Shape the debate: creating connected community

Jim Tigwell

During the coming municipal election, it’s imperative we address the diverse disengagement of citizens. For a smallish city made larger by our neighbors, we have easily recognizable divisions. Less apparent divides include gender identity, race, class, and sexual orientation. More than where we work and where we play, these divisions determine how we work and with whom we play. It can be hard for us to see how we’re connected with each other.

We tend to believe that the divisions we find ourselves neck-deep in need the most resources and attention. That’s normal for any city. The more pernicious problem happens when everything in our divisions is going okay. When things are fine for us, we tend to assume they’re fine all over. But things are not fine.

We know that. We see issues affecting people in other sectors or on the other sides of divides all the time. Sometimes it seems too big for any person to process, let alone handle.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem like our problem at all. One of the largest challenges for any candidate will be encouraging citizens to realize these issues are all connected. It’ll take strong candidates to encourage us to look outside our everyday lives for what we can do to build a better community.

The challenge will mean more than encouraging us to look outside, it’ll mean pushing back against tourist culture. We can tour some sectors easily. Events like Night/Shift offer a trip through KW’s art community, and tours of Communitech let us see some of what our tech sector has to offer, but at the end of the day we take our swag bags and go home. We’re just as guilty of covering up the flaws when we invite people into
our own events and dinners. Our homes are never cleaner than when company is coming. We cover the cracks, hide all the clutter and tell our guests that everything is fine.

As leaders, candidates can encourage citizens to get behind the scenes by emphasizing the interconnected nature of urban issues in their campaigns. They can help create a climate where organizations can be forthright about their vulnerabilities rather than cloaking them in galas. Where we know that problem for a sector is a problem for the city. We’re not tourists in our own town. We share a home with the people across those divides, clutter and all, and we rely on our municipal government to guide us in keeping our home tidy and safe for everyone who lives here.