Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Grassroots

Tonight I attended the first political meeting I had been to in more than 30 years, and it was a joy to observe. This was grassroots democracy at its purest. Rather than corporate lobbyist-driven backroom political dealmaking, this was down-to-earth people investing their time in trying to make their community better.

The purpose of the meeting was basically to organize get-out-the-word for the campaign of a resident running in the municipal elections in Argeles-sur-mer. There were about 20-25 people, mostly in their 50s and 60s, a couple of them younger, and the narrow room was festooned with small French, Catalan, and European Union flags, some of them stuck into crevasses in the lovely stone wall which is so typical of this quaint village.

Like the central part of many villages and cities, large and small, Argeles faces the dual challenges of growth and decline. To a certain extent, the area is undiscovered, or should I say yet-to-be discovered. It is in a lovely setting on the Med with the Pyrenees close by. But because it's a little off the beaten path, there are not a lot of large businesses to drive employment. There is some development of new, cookie-cutter suburban style homes, mostly for part-time vacationing residents.

The heart and soul of ASM has long been the village, or centreville, but several key retailers have started to re-locate out to an un-quaint commercial zone on the edge of town. The big-box WalMart-style grocer, the big-box home improvement store, and several medium-size businesses. Because this pulls shopper traffic away from the village, there are more vacant storefronts, and local small businesses struggle. One fear is that the little cinema, which is about 60 steps from our place, will be forced to close if they build a mini mega-plex theatre in the zone.

So the local residents who met tonight are building a vision of what might be and how they can achieve it over the next several years.

As a new resident, I adore the village and would love to see its charm continued and extended. We live on a street that has been repeatedly voted the prettiest in the village, and it wouldn't take much for other streets to add some flowers and vines, paint the weathered shutters. I would love to see a 'no vehicle traffic' approach for the area inside the old walled city portion, turn it into a pedestrian-only shopping and food and entertainment area much like The Lanes in Brighton, UK. They already do it twice a week on marche days; why not every day?

Donna-Lane was asked to speak briefly at the meeting, and she told them how she loved the village where she has lived for the past quarter century. She pointed out the strong cadre of artists in the village - painters, sculptures, even media folks from Danish television and UK theatre. Not to mention a journalist or two. 

I did not understand a lot of what was being said in French, of course, but I didn't have to know the words to see that these are people who love the place they live and want to see it prosper for generations to come.  

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