The narratives people use and craft to make sense of this whole episode (literally I suppose) have been fascinating. One the one hand, the city is stoked, volunteers are abundant, billboards are up. Maleno Development has established a new Family-to-Family Fund at the Erie Community Foundation. The show has definitely stirred the city and unleashed an adrenaline rush for volunteerism and “our community.” We are lucky to have this happen to our community.
On the other, people question the future for this family. In a meeting completely unrelated to the project, my superiors started speaking about it with wide eyes and gossip-brushed tones.
So many people end up losing the homes;
they can’t afford it;
I hope they don’t run into financial trouble.
They then went on to talk about how the materials are paid for.
I don’t think the show pays for them;
I think the money we can bid ($10 per chance to win a private tour of the home and/or the highest bid for a chance to ride “that bus”) goes to paying for materials;
Oh, this show is a huge cash cow.
The material theory was all speculation, so it was interesting to watch the conversation progress. By the end, everyone had settled on that presumption, shaking their heads. Nevertheless, we as ECF staff are still volunteering for the project with the hope that everything will work out in the end.
I’m not saying either of these opinions is good or bad, right or wrong, because we convey stories of luck and miracles or skepticism and concern to understand reality, develop opinions, and spawn solidarity with others. But I think recognizing these various sides to the extreme makeover build is crucial for “our community,” one that is visibly segregated economically and racially as so many are. A neighborhood cleanup once a year in commemoration of the project won’t be enough to makeover the disparities so embedded in our cities. This family's financial path should remain a hands-on concern for us, not just a prayer.
I hope we recognize what groups we assign to “our community” when we say it. I imagine the meaning and image of “our community” has significantly shifted for many since that big bus rolled into town; I imagine it now includes classes or individuals we never directly pictured as “ours.” So can the thriving volunteer spirit and camaraderie with groups whose paths we probably never before crossed last beyond the Bus Move rally on Thursday? I certainly hope so.
Along with physical development, I hope Erie has the savvy to develop its relationships, loosen its boundaries, and work to keep every person on the same plane of value, beyond Ty’s (unfortunate) departure. After the adrenaline crashes, I hope that Bus Move chutzpah stays vibrant, curious, and always extreme for our community.