This week's installment of Vote Local is from my friend and neighbor, Jenna Tourje. In addition to being an urban planner, Jenna is a kind, insightful, talented human who teaches me new ways to see our city every week. I'm thrilled to share her wisdom here with you. Enjoy!
As a city planner, I was taught to think through all of the ways the physical design of a city impacts a person's daily life, from the moment they wake up to when they end their day. In the same way, we can envision how decisions made by local elected officials affect your day to day life on a personal level. Because even the small decisions matter.
Let's imagine you wake up tomorrow morning. You have your daily rituals ñ take a shower, make breakfast for your family, brush your teeth, and pack a lunch for the kids. Believe it or not, each of these normal, everyday activities stem directly from decisions made by your local government. Your local water district provides the water, the planning commission determines how close the grocery store is from your house, and city council votes on whether or not there is fluoride in your water.
Your kids hop on a bus provided by the school district. During your 35 minute commute to work (that you claim is only 20 minutes) you have time to listen to Season 2 of Serial because the traffic lights are not synced because the city's traffic engineers keep leaving for higher paying jobs and you get stuck behind a garbage truck that's off schedule because the city is in negotiations with the waste management union. Your work is in the city adjacent to yours where the city zoning ordinance allows for large-scale office buildings, and you park in a vast parking lot under the shade of a stand of eucalyptus trees required by the city's landscaping ordinance.
At lunch you run downstairs and across the street to a plaza with several dining options, drop off your dry cleaning and mail a package in the small shopping center that's vibrant during office hours but dead at night since there are no houses zoned nearby. You and your coworker sit on a bench next to a statue donated by a local artist that was commissioned by the City's Art Council in a quaint park next to the Starbucks.
On your way home from work, you swing by McDonald's and feel a twinge of guilt picking up fast food for the kids, but your City hasn't yet implemented incentives to bring in more healthy food options and there's just no time before soccer practice. You pick up the kids and head to the park so that the team can get in a soccer practice before dark as neighbors petitioned the planning commission to remove the lighting around the athletic fields because they shined directly into their bedroom windows. While at the park you feel safe as your friendly, local police officer you've gotten to know by name stops by on his bike to say hello as he practices the local police department's long-standing and successful policy of community policing.
You head home exhausted but content and notice someone asking for money at the intersection. She's the same person you see every night. You nod and give her some cash, hoping that there are wrap-around homeless services she can rely on that are funded through your city's community services department in partnership with the State and local non-profits. As you continue home you pass dilapidated apartment buildings with kids playing soccer in the alley since funding hasn't been allocated to maintain the grass in the neighborhood park. Around the corner are brand-new, luxury townhomes that loom above the adjacent single-story home that no longer sees sunlight past 2:00 p.m. You pull into your garage and wave to your neighbor, the one who you've been wanting to meet all these years, but you rarely use your front door except to talk to the occasional salesman. But you can guess you make about the same income because home values are similar in your subdivision and they probably chose this neighborhood, like you did, because of the good school district.
The old adage is true: all politics are local. The shape and structure of your life are both directly impacted by whom you elect to your local governments. Their values, their relationships, the way that they view you, the way they think about your neighbors, and how they allocate funding affect more of your life than any senator, governor, or president ever could. A vote for a city councilor could affect your commute, a school board member could make sure your child's school is adequately resourced, or a ballot measure could determine whether your kids have a park they can safely walk to. Local elections matter because you are local and your life is local. These are the decisions that give you power.
Jenna is a planner, strategist, & community builder who is passionate about partnering with communities on the path to creating healthy, whole and equitable places, where people love where they live and have a voice and a stake in the future. Jenna has experience in overseeing, coordinating, and directing public outreach for both nonprofit and public-sector clients. Throughout her career, she has worked in Southern California and Boston to facilitate community visioning and planning processes at a neighborhood and city level and is committed to empowering communities towards real and meaningful change. She is currently a Senior Planner at Michael Baker International and co-teaches the Graduate Practicum course for UC Irvine’s Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program.