Smile Politely

The five towns of Urbana

In law school, my friend Dave and I came up with some New Rules — our own constitutional principles.

  1. Avoid Head Trauma
  2. No Jay Leno-ing (don’t explain jokes)
  3. Occasionally think of others

The reason for stating #3, a corollary of the Golden Rule, is that we don’t need to be reminded to think of ourselves. Put this concept in electoral terms, and you get “all politics is local.” For Urbana purposes, it’s pretty easy to see what’s on the minds of people these days. Just bike along the streets, you’ll see how they’re expressing themselves.



But the mindset is very different from one neighborhood to the next.

Southeast Urbana

I got an email from a retired professor yesterday. It sums up the cognitive dissonance of the Urbana electorate, and its elected leadership.

One thing that a lot of homeowners who live in my area are concerned about is the rise in crime and vandalism that we have not seen for the past 30 years. There is a general perception that Laura (sic) Prussing and most council members are simply insensitive to this because they don’t live next to it. (This apparently underscores an axiom to the generally accepted principle that all politics are local: if it isn’t in your backyard don’t expect that someone who doesn’t see it to take your complaint seriously.)

Indeed, you don’t see a lot of pro-incumbent yard signs in southeast Urbana.

WUNA South

On the other hand, there are two per house on the southern state streets, as well as a good showing for Durl The Green.

I assume the reason the mayor (and Durl) get the votes of all the wealthiest WUNAs is that these people don’t have day-to-day livability issues. After a pleasant night’s sleep and a serene cup of coffee on the sun deck, they contemplate more theoretical governance problems.

It’s the same reason the mayor doesn’t tackle any persistent nuisance or crime problems in east and southeast Urbana: They simply don’t know about it, and aren’t really interested in finding out.

It’s ironic, because the guiding principle of a Liberal Elite, in theory, is to help people. But I guess those people have to be part of a Defined Suffering Class, and possibly in another country — rather than living in a house on east Mumford, or Rainbow View, and wondering when the next break-in is coming.

WUNA North

As you get further north toward the Low Rent state streets, the enthusiasm wanes. In truth, there’s very little the two WUNAs have in common.

Last week’s WUNA debate cemented for me the notion that there are two completely different types of people who self-identify as West Urbana people, and associate themselves with West Urbana Neighborhood Association. Here’s an example, from my own experience, of the stuff on the minds of the WUNA North people:

One night last spring, at 3:14 a.m., I witnessed a mixed fivesome trek from campus to Illinois and Cedar at full volume. Laughing out loud, singing, grunting, making fart noises. Every home they passed was asleep. Well, had been asleep.

I could hear them coming from a block away, so I went outside and just followed them for a while. I consider mine an act of amateur anthropology. I consider theirs an act of assholishness. It’s not that I never walked tipsy from one place to another in college. But alcohol never made me lose consciousness of social propriety.

I think today’s drunken college student is louder (or more unaware of his surroundings) because he grew up in a secluded cul-de-sac, or a gated community. He spent most of his life playing video games, or browsing the web. Raised in captivity, he is not aware of interactions among his species in the wild.

Or maybe it’s smaller families. I had older siblings and other kids in the neighborhood who taught me that when I was committing acts of evil, I should be secretive about it. Schadenfreude excepted, it’s possible to have a good time even without hurting others.

East Urbana

This is the part of town that gets the least attention, and has the most problems. Here’s another email I got yesterday, from a resident:

My neighbors are a mixture of very friendly people and downright unfriendly/hostile presences who are generally shady and possibly drug-dealing scofflaws (WOW, does that sound harsh and old-fogey-ish!?) who like to keep their dogs outdoors and/or running loose too often (this from an enamored dog owner who can’t stand the outdoor dog scenario or irresponsible dog-ownership). Animal Control is not exactly well-equipped or willing to help, even to pick up a running-loose dog I coralled twice within a month and wanted to have picked up (for his own safety, basically). Fortuitously, I had the time and wherewithal to deliver the dog to the county impoundment place instead, but many people would not have that same ability. Really frustrating.

In addition to the overdeveloped hot-rods, there are too many infuriatingly loud motorcycles that drag race up and down my street. Not safe for the kids playing, or for my sanity. I called the po-po about that and, not surprisingly, no dice. I suppose that that kind of nuisance noise is not really preventable or violations thereof enforceable, but it does suck.

This, of course, is exactly what I’ve been talking about for the last few months… okay, years. I reassured this woman that government can apply the Rule of Law, even in east Urbana — if it has the will to do so. The police and animal control simply need the assistance of the elected. But again, the mayor and council don’t ever see it, so they don’t know it’s real.

Northwest Urbana

“Historically black” is a nice way of saying this is where we made the black people live, before Civil Rights laws. If you’ve never met black people before, you might have a skewed picture of their concerns. “Keep taxes low,” is not what you might expect to hear. But it’s true, lots of the time. Safety concerns probably wouldn’t surprise you, because this part of town has, understandably, been a bit leery about the government that “looks after” it.

I grew up in Urbana, so I actually know actual black people. You should try knocking on doors sometime. It’s interesting.

Awareness of Others

Touring the neighborhoods is instructive. But seeing is not necessarily understanding. Maybe elected officials should be required to sleep in different neighborhoods, and park their bikes/cars in them. That way, the problems of others become their own.

It’s just plain hard to think from someone else’s perspective. My new favorite example of this truth comes from Christy LeMire, an Associated Press movie critic:

Much ado has been made about “Valkyrie,” starring Tom Cruise as would-be Hitler assassin Col. Claus von Stauffenberg. There is the release date, which has been moved around several times until finally being set for Christmas, the perfect time for a feel-good movie about killing Nazis.

Evidently, Ms. LeMire has not heard of Jews.

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