At the SNA annual meeting, author Mark Dunkleman discusses the decline of community interaction.

At the SNA annual meeting, author Marc Dunkelman discusses the decline of community interaction.

More than 80 people attended the SNA annual meeting May 1 to elect a new board of directors and hear an analysis of the changes in America’s neighborhoods.

Organization members and invited guests gathered at 7 p.m. in the Highlands on the East Side, 101 Highland Ave., for wine, beer, soda and pizza as well as an opportunity to meet new friends and greet old ones.

SNA President Dean Weinberg officiates at his last annual meeting.

SNA President Dean Weinberg officiates at his last annual meeting.

The business of the meeting began with a review by President Dean Weinberg of the Summit Neighborhood Association’s achievements over the past year culminating in the opening of the community gardens in the Summit Avenue park. He also mentioned the neighborhood’s major event – the recall of Ward 3 City Councilman Kevin Jackson – pointing out that the SNA had not taken sides as it is nonpartisan.

SNA Secretary Thomas Schmeling, as head of the board’s nominating committee, presented a change in the organization’s bylaws to allow votes by the board of directors via electronic media. There was some discussion from the floor about the possibility of that violating state law, but with an amendment that the change would be “consistent with state law,” it was passed.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza outlines his budget priorities to eSNA members.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza outlines his budget priorities to SNA members.

Schmeling than gave the floor to Mayor Jorge Elorza, who outlined his priorities for the city’s budget. The mayor cited his attempts to balance the budget to include a “rainy day” fund. He emphasized investments in the infrastructure of the public schools with preschool and summer learning programs with technology in classrooms including computers and three-dimensional printers. Elorza also pointed to a drop in gang-related crime, support for recreation and summer jobs for youth and a push for six weeks of paid parental leave. He noted the lack of transportation for the elderly and said the city has its own buses to address that problem. The mayor also cited a work and rehabilitation program for the homeless.

After Mayor Elorza had to leave, Schmeling presented the slate of board candidates, including one who had stepped forward at the meeting, and they were elected by acclamation. President Weinberg had decided to not seek reelection and was presented with a family membership in the Boston Science Museum as a token of gratitude for his service.

The new board consists of: Ethan Gyles, president; Kerry Kohring, vice president; Eric Christiansen, secretary (conditional on board approval since he was absent); Britt Page, treasurer; and returning members Kim Clark, Lee Clasper-Torch, Anneliese Greenier, Schmeling, Emily Spitzman, Sharon Lee Waldman and Weinberg. New members are Anne Holland, Sandra Lee, John Pettinelli and Laura Ramsey.

State Rep. Aaron Regunberger chats with constituents at the meeting.

State Rep. Aaron Regunberg chats with constituents at the meeting.

The final item on the agenda was the discussion of the nation’s changing neighborhoods led by Marc. J. Dunkelman, author of The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community and a Taubman Fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

He presented the findings of his research on the evolving American community and said that ordinary citizens have lost faith in traditional institutions. He described a social model of three concentric rings of interaction, with an inner circle of intensity and an outer ring of single common interests. He characterized the middle ring as composed of casual meetings of neighbors sharing common problems and solutions.

His premise is that this ring is deteriorating because of narcissistic emphasis on inner-ring relations and the capitalization of outer-ring opportunities. He said that most American problem-solving institutions are based on middle-ring interactions, and as these diminish, so does the faith in traditional methods. He said U.S. social architecture “was based on common solutions by people who knew each other,” but that has changed and middle-ring “relationships are collapsing,” perhaps as a result of technology.

He said that “if foundations of social interactions change, the institutions based on them crumble and we have to address whether to shore them up or construct new institutions.” He pointed out that new ideas come from “braiding together” different approaches, but that millennials are choosing not to interact with diverse opportunities.

His solution, he told the audience, is to promote interaction by inviting strangers to share viewpoints. This prompted lively discussion until the time allotted for the annual meeting ran out.





Categories: SNA