Beyond the Front Porch in District 4
by Tom Neal on March 21st, 2016
Wausau’s central east side represents a study in contrasts and challenges, perhaps unique among the city’s eleven districts. District 4 boasts the oldest and arguably grandest homes in town. The Andrew Warren Historic District features homes dating from the late 19th to early 20th century. East Hill’s impressive residences and elegant architecture, including a Frank Lloyd Wright design, make for a great stroll!
Our home on Hamilton Street was built in 1920; its front porch is our frequent perch in warm months, where we greet passersby and entertain friends in the fresh air and idyllic (to us) surroundings. We have great neighbors. Life is good indeed.
Our district is highly diverse ethnically, demographically, economically and even politically. That diversity contributes to a culturally rich living experience and important element of our youth’s social education. I am proud to have been elected to represent this varied population on City Council, particularly during this time of change, exciting possibilities and tough challenges.
The beautiful central east side is not without its share of troubles. A bike stolen from our garage was a minor nuisance. Mindless vandalism down the street last week left vehicles scratched, with tires flattened. A drug-related shooting two blocks away and a stabbing death next to a nearby park illustrate harsher realities. We were able to shut down a drug house operating virtually next door to an elementary school.
Particularly dismaying to me is the worsening condition of some of our neighborhoods and the many residents who struggle with poverty. Trash lies in yards and bushes of neighborhoods where generations once enjoyed quiet, tree-lined streets with well-kept homes and yards. As a slowed-down local economy stifled job growth, people left to find opportunity elsewhere, creating a vacuum all too readily filled by a criminal element bringing drugs, vice and deterioration. Unemployed and underemployed residents struggle to get by. Some residents feel ignored by the city and resign themselves to ever-worsening conditions.
Had I not become District 4’s alderperson, I might have gone on, serenely viewing life from my front porch. Instead, I’ve become involved with residents’ concerns about crime, property assessments, problem neighbors, inspection notices, suspicious activities and more. As their elected advocate, I’ve felt happy when I could help.
While some claim that our local government is too big, too expensive and too intrusive in people’s lives, I find their argument to be simplistic and unrealistic. As a city, we share significant challenges and exciting opportunities. A hands-off approach takes us nowhere. I believe our city’s best hope to tackle adversity and to prosper is found in the combined efforts of the staff of our Community Development Department and council’s Economic Development Committee. Together, we protect vital relationships in the business community, promote our city to attract new investment and jobs, facilitate home ownership, and set wheels in motion for the future. With new jobs, higher wages and more options for recreation and commerce, we’ll grow our population and tax base, reduce taxes and reinvigorate neighborhoods. To become a destination for new working residents and new businesses requires city government that’s running on all cylinders, efficiently and boldly. Wausau has vital decisions to make about the shape of our future, and that starts with decisions weighed and made at the polls on April 5.