It’s been quite the exciting week on the campaign trail for reelection. One day I was accused of creating a downtown “skid row” by bringing in all the bars, saloons, and honkey tonks. The very next day, in the wake of the city council’s decision to expand our smoking ordinance to cover stand-alone bars, I was accused of trying to shut down all those bars, saloons, and honkey tonks. I’ve been depicted as a rat by those who hate bars and, just tonight, likened to Hitler by those who love smoking bars.
The beauty and messiness of local democracy.
I’ve long made the case it is precisely in a city where democracy is birthed, learned, and practiced. It is in the context of a city where my self-interest is immediately met with my neighbor’s self-interest. Democracy, when working, tempers my passions and moderates my views to the extent that I have a higher goal: living peacefully with my neighbor. Democracy, when working, is quite humanizing and civilizing.
But today, we have a generation of people whose only rearing in democracy came with an eye to national politics and on a steady diet of cable news, radio talk shows, outrageous websites, and the increasing reality of only listening and befriending those with whom we already agree. We are beginning to understand Plato’s concern that democracy could quickly devolve into tyranny. Instead of the democratic spirit of “how can we work this out together,” the political honors of the day go to the one who stands on his ideological principal without wavering and without compromise. “It’s my way or else!”
One of my goals for my time in office has been to be a part of a national renaissance in democracy by helping turn the hearts of this generation back to the city. I continue to believe that we can begin to restore the broken democracy of our nation to the extent that we can restore it right here in Denton.
To that end, it has been a mark of my brief council career to make local democracy sexy again. To show our citizens that our city is a platform upon which they create. That they can have meaningful impact on the future of Denton. That they can move from becoming culture consumers to cultural creators.
And there are times as a city that we must confront big issues and significant questions. This week’s council discussion and vote on the smoking ordinance is a great example – it is polarizing, it involves fundamental political philosophical questions, and both sides feel passionately that they are on the side of justice. This week was a culmination of a community discussion that began over two years ago when the council first took up the issue. In keeping with my values of the power and possibility of democracy, when the dialogue started to turn south, I reached out to my biggest critics on this issue and invited them into my home for beers and open dialogue.
Anyone following the council discussion during the last two meetings knows that I worked hard to forge a compromise – hoping to both move us closer to a comprehensive smoking ordinance and find some opening for consensus on a very polarizing issue. At the end of the day, I work together with 6 other intelligent, hard working, lovers of Denton on the City Council. Through changes and suggestions and hours of discussion, we found a way to get 5 of us to agree.
And though some of us disagreed – and at times, quite passionately – I’d go out for beers with any of them and talk about their kids, their career, their ideas, and find ways to work with them on making Denton a better city. That is democracy at its best.
I get it that people can get exceedingly frustrated with a view of mine or a vote I make. I totally respect that such things make them want to find someone else to fill my council seat. I get it that there a bar owners that want to throw concerts to “Rock Against Roden” and genuinely appreciate that there’s a local government issue sexy enough to bring more people into the process (even if it is to vote me out). I even get it that those frustrations and passions tempt you to devolve into the very sort of rhetoric that we despise coming out of DC and that you start throwing around references to Hitler.
But before you do, think about how we can make our city better if we refrain.
And for my friends who may be tempted to boycott certain bars or the like – don’t. That doesn’t help either. We need more interactions with people with whom we disagree, not less.
Think about how Denton can actually be on the cutting edge of democratic discourse if we tried to subvert the status quo and disrupt the devolution of democracy we are experiencing. My friends, we could change the world. That’s what Denton does.
We’ve failed as a community when one of our wayward youth grows up to find pleasure in attacking people like this. Let’s make sure none of our babies grow up to be the guy who put this together or the guys in town who helped finance it.
Therefore, for every post of this article to Facebook or Twitter, I will donate $1 to the innovative Denton GOAL program and $1 to Communities in Schools North Texas, both Mentor Denton partners, in order to move us closer to our goal of having a mentor for every Denton ISD student who needs one.
Post away and encourage others to do the same. Let’s take what this guy meant for destruction and turn it into a blessing for our city’s kids.
I’m proud of my record of investing in Denton’s neighborhoods. I initiated the Neighborhood Empowerment Grant Program which earmarks $50,000 a year in grants to neighborhoods with great ideas. I helped bring Better Block to Denton to get us thinking of innovative ways to create our neighborhoods. I’m working to update our historic preservation policies in order to protect our city’s historic assets. I’ve gathered citizens to help make pedestrian safety a priority so that we can more safely walk in and between our neighborhoods. I’m pushing for a plan that puts 20,000 trees into our neighborhoods by giving them directly to homeowners in order to better our streetscape, improve home values, and increase our city’s tree canopy.
But there’s more to be done. Here are some ideas to keep Denton’s neighborhoods moving forward:
REVITALIZE THE CORE
The days of thinking of Denton’s core neighborhoods merely as investment opportunities for landlords is over. There is now a house on Austin Street that is listed for $395,000. As in any city with a vibrant urban core, the first couple rings of single family home neighborhoods become the hottest real estate in town. The Downtown Implementation Plan failed to consider a role for these neighborhoods in the revitalization of downtown. We should move quickly to develop a plan to stabilize, promote, connect, and foster a renaissance in our core neighborhoods.
NEIGHBORHOOD/DISTRICT IDENTITY INITIATIVE
Naming, branding, and identity is a crucial step toward creating a sense of pride, place, and belonging in a neighborhood. We should develop a year-long initiative to encourage and incentivize neighbors to come together to define, name, and brand their neighborhoods, utilizing grant money to develop signage.
THINK BEYOND THE SQUARE
As we work on revitalizing our core, let’s begin the process of identifying and fostering the next generation of potential centers of culture in Denton. I’ve already written about this at length here.
Want to create a mini library for the neighborhood kids on your front lawn? Want to turn that vacant lot into a startup pocket park? Want to turn the dumpsters in your neighborhood into a public art project? Our citizens want to create and are too often coming to the city to ask for permission with such ideas. Let’s develop a plan that actually encourages, empowers, and resources such whimsical placemaking in our city’s neighborhoods.
EQUIP OUR NEIGHBORHOODS WITH THE FASTEST INTERNET IN THE NATION
High speed internet is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th century. In order to make sure their is no digital divide in Denton and to position our city for educational and economic leadership in the coming decades, we should immediately commission a study to assess the state of fiber connectivity among our neighborhoods. That should be followed with an aggressive plan to connect our neighborhoods with the fastest internet in the nation.
ONE REGULATION PRESERVATION
While we work to update our Historic Preservation Plan and corresponding ordinances, let’s discover an easy path toward historic preservation of threatened homes and neighborhoods. I like to call this “one regulation preservation” – or, “just don’t tear your house down.” The current paradigm assumes a significant amount of regulations, including things like paint colors and window materials, in order to enter into the historic designation realm. That paradigm works for willing neighbors, but when we are trying to convince landlords and others who have reservations, let’s create a program that makes it easy for them to preserve our city’s historic assets.
A significant part of our downtown parking problems could be solved if we just made it easier for people living within a mile of downtown to walk there. But there remain huge obstacles in the form of Carroll Blvd, University Drive, McKinney St., and Bell Ave. Let’s prioritize a plan to make crossing these streets safe and comfortable for 8 and 80 year olds alike.
RETHINK DENSITY AND MIXED USE
As interest in our core neighborhoods continues to grow and generational housing preferences shift, we must begin to rethink our traditional assumptions about the value and place for increased density and mixed use within our neighborhoods. We should begin to have serious conversations about the true costs of sprawl and tread cautiously when large housing development projects are proposed far away from our city center and our corresponding essential infrastructure and services.
WHAT ARE YOU IDEAS FOR BETTERING DENTON’S NEIGHBORHOODS? Let me know in the comments below.
Remember the deluge of ridiculous mailers that came out in the lead-up to the November 2014 election and when this now famous “Hopes and Dreams Killer” one made its round? The same folks who were behind this and who spent a million dollars arguing that drilling within 300 feet of your backyard is the right thing to do are now funding the campaign of my opponent for the District 1 seat.
In an email widely circulated among the establishment business community in Denton, I’m accused of “Californiaizing Denton.” The “Call to Action” is clear: “he needs to be replaced.” And just like how last Fall’s campaign was financed, the same is true for this crowd – “you don’t need to live in Denton to contribute.”
It’s time we put an end to the big business goals of outside forces telling Denton what to do or how to vote. I need you help to keep Denton moving forward.
Help me raise the necessary funds to confront this challenge. $10, $20, $50, $100 or whatever you can give will help. For a donation of at least $50, you can get this shirt to tell the world how you really feel about this situation.
Thanks for all you do for Denton! Please help spread the word.
In an effort to be fully transparent during this election, I’m posting my most recent Campaign Finance Report online. This is for the period ending March 31, 2015.
While we are on the topic of campaign finance, if you’d like to donate to my campaign, click the PayPal logo on your right. Let’s keep Denton moving forward!