Education and Experimentation in a Post-47 Lakewood

The dust seems to have settled. Political fallout from the defeat of Issue 47, the West End Development Project, has resulted in a shift of office holders, one that did not exactly elect a unified platform on the issue of development, however much that development seemed a key friction point leading to a populist-style victory for several candidates. What has changed significantly in the months following 47's defeat has been the level of conscious citizen participation in civic life. In this regard Issue 47 can be conceptualized, in essence, as the "crack that let the light in." The community was polarized along two lines, either for or against the project. The need to preserve and save our city in these tough times of changing life conditions was not the polarizing issue. Rather, the most effective way of getting there became the trigger point dividing the city. Each side was convinced that they knew what was best for the city.

Underlying the semantics of the opposing political arguments lies a fundamental dichotomy in approach. The crack can be seen as a split in the way the community realizes self-actualization. There is split between certainty and uncertainty. There is a split between educating and experimenting. The 'light' that we might to choose to 'let in' entails the integration of both approaches. That is, if we're serious about transforming this community on any terms, we have to get down and dirty with a pragmatic, quasi-Athenian style polis. Once there, we may overcome the split.

We are on the way. Pushing a program of education, LakewoodAlive is a substantial civic engagement. Formed after the fateful election cycle, LakewoodAlive has become a "portal to information about economic development for the community," says Vice President Jay Foran. Ultimately, LakewoodAlive aims to educate and engage the community on issues of economic development. Informed discussion about economic development is the goal. As programs of education assume a known outcome, LakewoodAlive knows that economic development will strengthen our city's tax base and thus our quality of life.

In recent months, At-Large Councilman Dennis Dunn began proposing several experimental topics that are directly related to the changing needs of our community. Dunn has been exploring the mechanics of community currencies and inquiring to what extent Lakewood might benefit from Improvisational Economic Devices (IEDs) in general. Complementary Currencies, or IEDs, are circuits of exchange mediated by either direct or electronic exchange for goods and services. LakewoodAlive has also recognized the need to educate the community about IEDs as evidenced in their informational program. The LakewoodAlive homepage contains the link to a Lakewood Public Library pathfinder on the subject, (

For five weeks in March and April, Lakewood Public Library hosted a program entitled Lakewood: Future Tools. A series of lectures presented in collaboration with Dr. Larry Keller of C.S.U.'s Levin College, the program took experimental aim at education. The program covered multiple approaches to engaging the city on a grass roots level. Topics ranged from social science methodology to sustainable development and beyond ( In one lecture, "Articulating Lakewood's Future: Generation X and Generation Y," a panel of young Lakewoodites with a love and vision for the city stepped up to the plate and put it on the line. One panelist voiced a radical vision of a car-free city. Another panelist, Vince Franz said, "we need to amplify what is already good in Lakewood" in response to a collegial debate between a few panelists concerning economic development strategies.

Amidst the community discussion, economic development remains largely undefined. The common explanation is that economic development is the expansion of tax base via redevelopment efforts that raise property values and thus tax revenues. Can economic development be the creation of jobs or alternative means of exchange to render housing affordable while working to meet basic survival needs for the shrinking lower-middle to middle class that occupies a vital core of our precious city? Is it the enticing of franchise establishments with tax abatements and other subsidized means for obtaining capital investment, bringing low paying jobs and bland, soulless retail to town?

In their purest form, cities are about people. They are social centers within which frequent human contact germinates reciprocity in human relationships. Conversely, in mainstream cultural terms, cities are becoming more like consumption centers where reciprocity between individuals is replaced by the relationships each individual shares with the goods and services they consume. "The important local amenities are no longer schools and churches, as in the ethnic enclaves of the urban mosaic described by the old Chicago school", writes T. Nichols Clark in The City as Entertainment Machine. "A residential population of young professionals with high levels of education and lower incidence of children creates a social profile geared toward recreation and consumption concerns."(')

Nichols paints a picture of the young upwardly mobile living with the growing class of have-nots in America's old industrial areas. Two seemingly dichotomous elements so familiar to post-modern America are thus revealed in their functional 21st century relationship to each other; the 'information economy' and a widening of the income gap. Nichols points out that "there is a rise of the individual citizen/consumer in explanatory power, which follows from increases in citizen income, education, and political empowerment... The growth of this "new class" however coexists with substantial numbers of structurally disadvantaged within the city, and the development of the Entertainment Machine is structurally uneven." The 'structurally disadvantaged' to which Nichols refers to are, within his context, those suffering the effects of deindustrialization.

If Entertainment Machine is the answer, Lakewood may have its work cut. Lakewood draws its greatest civic strength from a high level of city services; including public schools, public library, safety forces, parks and recreation and let's not forget the Cushman powered back-yard garbage collection.

In his article entitled 'The Rise of the Ephemeral City', Joel Kotkin makes the argument that "Even at their best, places like Cleveland and Philadelphia will never be able to complete on a global scale with the likes of San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, and Paris for the dollars of young professionals, the nomadic rich, and tourists. "There are simply not enough yuppies to go around," demographer William Frey says. These "cool city" wannabes are unlikely to be anything other than "me too" copies of hipper, more alluring places. It would make more sense for these cities to work on the basics--public safety, education, regulations, taxes, sanitation--so they could woo entrepreneurs and cost-conscious homeowners. The amenities will follow once there is a market to consume them." (

Watch out Cleveland! In Kotkin's context, Lakewood is a Bricks-and- Mortar town. If we are ready, the rebuilding can begin. We already have the foundation. The need to stabilize our tax base initiated plans for redeveloping the West End. Our need to push beyond that framework has energized the community.

The common thread in all these civic happenings is economy. What is it? Do we work within the system or devise ways to buffer or side-step it with local exchange circuits? The best approaches will ultimately combine elements of both. As Lakewood citizens become more engaged, there will be endeavors that both educate and experiment. As Lakewood citizens take into account the complexity of a globalizing world, the city's survival will hinge on its capacity for education and experimentation.

Globalizing pressures have pushed Lakewood's collective persona to a cracking point. Our comfortable life styles here are not in line with the Third World economic model that's pushing down to the old industrial urban areas with such zeal. If we need more light in Lakewood, we will have to transform the economy of ourselves through education and experimentation.
Read More on Slife of Life
Volume 1, Issue 1, Posted 04.31 AM / 24th June 2005.