Photo Essay: State of Our Town, April 27, 2013

showers-bros-1Carrol Krause, who wrote a book on the Showers Building, formerly a large furniture manufacturing plant and now the vibrant site for our Bloomington city government, has just put up an interesting post on her blog.

Our Small Towns Are Dying

Other small towns in Indiana, especially southern Indiana, may be “dying,” but not Bloomington. Despite the loss of the furniture factory, what keeps Bloomington humming is, of course, Indiana University (ca. 40,000 students). Plus, Bloomington (ca. 100,000) is not that small.

I’ve long had a dream, to move with friends and/or family to a dying small town, and take it over, revitalize it. Is this happening in the U.S.? I imagine so, especially now that so many of us can “work from home” with an internet connection. Can you imagine, all the front lawns of tiny towns permacultured?

But that is not my subject here. I’m interested in the both the “light” and the “shadow” aspects of Bloomington, and how the shadow continues to bedevil us, despite the obvious bloom that is Bloomington.

That shadow showed up in spades for me when the Occupy Camp first started here in 2011. The occupiers picked tiny People’s Park to set up their camp. When I walked through it the first day I was struck by an unexpected uncurrent of feeling: resentment. Who resented the camp? The homeless folks. Not that they slept there, but they thought of it as their park. So the polarity between the homeless and the occupiers was immediately evident.

Over the months Occupy’s camp was there, the boundaries between the two began to blur. Homeless people understood more of what was happening and why; occupiers understood more of how homeless people felt to always live on the street. Together, they strove to find ways to integrate their two cultures.

Now, two years later, some of the occupiers have made it their work to help the homeless — especially those with addiction or mental health issues who are barred from other shelters — find a place to sleep during the summer. Local churches have been stepping up to the plate, but this year, starting about a week ago, a week which has been cold and rainy, dozens of homeless people had no place to sleep. So, a military tent was set up on private property — the same tent that served the occupiers nearly two years ago at People’s Park — on 11th Street, nearly a mile from the center of town. And the tent is set quite far back also, not at all obtrusive. I walked there from the Farmer’s Market yesterday. Here’s the view from the street.

tent.1

Of course the local paper got wind of it immediately, and by Friday, had this large front page headline: City: 11th Street homeless camp must go.

Here’s what Occupy had to say on its fb page that day.

Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 11.23.17 AM

I haven’t posted on this current local issue earlier because I was unsure of how to work with it. Someone had posted, again on the Occupy Bloomington fb page, that she had established a twitter feed called “Kruzansfail” (Mark Kruzan is the mayor of Bloomington), a name which, frankly, I thought decidedly polarizing. So, unconsciously, I reacted to my aversion by steering away from talking about it at all.

This past week, two 8-hour charrettes were held at City Hall to try to come up with a long-range vision for how to work with the growing homeless situation in Bloomington. I can’t imagine it will get any easier. Refugees from the dominant culture are only going to increase. Coming up with creative, regnerative ways to work with the interface between those still in the dominant culture and those who have suddenly or gradually found themselves refugees from it, may be the defining question of our time.

In permaculture, we are taught that “the edge is where the action is.” This edge, between those who still have, and those who have not, is getting sharper and sharper. We need to learn how to blur it, blend it.

Meanwhile, here are some scenes of vibrancy in B’town, taken yesterday, while walking around the Farmer’s Market.

There was an Asian Fest going on in front of City Hall — not hard to program in such a multicultural melting pot:

Asian Fest performance

Notice the performers onstage. A friend of mine had also just “performed”: taiji.

Asian Fest

City Hall in the background (the old Showers Furniture Factory).

Asian Fest.2 Our local Farmer’s Market enormous, given the size of this city, and justly famous.

bookcover-farmers-market Beginning in April, it goes through November, and then repairs to the Harmony School Gymnasium, where it continues for the entire winter. However, even so, and despite all continuously differentiating trappings of a local food movement here, only 2% of food eaten in Bloomington is grown in the entire state of Indiana. (See Peter Bane’s book, for this fact, or the Food section of Bloomington city gov’s Peak Oil Task Force Report). We have a long way to go before we are food secure.

Here’s some pictures. Keep in mind that it’s only April; crowds — and available foods — increase as the months wear on.Market day

signage organic

On my way out, I happened upon a band, revving up:
band

Then, misguided bathrobeOMG, what’s this?

Aha! I should have known. A creative woman, about my age, dreamed up an entrepenurial idea and, only two months ago, ran with it. (You can imagine what hoops she had to go through to meet state and city licensing requirements for an idea that nobody had ever heard of before. Kudos!) See misguideme.com. Sharon Porter Phillips has been a professional actor for over 30 years with numerous stage, screen, television, and radio credits. So, she decided to not only give strange tours, but to play different parts along the way. Step right up, folks! 812-322-2211.

lady and her sign

Here’s two shots of the dark, plush, fancy interior of her misguided tour bus. First, the stove, with mirror:

misguided stove

Next, the view from front to back.

misguided interior

Wow! As I walked the short distance back to my car along the 3.1 mile B-Line trail,

B-line

I couldn’t help but think of the great gulf that divides those who are seriously addicted and/or mentally ill from the wonderful, soaring entrepenurial spirit shown by people like Sharon Porter Phillips. It’s our historic entrepenurial energy — our collective belief that anything’s possible, given enough imagination and determination — that will save this land. But first, we must work through our addictions. Here’s how I did it, 30 years ago, and it literally saved my life.

How I Stopped Smoking

Meanwhile, we are responsible for each other. Addiction, and mental illness, are not just individual problems, they infect this soul-deadening capitalistic culture that runs on greed and feeds on fear. No wonder there are so many refugees, each one a longing for connection and a cry for help.

I’ll end with one more shot of that probably short-lived homeless camp, due to come down tomorrow, by noon. (There is talk of a new possibility for a low-barrier summer shelter, by the Ubuntu Shelter Group, but so far they lack a location.)

tent.1

Ubuntu,” wikipedia: Ubuntu (Zulu/Xhosa pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼú]; English: /uˈbʊntuː/ oo-buun-too) or “uMunthu” (Chichewa) and “Botho” (Setswana) is a southern African ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other.

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2 Responses to Photo Essay: State of Our Town, April 27, 2013

  1. Carol says:

    Hi Ann
    the word Ubuntu comes from a saying here in Southern Africa : Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu: “A person is a person because of people.” Or : I am me because you are you. Thank you for your interesting posts about your community. We get so much propaganda fed to us about the USA, it’s refreshing and encouraging to read about the REAL people and the world they live in.
    love and best wishes from RSA
    carol

  2. Thank you, Ann, for an extremely thought-provoking essay! I keep having debates with friends about the homeless. My feeling is that food and nightly shelter are merely the tip of the iceberg of what is really needed, and that people provide these two things to the homeless and then feel confident that they’re doing a good job. But the homeless need far more: they need decent clothes and access to laundry facilities, they need a place to print out resumes, they need jobs counselors and jobs placement officers, some of them undoubtedly need literacy coaches, while others need mental health counselors, therapists and physicians. When you consider how much they really need and how little they get from us, the overwhelming nature of the problem really sinks in. I was talking earlier today by phone with a friend in NYC who was amazed to hear that Bloomington had such large numbers of homeless, because there are hardly any in New York nowadays compared with the early 1980s. I wonder what services are available in other communities, because meals and a place to sleep overnight are not solving our collective problem.

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