Monday, February 02, 2015

Salemtown needs to stay a place friendly to children

At the last Salemtown neighborhood association meeting, someone other than me (for which I am thankful) suggested to the officers that more social events be planned for families with children.

That request was made after the officers handed out a list of planned social events somewhat bereft of events explicitly child-friendly: a Mardi Gras Mixer, Pink Flamingo Happy Hour, Progressive Dinner, Chili Cook Off, Sip 'N Stroll. Those are all lovely events I'm sure, but they seem designed more for empty nesters or for parents with babysitters on constant call rather than for those of us who are committed to spending time with our children. I have experienced the Salemtown Halloween Block Party, which is apparently on for 2015, too. While it did not deter the number of kids that came through for candy, it was organized more as a street festival for the concert-and-beer crowd. The "kids tent" was a single table under a small awning.

I thought the officers could have taken the criticism more constructively than they did. They basically told the parent that she should participate in the social committee if she wanted to see more kid-friendly events because none of the members of the social committee have children. I believe that the suggestion was made with good intentions, but it did not come across as a constructive suggestion to me.

I should be perfectly honest and say that this was not the first time I have seen coolness expressed by empty nesters toward families with children in Salemtown. Across 10 years it has been a challenge at times and with some exceptions to convince them to either co-sponsor or join in more kid-friendly events. At times parents here have organized events on our own the absence of association sponsorship. We've had outings to parks and water parks. We've gone to get ice cream. We've attended puppet shows at the public library. In the fall we've gone to scout pumpkins at Farmers Market. One of our more popular regular events we organized apart from SNNA in the past was our "Kid Klatch" events. They were generally at Morgan Park, but one time we had a "Jane's Walk" to Bicentennial Mall ending with a picnic and kite-flying.

While SNNA may have a knack for planning adult-oriented events, I believe our association can do a better job of sponsoring and incorporating kid-friendly events. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Rather than obliging parents to join a committee if they want to see events that their children can attend, invite the parents to meet with the social committee one-time or in a short series of coffees or lunches, kids in tow, so that the committee can get feedback for planning. Who knows, a couple of parents might take charge of their own suggestions to the committee. It is generally not effective or sensitive to tell people who suggest social events that they join the association's social committee. The reason we have committees is to divide the organizing labor and it becomes unrealistic to oblige every person who makes suggestions to join the committee. The committee would be come ridiculously and cumbersomely large under such logic. The social committee should field ideas on how to make their slate stronger, not dismiss those who cannot or will not serve.
  • Put SNNA in front of the parade. If you don't produce social events for families with children, the parents are likely to go ahead and organize them without you. We did 3 years ago when we started to feel less support from the association. I have been to fewer and fewer Salemtown Neighbors social events since 2012, because frankly I want to spend my free time with family members. Until it sinks in at SNNA that they can actually get more Salemtown families to attend by attracting them with kid-friendly events, then I'll not likely attend many adult-oriented ones as I have in the distant past. To put it more positively: find events that parents are already planning and ask if the association can do anything to assist. Get SNNA's name on the event. What can it hurt?
  • Use child-friendly social events as a tool to expand membership. I've lived here 10 years. Salemtown, unlike Germantown, has always had bunches of kids around the neighborhood. It is true now, more than ever. Daily in warmer weather I see young couples walking by with strollers. At times I wonder if we are undergoing a baby boom. Other parents on my block have play days for the kids that their kids go to school with. SNNA has to make more of an effort to attract these families and keep them in Salemtown. No one is asking empty nesters to open up their homes for our kids to barrel around their fragile decorations. But SNNA officers need to find a way to reach out to families with children, if for no other reason that it makes the association stronger and more diverse.
  • Promote diversity. An urban neighborhood is generationally diverse when it has children as well as young adults, retirees, and middle aged-empty nesters. If Salemtown were a neighborhood exclusively dominated by empty nesters, it would be a tedious and boring place. I'm speaking as a person who did not have his first child until the age of 29; as one who will be an empty-nester once again in less than a decade. Any neighborhood worth its salt needs the presence of some children for enrichment.
  • Express mutual interest by showing up once in a while. I have attended events in Salemtown to celebrate someone's promotion, birthday, engagement, marriage, move-in, move-out and a host of other special occasions that were important for me to support. On the other side of the ledger, I don't recall empty nesters showing up to one of my kid's basketball games or her art shows or her theater performances. I am not expressing resentment in that statement. I'm merely pointing out that one hand washes the other. It is unrealistic to expect parents to continue to find a babysitter to celebrate your milestones when you won't calendar and attend to those of their children. Mutuality, by definition, goes both ways.

I offer these suggestions in a spirit of engagement, because I firmly believe in enhancing the quality of life in Salemtown. Yes, our sociality is enhanced by Mardi Gras mixers, but it is also enhanced by puppet shows.


  1. Mike,
    As you are aware, I served as the social committee Chairperson in 2014 and continue to serve as a committee member. I would take your suggestions more to heart if you actually offered them in a venue that allowed discussion (i.e.: at the meeting where that suggestion was made). And yes, I think it is appropriate for us to ask people with children to get involved in SNNA so that we can hear their perspective or, at least offer more productive suggestions other than “give me more kid-friendly events”. I do like your suggestion to offer up different venues for feedback.

    I moved to Salemtown in Q4 2011 and no one reached out to me like SNNA does now. In 2012 and 2013 SNNA had MINIMAL organized social events…maybe a neighborhood mixer in 2013 (I don't believe there was one in 2012) and the annual holiday party.

    I chaired the social committee last year and we revitalized our social plan…agreed, there were several adult-themed events but it was the first year that I have lived here that we had ANY consistent social presence. We offered not just kid friendly but rather kid focused events (refer back to your door hanger that was distributed in February 2014) to include kid play dates and kickball in the park. Although we had 2 or 3 kids to show up at times, they were not successful and had minimal participation overall.

    And I take offense at your continued criticism of the Halloween Block Party. The Halloween Block Party 2014 was the first of its kind on that scale, to my knowledge, in Salemtown. We tried to make it appeal to a broad selection of people but alas, like everything in life, we could not be ALL things to ALL people. But here is what we did do...
    • SNNA members and Salemtown neighbors donated hundreds of dollars worth of candy for neighbors on the 1600 block of 5th to distribute to trick-or-treaters. I believe we had upwards of 300 trick-or-treaters that evening.
    • SNNA organized a house decorating contest that was both spirited and fun for all.
    • SNNA brought a variety of musical acts that were family-friendly to include a Christian-focused performer who engaged children in his performance.
    • SNNA worked alongside Axis Church to provide a kid zone with face painting and multiple street games. 5+ volunteers worked that area of the block party. I think they would be upset to see you poo-poo their efforts. We have pictures of dozens of kids and parents having a good time and participating.
    • SNNA sponsored 2 children's Halloween costume contests with prizes.
    • SNNA sponsored a dog Halloween costume contest that everyone (regardless of age) enjoyed.

    The only thing that was strictly adult was the beer vendor. And, as you are aware, we didn't sell a lot of beer. So, that was not the focus of the event.

    My suggestion to you Mike...please speak up in a venue where we can discuss this instead of storing your comments and feedback only to regurgitate it in your diatribe.

    And, I have attended events from my neighbors with kids when I'm invited. Although I do not have children, I do have other concerns and responsibilities like I'm sure many "empty nesters" do...such as caring for an aging parent with Alzheimer's and a job that requires 50% travel.

    1. This is an odd comment, given that I speak out in SNNA business meetings on a consistent basis. In fact, I offered 3 constructive points about the block party at last November’s business meeting: 1) the residents of the block to be shut down should be included in event discussions and planning, 2) the committee should make sure it has enough volunteers signed up before following through with the event, 3) equipment and decorations should not be left out on the street for weeks after the event is over. Note: at no time did I blog on these points.

      Even though I brought these suggestions up in a business meeting, the response I got from you and other social committee members present then seemed defensive and dismissive. The fact that you now “take offense” to what is offered as constructive criticism confirms my perception that the social committee is not serious about welcoming suggestions for event evaluation, whether they are made in business meetings or on a blog.

      Something else strikes me as strange about your comment. You were SNNA secretary in 2012, at which time you wrote into business meeting minutes criticism of me by an outside developer (not a member of SNNA) during a meeting that I could not attend. You sent those minutes out to the association without any warning to me. I was told by some who attended that dues-paying members openly questioned the negative comments about me, but their questions were not written into your minutes. Everyone understands that my blog is an expression of my own personal opinion, but your one-sided business meeting minutes were the official record of the group. Given that track record, it takes some gall to criticize how I choose to express my personal views of events.

      Background on the 2012 unpleasantness:

  2. In my experience, volunteers often get looked-upon as paid help. It is tradition, but still infuriating. There's an easy way to get done what one wants done - do it yourself.

    That's not to say I don't find value in the suggestions of those who cannot or will not (for whatever reason) get into the weeds of planning and organizing. The suggestions are valuable, but at the end of it all, those that put themselves out there by doing the actual work get to make the decisions.

  3. Hey, Mike. Didn't your spouse recently endure cancer and chemotherapy? I'm sure that demanded quite a bit of emotional support for your daughter. Did the neighborhood association reach out and offer support to you guys during your spouse's prolonged illness? I cannot tell they did from reaction of the first commenter.

    1. Yes, my wife is a cancer survivor. Individual neighbors in Salemtown did reach out in care and support for us during those troubled times. We are grateful for their aid.