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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Wednesday June 12th 2024

i think i can i think i can-“Thinking I can,” just ain”'t enough

Commentary By Harvey Winje

For decades neighbors here have said, I think I can. I THINK I CAN! That “Little Engine That Could” chant became “We think we can. WE THINK WE CAN!” Thinking alone wasn”'t enough so they added hard work””phone calls, meetings, leaflets, lobbying, money raising, and much more. Finally, they were often able to say, We thought we could, WE THOUGHT WE COULD, We Did, WE DID!”

Remember this old ad? “When America has a problem, America turns to Black and Decker.” In America, after 911, when the United States government had a problem it began increasing employment of Blackwater and other private, profit making companies for high level security intelligence work.

Locally, when we have a problem, we don”'t turn to Black and Decker or Blackwater. Initially, we don”'t turn to private companies, politicians, or bureaucrats to solve our problems and innovate. We depend again and again on neighbors. Hats off to those neighbors who voluntarily under-gird our community year after year, decade after decade with dedicated work to improve the quality of our urban life.

Their optimism behind each of our page one stories really began four decades ago in this “Community that Could.”

The Phillips Pool and Gym story began when neighbors envisioned and worked for a pool and gym to be attached to Phillips Junior High School. They were successful only to see the school itself torn down a decade later by a school board and city council run amok. They weren”'t able to stop the demolition of the school building but were able to save the pool and gym building albeit without a heat source. Ironically, had e-mail and other electronic communication (forcing the transparency that alerted neighbors in March 2010 to the filling of the pool with dirt and concrete) been available in 1984 to rally neighbors and more quickly expose the ill-conceived plans of the bureaucracy and politicians; then perhaps the school could have been saved. Had they saved the school, they wouldn”'t have had to buy Mt. Sinai Hospital five years later and remodel it into a school.

The East Phillips Park site was well on the way to be developed with dense housing until neighbors initiated action to have it changed into a park after houses were demolished. Neighbors knew the overwhelming needs of a high youth population that needed recreation facilities in equal ratio to children in other parts of the City. The drive for a park facility and staffing has also been neighbor driven.

In 1992 after a 12 year struggle, Phillips neighbors prevented a garbage transfer station from being built in Phillips and anywhere in Hennepin County. Out of that struggle arose the Green Institute and the ReUse Center. We will soon find out whether the signs of reduced hours, lessened inventory, a suburban store closing, week-long 50% off inventory clearance, many employees laid-off, diminished service, and executive leadership forced to resign mean we neighbors need to embark once more in preserving the fruits of those labors.

Along the paths of each of these projects there has been set back after set back. Often the adversity has been the doing of others by whom the projects were managed ”“bureaucrats, politicians, or non-profiteer executive directors many of whom were driven by mercenary goals or otherwise divergent goals than the goals of the neighbors who fashioned the projects with their volunteer leadership.

Let us hope that the current efforts of community building and enhancement last for years because safeguards are included to protect the work for the “Community that Could.

See the articles about the Changes to the Phillips Pool and Gym, building of the East Phillips Community Center and the Open Letter.

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