As oil prices spike, as relentless unemployment continues, and as real economic opportunity continues to decline, our little slice of paradise here in the LEX is increasingly at risk. Poverty here has increased 58% over the last 10 years. Nearly 50% of our fellow citizens are paying more than 20% of their incomes for food and energy alone. That leaves very little for anything else. There can be no wealth building in that kind of box. That means that the American Dream is dead or dying to nearly 150,000 people in this city. Now what?
Are we willing to live in a place where one out of every two people are absolutely struggling? Can those of us who aren’t struggling just write them off as “losers”? Will those who are struggling decide that the system isn’t fair? How will this all play out?
I haven’t heard Mayor Gray or any City Council member or any other “leader” in the community speak about the stagflation tsunami that is raging through our city right now. Is that because they can’t see it, as it hasn’t affected them yet? Is it because they think it will get better soon – that it’s not the real issue? Is it because they think it’s too bad for those who were unprepared? Is it because it seems like a political issue that we can just vote away? Is it because they think that an “economic development” strategy can turn this all around?
I do hear too much talk from our leaders about the supposed future and our rightful place in it. As if we could just get some better downtown development, and manage traffic a little better, get some jobs here, and deal with our growth/preservation issues, then all will be well. That is nothing but a backward glance at the city that used to be, with its old dreams of the future.
We must deal with today.
There are ways in which we can adapt. We can become a city that closes in around each other. We can put philanthropy to work in deeply meaningful ways. We can put our false civic ambitions aside and deal with the reality in front of us. We can remember that human life is about community, about helping each other. We can acknowledge the situation instead of wishing, dreaming.
We can begin this spring with a monumental food localization effort. For the price of seeds, we can help our city on its path to become more food self-sufficient. Right now, we can get our institutions to begin a local economic policy that ensures that every dollar spent is spent for the benefit of our city. Right now, we can make it easier for our citizens to move around the city by ensuring that Lextran reacts to the need, instead of its archaic model, and that bikes are a legitimate option.
Unless we speak out about what is really happening – and give up the ancient memes about who we want to be – times are going to be very rough here in the LEX. They don’t have to be.