our work: Educate, Agitate and Organize. On this issue, we’ve been educated for some time now. Last night did a good job of agitating our folks. Stay tuned . . .