We’ve Got Trouble in River City | submitted by Ray Allen

“We’ve got trouble in River City”

“Trouble, right here in River City”

Lyrics from the play “Music Man” or a precursor to the future of Madison.

For too long, we have ignored the obvious growth in crime and gang activity in this community. The growth of both has adversely affected our schools and neighborhoods, placing Madison at a crossroads in its transition from its past status as a homogeneous college city to a more urban community.

The recent meeting of Southwest side residents to establish a “resident bill of rights” and to call for the establishment of community standards is an example of frustration over the city’s inaction to effectively address the changing environment.

While the elected officials of the city spend their time tackling such major policy issues, such as the use of plastic bags, city residents are left to address the issue of crime, violence, and improper behavior in their neighborhoods. The actions of the southwest side neighborhoods are to be applauded, even if part of the process is flawed.

In large cities with a high crime rate, much crime goes unreported because the victims have come to accept it as routine or at least inevitable whereas in a low-crime small town similar incidents might be reported with energetic indignation. The willingness of this neighborhood to address the issue is an important step toward solving the problem.

In a separate effort, a group called Families and Communities Unite, has been undertaking a similar effort to address the issues changing the southwest side. This effort differs from the above primarily because the group is composed mostly of minority group members, whereas the other effort is driven by non-minorities.

Criminal activity among young low income minorities is the poison of cities and race relations; if both these efforts can force a conversation about it, it could help reclaim a neighborhood.

In addition, both groups should have an honest discussion about the issues of race and class.

Good luck with that.

In order for these efforts to be successful, these groups cannot remain separate. The establishment of community values must be an inclusive effort to have any chance to succeed. The recent community picnic held at Elver park provided a good starting foundation to bring all members of the neighborhood together.

But all these efforts will struggle until we address the issue of skill enhancement and employment opportunities for our low income youth. The fact remains that the unemployment rate for minorities in the Dane County area averages around 10% and in these poor economic times may currently be double that amount.

Economic opportunity needs to be a high priority on the solution equation.

No plan will be effective without an economic component which addresses the high unemployment rate of low income youth. Unfortunately, the city’s current economic plan provides little focus on skill development and creating jobs for the unemployment.

To break this vicious cycle of urban decay we may need to take drastic actions. It may be time to put away our political correctness for policies that will work.