Your Turn: Role of East Lawrence group defended

By Mick Palmer

I’m a resident of East Lawrence, and live directly on the prospective “arts corridor” along Ninth Street. While I’m not a member of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association board or a regular attendee of its meetings, I know many of its board members, and I’m very concerned with what I see as misunderstandings, and even outright distortions, of the positions of the ELNA board with respect to this project.

I was at the recent ELNA meeting at New York School attended by 100 or more people, including city commissioners, city staff and the prospective lead design team. At that meeting (where no one spoke against improvements to Ninth Street) it was proposed that one or more members of the neighborhood, under the auspices of ELNA, be hired to canvass and communicate with the entire neighborhood and attend all meetings pertaining to the project. Interacting with other “stakeholders,” all of whom would be paid representatives of whomever they represent, would be very time-consuming. That’s not something that should be expected of an unpaid volunteer, especially since there is a $500,000 grant intended specifically to cover the costs of that planning.

There has been a good deal of criticism of how representative of the neighborhood ELNA really is. Some of that criticism is valid. The participation rate in community organizations and representative bodies is quite low. Our current mayor (as well as other city commission members) was chosen by no more than 10 percent of eligible voters. That low participation rate by voters certainly does call into question how representative the commission can be of the city’s entire population. But that doesn’t mean that any critics of the commission are any more representative, or legitimate, no matter how valid their criticism.

Similarly, while participation in ELNA, at board meetings or board elections, is relatively low, it is the ONLY organization in East Lawrence that makes a concerted effort to involve the entire neighborhood in its deliberations. It does so through newsletters sent by mail and email, to every household in East Lawrence, and well-publicized monthly meetings in public buildings. Any resident or property owner in the neighborhood who chooses may participate. You can learn more about the organization at its website:

If this project were merely about improvements to Ninth Street, this would likely not be much of an issue at all. But this is about transforming the street into a “destination,” for purposes much larger than just a transit route thru East Lawrence. None of my neighbors I have spoken with has any objections to improving Ninth Street. But anything beyond that has the potential to transform the neighborhood in ways that aren’t acceptable for those of us who live here because we consider it “home” rather than a mere speculative venture. How the neighborhood will be represented in the planning remains undetermined. I understand the recent proposal from ELNA as just that: a proposal, not a “demand.” Portraying it as some sort of power grab is an unfair distortion that won’t advance this process.