Saturday, May 14, 2011

An American Town

May in Dunwoody comes with a flurry of endings and beginnings, each tinged with an old-fashioned red-white-and-blue aura of small town life. Final exams, awards and honors programs, neighborhood block parties, festivals, season-ending games, Mother's Day, planting vegetables, yearbooks, spring cleaning, college acceptances, vacation planning, fundraisers, school dances, Scout crossover ceremonies, high school graduation, concerts .... May is the busiest month of the year.

It's exhilarating. And exhausting.

Of all the celebrations, perhaps one of the most heartwarming was our neighborhood block party, held to celebrate the end of a long and hard fought battle against a detrimental rezoning decision. Our wonderful neighbors surprised Terry with warm words and a gift, neither of which he expected. We lingered late into the evening, enjoying catching up, sharing news, and sampling an amazing array of foods. 

The stressful, stunningly expensive effort - more than $20,000 shared by neighbors and community supporters to fight a large daycare playground behind our homes - has become a template for other groups and communities facing similar decisions. We learned much about our city and legal system as well as just how complex our relationships can be.

Life lessons:

  • Friends, neighbors, colleagues, and fellow volunteers will sometimes find themselves on opposing sides of critical issues. How we deal with each other has far-reaching consequences. I choose civility, setting aside disagreements for the sake of congeniality and progress in other arenas. 
  • NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is a term used with scorn by folks who are not directly impacted by eminent domain, rezoning decisions, and misdirected development. Take care. You may need those same neighbors someday when it's your NIMBY concern.
  • The City's code of ordinance should not force citizens to expensive court actions rather than an intermediary Council veto.  I don't know how much our City had to spend on the legal action, but it was wholly unnecessary.  Even if the Council was aware that its rezoning committee's decision was deeply flawed, its own code of ordinances prevented it from taking action or intervening.
  • Placing volunteers in powerful and influential committees such as Rezoning and Community Development without training and oversight is disingenuous and dangerous.

There are life lessons to be gained in every experience, particularly the hard ones. Mine is that you can love a town and want to help it thrive even when sometimes it lets you down.  I value the gadflies, those people who stand at the public speaker microphone, write letters to the editor, blog, and send emails because they are active, engaged, and concerned enough to speak up.  I am grateful for volunteers who are willing to take on overwhelming and sometimes thankless roles in policy-making. And I appreciate community leaders like John Heneghan, who listen to diatribes and disagreements with courtesy and respect.

It isn't easy, but it's quintessentially American to be a community of individuals, not head-nodding sheep.

And now, a few highlights from the Knitternall family album as May builds to a crescendo of activities before it bows to more leisurely summer pace.

Going to the Renaissance Faire means pulling an ensemble together from the family costume stash.

The PCMS Band's Spring Concert drew a huge crowd; it included a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society in memory of beloved teacher Keith Davis, who passed away this Spring. Both of our kids had Mr. Davis for 7th Grade Language Arts.

Dunwoody High School recognizes its college-bound students ... so many, they circled the gym nearly twice.

Peachtree Charter Middle School recognized its top students in academics, music, character, drama, and more.

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