Spreading Credit

Dear editors:

Many thanks again for the thoughtful article covering the work of the Center for Neighborhood Technology [“The Wizard,” April 8].

I’d appreciate it if you could publish this letter noting some important corrections and amplifications.

Bob [McClory] did a wonderful job covering the myriad of organizational interests with which we’ve been involved. I did not, however, convene the Campaign for Responsible Ownership (Michael Freedberg and Barbara Shaw of CNT did), nor the Housing Abandonment Task Force (which was convened by CNT Associate Director Steve Perkins, Bob Adams of the Housing Agenda, and Gary Oniki of the Community Renewal Society).

The Lake Street El Coalition, of which CNT is a member, got its impetus from local community organizations such as Bethel New Life and the South Austin Coalition Community Council, and the city- wide Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, and it is our privilege to help them and other organizations secure resources for the ambitious community-based, transit-oriented developments envisioned.

The Chicago 1992 Committee leadership included veteran activists Lew Kreinberg, Art Vasquez, many leaders from directly affected communities such as Pilsen, Douglas, and Kenwood-Oakland, and strong independent spirits such as Gleila Sharp, Frankie Knibb, the late Lincoln Edmands, and too many others to mention here.

The accurate portrayal of the politics in the legislature around the region’s air quality issue is matched almost daily by mainstream press coverage of what is often portrayed as either an anti-business conspiracy or a federal conspiracy to bankrupt cities and states with unfunded mandates. Let me state that it is neither.

Being healthy is a right, threatened by our lack of quality air, and as for assertions made that the Clean Air Act is a set of “unfunded mandates,” the State of Illinois has the choice of using both its authority and a portion of its highway funding under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act to support such air-cleansing activities as assisting commuters with alternatives to driving and with transit-oriented development.

In a region choking to death from too much pollution and too few jobs, is it too much to expect that we invest the resources we have available on air-cleansing, job-supporting initiatives in existing communities, rather than on highways to places that may never be built?

One of many people I’ve learned enormously from is Wes Birdsall (although I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Osage), and the direct quote from Wes in response to a question from a reporter asking “how he organized his project” was that ” . . . this isn’t a project, rather, we’ve made energy conservation a way of life . . . ”

We’ve tried over the years to enable the benefits of environmental and economic change to reach the very people and places that deserve work and a decent environment (even if we can’t do much about the weather). We suggest that some cities and states will be smart enough to recognize that a place-centered, high-wage, low-waste economy is worth the challenge.

Many thanks again for highlighting the ongoing struggle for fairness and sustainable communities; the work that thousands of individuals and community organizations have engaged in is often belittled as utopian. William Appleman Williams noted in 1981 that ” . . . America is in trouble because it has settled for more of the same instead of imagining a new and more civilized Utopia.”

Scott Bernstein


Center for Neighborhood Technology

Robert McClory replies:

While Scott Bernstein’s desire to share the credit is commendable, I would like to point out that nowhere in the story did I state or suggest that he single-handedly convened any of the organizations mentioned. As I noted, CNT has a dedicated staff and has worked collaboratively with dozens of other groups from the beginning.