August 1, 2016
Mr. Michael B. Ford
Chief of Police
City of South Tucson
1601 South Sixth Avenue
South Tucson, AZ 85713
Dear Chief Ford:
This will follow up on our through-the-fence conversation at the Best Day Ever Kid's Garden a while back. We talked about the fact that the South Tucson Police Department's budget had been cut and the impact that the budget cut has had on your staff. The purpose of this letter is to try and lift your spirits and hopefully lift the spirits of other South Tucson staff members.
It was a blistering hot Saturday morning. You were on your way to volunteer at a community clean-up effort in one of South Tucson's neighborhoods. The kids were harvesting vegetables and flowers. Their day wasn't going to end until dark, when we had our vegetables washed and had everything ready to start selling at the farmer's market early the next morning. Nevertheless, the kids and I were exited. But you were hurting.
As we parted I asked for an opportunity to continue our conversation. You agreed. Somehow, someway I wanted to transfer our excitement through the fence to you. But what I have to tell you would never stick with a verbal conversation. I need to stir your imagination. I need to give you something that you can turn over in your mind again and again and to get you to start adding your ideas to the kid's ideas. That also means that this letter has to be a long one.
YOUR PROBLEMS ARE WHERE YOUR POWER LIES:
I believe that I am about twice your age. My experience in life tells me that a community's power comes from solving its most difficult problems. That's right. Your problems are also your power. Understanding this fact is the first step in turning your despair into excitement.
SOUTH TUCSON CAN BECOME THE LABORATORY OF THE FUTURE:
South Tucson has a wonderful supply of problems to address. Each of the world's most challenging problems are present in South Tucson. Our world needs a laboratory to explore solutions to these problems. I believe South Tucson, with its rich inventory of problems, is not only an ideal place, but by far the best possible place to locate that laboratory. Yes, South Tucson can become the Laboratory of the Future and I am excited to be a part of it.
The City is small, approximately one mile square, with a population of about 5,000 people. It is easier for a small city to become a model for the rest of the world. Being a small city means that you can measure things easier, cheaper, and better than you can measure them in big cities. You can literally see your progress and failures. You can also understand each issue better. Because South Tucson is an incorporated city it has all of the tools that big cities have to solve big problems, except one. There is no money.
PROBLEMS THAT SOUTH TUCSON CAN ADDRESS WITHOUT MONEY:
This forces us to turn our attention to the problems that can be solved and the pleasures that can be gained without money. Many of our city's problems and pleasures can be addressed without money but for brevity's sake I am going to focus on just one. I hope that at each step you will think thoughts like, "this is going to work" and "here's something I can do to make it work better" or "Joe Blow can add something special here."
This brings us back to the fence. You were on your way to help pick up trash in a South Tucson neighborhood to try to give the City's struggling clean-up and beautification program a boost. Here's a way to make that program sing!
THE KID'S COMMUNITY GARDEN:
In the Spring of 2015, when the kids began their community garden project, the place was full of trash, goat head thorns and thousands of little shards of broken glass. We couldn't garden in our garden because we couldn't kneel down! If one of the kids cut her hand or knee on a glass shard and had to go to the doctor for repairs and shots the entire kid's community garden concept was threatened. In short, we started with an emergency which we dealt with by picking up every thorn and glass shard the moment we saw it. We stopped whatever we were doing and took the thorn or shard to the trash.
By the time Earth Day came around this year the garden was squeaky clean. You couldn't find a shard of glass, a piece of trash, a cigarette butt or a goat head thorn anywhere in the garden or around the perimeter. We also had ourselves a great garden. We had turned a community eyesore into a beautiful place that daily generates an abundance of joy for both the gardeners and the neighborhood. When people drive by the garden many of them honk. Some stick their fist high in the air. It cost the city no money. Most of the work (if you want to call it work) was done by kids who had fun doing it.
On Earth Day this year the kids held a community potluck and invited neighbors to come to see the garden. They also asked South Tucson Public Works Director Angel Lopez to inspect it. He certified that he was unable to find a piece of trash, a shard of glass, a cigarette butt or a goat head thorn. When an inspector (or anyone else) can't find one speck of trash in your community garden you have something very, very special. You have the cleanest community garden on the planet!
THE KIDS CHALLENGE:
The Earth Day potluck ended with a challenge by gardener Emily Morel. She challenged the community to make South Tucson the cleanest city on the planet by next Earth Day! You can view Emily's verbal challenge and pictures of the pot luck here.
CHANGING OUR COMMUNITY'S MINDSET:
The verbal challenge was met by some skeptics with derision. Some people refused to believe that South Tucson residents will stoop down and pick up somebody else's trash.
The first time you pick up trash in a public space you might feel embarrassed because you think that you are the only one doing it. But when you see that others respond by smiling or joining your effort things change. It's like magic. You become proud of the fact that you are part of a group determined to keep your community clean. Pretty soon you find that you can't walk past a piece of trash or even one of those tiny specs of glass without feeling compelled to pick it up. When you see someone else trashing your space it makes you angry. It doesn't take long to reach the tipping point when almost everybody begins to feel like you. Then soon comes the day when there is nothing left to pick up. That's what happened in the garden and the kids know that's what is going to happen in South Tucson when they push this project past the tipping point.
One more thing--those deep knee bends are good exercise. A new physical fitness center just opened on the edge of South Tucson behind Pueblo High School where you can go exercise to relieve your stress and get fit. The cheapest membership plan costs $10.00 per month. It has only been open for a few days and its large parking lot is already packed.
Is there anyone in South Tucson who doesn't want to be fit? Is there anyone in South Tucson who doesn't want to relieve their stress? There are many people In South Tucson who don't have $10.00 a month to spare. Burning calories and stress while transforming your space into the cleanest city in the world is an option. It's not just a viable option. Its a splendid option. That's because it takes place outdoors. While I'm all for fitness and stress relief there is something incongruous about doing it in air conditioned comfort especially when there is a need to do it outdoors. Our species evolved getting exercise and stress relief outdoors. The physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits that await you when you exercise outdoors seem almost too good to be true.
That's not all. South Tucson has outstanding outdoor space that must be cleaned up. What other city furnishes such enchanting views in every direction that are yours for free in South Tucson? What other city has such a wide, dedicated space running right through the middle of it as the El Paso and Southwestern Greenway?
The point of all this is that the derision didn't slow the kids down at all. They know that South Tucson is going to be the cleanest community on the planet by next Earth Day.
CREATING THE POSTER:
As soon as school was out Emily designed a poster, which her farmer's market friend and artist Bob Zaborsky enhanced on photoshop. The poster says, "I ACCEPT The Best Day Ever Kid's Cleanup Challenge. Make South Tucson Sparkle!" City staff told the kids that they need 3,000 posters to cover South Tucson. They took their Photoshopped poster to a South Tucson printer, the Gloo Factory, to get an estimate. The posters will cost $7,000.00. The kids don't have $7,000.
Transforming South Tucson into the cleanest city on the planet by next Earth Day is not going to happen overnight. It will be a drawn-out process where one person at a time accepts the challenge and one piece of real estate at a time gets cleaned up. The kids plan to begin by challenging their neighbors in the Food City Shopping Center and then expand their efforts from the Southwest Quadrant to the rest of the City. They believe that every business manager in the shopping center is going to accept the challenge and place a copy of the poster in their front window. What business manager wouldn't want their customers to start thinking about picking trash up and be ashamed to be seen throwing it down. We anticipate that 100 per cent of the shopping center businesses will accept the challenge and will display and pass out posters to their customers.
HOW THE KIDS PLAN TO PAY THE EXPENSES - THE ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN
By its very nature the clean-up will turn into a horse race that will run between now and Earth Day 2017. That means there will be tension. And there will also be excitement--especially as the end draws near. The tension plus excitement are a recipe for a magnificent advertising campaign. That brings us back to the $7,000.
There is an organization in England called "Keep Britain Tidy" that wants to run an advertising campaign to persuade British youth to stop trashing the United Kingdom. I'm not sure how they plan to achieve their goal but I know who is going to fund the effort. A chain of German supermarkets hell-bent on capturing a greater share of England's food supply gave "Keep Britain Tidy" £500,000 to have their go at the British kids. I hope the campaign works. The German supermarket chain is called Lidl. Click here to read the article. They have just entered the U.S. market in Virginia and are headed west.
Food City's store #77 is 1/2 block from the kids' garden. That's where we go when the kids need to use the bathroom. That's where we buy our drinking water, our ice, and snacks. That's where customers dance in the aisles when the mariachis make music in the store on Sunday. It's also where our Idea Factory meets every Thursday from 1:00 pm to 2:00 to talk to anyone who has an idea about how to make South Tucson the "best place ever for everybody." That's where the kids went to talk to Arnold Arvizu, the store manager, about the advertising campaign and the $7,000. Arnold told them that this kind of project would take at least six weeks because it had to go before a committee for approval. So they began to gather the facts that the Food City people will need to approve the campaign.
The kids also know that they don't have six weeks to waste. They need the posters now. So they went back to the Gloo Factory and made satisfactory arrangements to get the posters printed by putting some cash down explaining how they planned to pay off the balance.
Does anyone think that Food City is going to pass up this opportunity? Which advertising campaign do you believe is going to be the most effective? The top-down effort asking British youth to stop trashing their space or a bottom-up effort by kids that will show poor communities all over the world how to turn their community into the cleanest city on the planet? Yes! If it works it can change the world. It will be a model that both poor and rich communities can use to clean up by changing the mindset of its residents. Food City is going to jump at it. It's a bargain for them. Perhaps we should put the publicity campaign out for bid.
HOW TO HELP OUTLIERS KEEP THEIR DIGNITY
In any event the campaign is going to consist of stories about outliers who came together to transform their community. Outliers are those groups within the community who need help making it through the day such as the elderly, the kids, the homeless, etc. Is there any place on the planet with more outliers per capita than South Tucson?
Communities all over the world look upon outliers as problems that need to be solved. Why don't we give South Tucson's outliers an opportunity to take a leading role in solving South Tucson's toughest problems?
One way to measure the quality of a community is to look at the way it treats it's outliers. Addressing the needs of children with disabilities is not only a duty that we as a society must embrace but is also an expression of the compassion and intelligence with which we are able to help create a better society. That doesn't mean that the initiatives require a complicated infrastructure or big expense. The initiatives can be carried out by taking advantage of community resources and existing infrastructure.
At Pueblo High School I have been working with the kids afflicted by Downs Syndrome for two years. They have been making compost, gardening with the enriched soil, and potting trees and edible flowers for the City of South Tucson to use in its ongoing efforts to beautify the community. They had the finest vegetable garden at Pueblo High School this year. The school semester ended before plans were made for their products to be utilized within South Tucson. But the important thing is that South Tucson's most challenged group of outliers has already stepped up to bat.
Many people believe that South Tucson has become the dumping ground for Tucson's homeless population and Tucson's drug addicts. They also believe that this fact is the root cause of South Tucson's serious financial problems and its high crime rates. When the police department's budget gets cut they gamble The budget cut can only lead to higher and more dangerous crime statistics until...Until what? Is this a twisted, unsolvable Catch 22 that is going wobble along until things explode or or is it a unique opportunity to change South Tucson in a manner that can be replicated in both rich and poor communities all over the world?
There is no doubt in my mind that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at our fingertips. That's why I'm excited. That's why I have undertaken this effort to excite you.
Here's why I know it will work. Every one of South Tucson's outliers (including me) believes that South Tucson is the center of the universe. Every one of South Tucson's outliers (including me) wants to earn the respect of their peers. Almost all of those who have stumbled, and lost the respect of their peers, are searching for ways to bring dignity back into their life. Becoming a member of the team that is on its way to turning their community to a world leader is a sure-fire way to do that.
STORIES WILL FUEL THE PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN
The world is starving for stories about any challenged community that can pull itself up from the bottom to the top by its bootstraps. South Tucson's rich assortment of outliers combined with its tough problems will fuel a grand assortment of compelling stories.
Many of the stories will be about a person who lost his way until he came upon an opportunity to make his life count for something big--something that could change the world. The moment that he realized that this possibility existed in South Tucson (but nowhere else) was exhilarating. There came a sudden infusion of power that was multiplied when he realized that he could pull it off with fellow outliers! It was also a potential healing moment for each drug addict or homeless person who found a meaningful path to reclaim his dignity.
The stories will also spread through the media and through blogging and vlogging because humans must begin to explore every potential solution to the critical problems that are threatening our planet. This is especially true when the solutions come from the bottom-up instead of the top-down and cost little or no money.
SOUTH TUCSON STORYTELLERS
You can't tell good stories without good storytellers. Just as South Tucson is blessed with potentially great stories, it is also blessed with at least two potentially great storytellers. As city administrators they know their citizens and the citizens know them. They are well-positioned to see and feel each change that is introduced.
City Planner Lorenzo Gonzalez, a large, gentle and sincere man can tell stories that city planners around the world would love to hear. He can talk about how the City made things that seemed impossible happen; and how the City did it without money; and most all, how the city's outliers restored their dignity by tackling these projects.
You, Chief Ford, can use your soft tone and winning smile to talk to police officers all over the world about the methods you used to turn agony into joy and how you gained the respect of every member of the community while your police department was being dumped upon.
HOW THE STORIES CAN IMPACT THE PEOPLE THAT THE STORIES ARE ABOUT
Each story you tell is going to impact the life of the person that the story is about.
Here's how the stories can impact the lives of the kids in the community garden. Each kid with a plot in the garden wants to go to college. Not one of them will be able to afford the tuition. All of them are counting on the fact that they can earn scholarships by showing the dean of admissions of the college-of-their-choice that they are the most worthy prospect in the bundle of applications then under consideration. Each gardener is currently building a portfolio that will be attached to their application for admission to college.
Take Emily, for example. I found out she wanted to go to college shortly after I met her. Her father works two jobs just to put food on the table. She believed that her best bet to get a scholarship to college was to get into Tucson's University High School. Her application to University High School was recently accepted. She is not sure where she wants to go to college even though her younger brother, Daniel, has his mind made up. Daniel will be going to MIT. I asked Emily to compute the cost of room, board and tuition to go to Harvard for four years. Can you believe that it costs approximately $87,000 per year to go to Harvard? That means that Emily's dad would have to earn enough to put food on the table, plus set aside $87,000 a year for tuition, plus earn enough to cover federal and state income tax. Our very rough estimate of that sum is $140,000 each year. Multiply that by 4 years and you get $560,000 which is the value of a scholarship that Emily can earn. That is more money than most residents of South Tucson can earn in a lifetime. And Emily is going to do it in the next three years. This is a reasonable, achievable goal for Emily. Harvard's Dean of Admissions will be hard-pressed to find a bi-lingual applicant that has been trying to make the world a better place since she was in grade school. The closer Emily gets to her goal the chances that she will risk making a mess of her opportunity become more and more remote.
Everybody wins! Emily wins. Harvard wins. The story-tellers win. South Tucson wins. But most of all the world wins because it becomes a better place as mankind evolves into something better. Stories like these will propel the horse race.
OTHER ONGOING SOUTH TUCSON PROJECTS THAT CAN CHANGE OUR WORLD
Each week at our Idea Factory meeting we talk about other on-going South Tucson projects that have the potential to change our world. These projects include:
1. Our Best Day Ever Kid’s Garden Project.
I believe that the most pressing question human’s face today is whether we can stop our economic system from destroying the Earth and evolve toward a future that provides dignity for life and respect for our planet. Is capitalism destroying our planet or is it greed? Can you modify a community’s mind set about greed? This is a work in progress.
Each kid in the garden is a capitalist. They pay for their plot and they want the plot to produce as much food and income as it possibly can. But squeezing the most money from their garden regularly conflicts with trying to have their best day ever. The kids try techniques they can use to help make each other's day special and explore the tension that exists between pursuing money or a profoundly fulfilling life.
2. Addressing the global warming problem.
Mark Smallwood, the Executive Director of the Rodale Institute (which has published many books about organic gardening for many years) tells us that you can find the solution to the climate change problem in the soil. See: The Solution Is the Soil: How Organic Farming Can Feed the World and Save the Planet. Click here to read the article.
This fits nicely with South Tucson's current effort to clean and beautify the City. The kids with Down Syndrome at Pueblo High School have been making compost for two years. The kids at Hollinger elementary school and the kids at the community garden are also engaged in substantial composting projects. Once they figure out how this project helps to repair the planet they do it with pride and joy. Even South Tucson's businessmen take pride in participating in this effort. McDonalds has been contributing its coffee grounds to the composting project for approximately six months. Getting all of South Tucson's restaurants on board this project is an achievable goal.
3. Addressing the world's food security issues.
Food security includes growing, harvesting, marketing and eating healthy food. The kids are learning about each of these issues at the kid’s garden.
4. Making Tucson's rivers flow again.
Tucson's Watershed Management Group is hard at work on their goal of making Tucson's rivers run again. We have had a couple of preliminary conversations with members of their group about showing South Tucson residents how to do their part to make the rivers run again. A lot of money gets spent repairing the damage from water running downhill from Pueblo High School each time we have a good rain. With good guidance, Pueblo students could spread the techniques of slowing down rainwater throughout South Tucson.
I have just briefly described these four projects because I believe that each of them will be generating their own stories for you to tell between now and Earth Day. A detailed description of each project will have to wait until later.
Let's first get rolling on the cleaning and the beautifying. The only thing we need is for the members of the team that can make this happen to repair their state of mind. They need to see the opportunity that's within reach; they need to feel the joy that's free for the asking, instead of resenting the fact that they are being dumped upon.
We’re living in the most digitally connected time in history. We have more abundant access to information and technology than we have ever had before. Now is the time and South Tucson is the place to put that technology to its highest and best use.
Meanwhile, it's a great time to be alive. And it's a great time to be South Tucson's Chief of Police! Is there another police chief in this world who is going to wake up tomorrow morning knowing that his day's work is going to include trying to save the world, trying to change the planet, and helping mankind grow to maturity?
While you are busy getting all that done the kids hope that they can start delivering the posters next week.
Help them make South Tucson shine!
263 N. Main Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85701