Cohesive space

Walking through the Colonial Manors neighborhood was, well, not a walk in the park.

A fear gripped the neighborhood because of break-ins and other, more menacing crimes. The graffiti that was scrawled on fences and walls sent messages that the younger, tougher crowd had control of the streets. Best for residents to stay inside and keep quiet.

The majority of hard-working people that made up the fabric of Colonial Manors were afraid to discuss the problems publicly; the fear of retaliation was palpable. Once the fabric of the neighborhood starts to unravel, the disconnected and disengaged will do little to stop it.

But sometimes neighbors can find a new way to stitch it together. A group project can create a new pattern of interaction that can become the loom that puts the threads together, and so it was in Colonial Manors, where a vacant plot of land provided the opportunity.

Every neighborhood is a complex set of liabilities and assets. Too often people dwell on the liabilities and start whining to politicians about what they need. The residents don’t focus on what they can contribute. Many neighbors don’t realize they possess assets or are equipped to use them.

In Colonial Manors, the neighbors had an asset that appeared to be a liability. It was a few acres of weeds that represented more than 20 years of promises to build a city park.

But because the neighbors got involved, that failed promise was turned into an antidote for crime and, more importantly, a loom to restitch the fabric of the neighborhood. Led by Gloria Jacquez, the neighbors came together to plan and build a social institution: a city park with a walkway, a picnic area and a playground. Soon the planning group became the Colonial Manors Neighborhood Association.

This past Saturday, elected officials, police officers and neighbors dedicated Billy Bean Jr. Park in Colonial Manors. The park is named after a police officer who died in the line of duty. Credit for the funding rightfully went to Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, and the project was helped along by Sacramento City Councilman Dave Jones.

The sizable crowd (plenty of politicos, news media and well-wishers were in attendance) could have been there for the speeches, the free hot dogs or the helicopter fly-over. But most stirring was the presence of many of the 50 members of the newly formed neighborhood association, all now connected and engaged in the future wellness of Colonial Manor.

Now that the park is an accomplishment, they are unafraid to stage neighborhood clean-ups and to push for better street lighting.

While government can and should supply the funding for parks and other projects, the resurrection of Colonial Manor is evidence that the neighbors that have it the toughest are often best served by seeking out their own looms and simply getting to work.