When Grandpa Simpson Invades Your Public Input Event

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I just have to rant. Today I participated in a positive and inspiring public input session regarding a very important project that has the potential to transform our downtown. Progressive thinkers, curious citizens, along with community and project leaders gathered to have a healthy conversation about what this space should include and how it will be facilitated.

Our sub-group started on a tour of the project area, when a man who must have been in his 80s began randomly interrupting the tour guide and lecturing the group about the ENTIRE history of the area. In a further conversation with this gentleman, he wondered why we were creating more pedestrian access when nobody walks downtown. I responded by saying that people don’t walk downtown because for the past 50 years there has been little reason to do so. Today, through projects like the one in question, we are trying to change that. “That’s a bunch of bologna” the man replied. “No one’s ever gonna come down here.”

It was official. Grandpa Simpson was in our tour group. Yes, that Grandpa Simpson. It’s OK, I’m used to it now because it happens at every one of these events. Every one.

I don’t like to speak negatively of our senior population. These are folks who have made tremendous sacrifices and seen a world of change in their lifetime. We should honor our elders and what they have done for all of us, and let’s be honest, that’s gonna be me someday too. I completely understand that change can make people feel irrelevant as we age, and at some point we are all going to have to find where we still fit in.

But I’d like to think that when I reach my twilight years, I’ll understand that I’ve done everything I can to put my stamp on the world and now it’s time for someone else to determine our future. I’d like to think that I would acquiesce to young people’s priorities and not try to spend my last gasps of influence stifling the re-imagining of our communities.

I get it. The older we get, the more we feel irrelevant. The more we feel that the energy we try to put out into the world is in vain. For some folks, this manifests in the attendance and subsequent hijacking of a progressive event only to squelch the forward-think enthusiasm and speak ill of anything that conflicts with their shiny view of the past. And I get it, this can happen with people from any age group!

Yes, we should do what we can to preserve historical structures and honor the ways of life that were the foundation of our communities. But we also need to grasp that very little is permanent, and that the desire to preserve history shouldn’t be rooted in our own desire for our cities to remain static in the face of change. Instead, let’s look at how our history can be honored and blended into that change, and how our communities can be better as a result.

On a personal level, one day I will be old (I feel it already!), but I will try my hardest not to equate the change in the world around me with a negation of my own self-worth. We don’t contribute to the world to see it stay the same, we contribute so that generations to come can stand on our shoulders and make their own choices about what’s important. As community members, this should be our overarching goal.