Urban Planners talk about the need for community involvement in neighborhood development. That is good. Similarly, public housing residents need to have their ideas included in planning for the future of their developments. Yet, in St. Louis I sometimes think democracy has gone overboard. It seems that everyone no matter how wacky their idea has an equal say in the future of our communities. I certainly see that problem in the failure of the McKee effort to redevelop north St. Louis. People get worn out and nickel and dimed.
My first job with HUD was to insure and improve tenant participation in public housing. In all, participation tended to be low. Poor people participate less in public life less than wealthier people, that is partially why they are poor. More important, they simply lack the time for civic involvement.
A concrete example. The Darst-Webbe Hope VI redevelop[ment required tenant involvement. The remaining few tenants in the failed original project refused to be supportive of a complete demolition and redevelopment. Why? They were selling drugs and didn’t want that activity disrupted. It has always puzzled me why tenants of public housing appear to have more say in the running of their project than other properties. All political theorists have agreed that direct democracy is a poor form of government. They are right. Written by Paul Dribin